Dir: Rob Zombie
Starring: Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon Zombie, Richard Brake, and Sid Haig
Amidst a barrage of bullets and backed by the theme of “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, director Rob Zombie pulled a cinematic magic trick with his 2005 horror film “The Devil’s Rejects” by making the vile, disgusting, psychotic murdering road show threesome into characters that strangely, in those final minutes of the film, have the poise and demeanor of folk heroes rushing into their final battle.
Rob Zombie, a director whose style has fluctuated from music video motifs to major Hollywood gleam, continues his savage saga of murder mayhem with the Firefly Family in “3 From Hell”. The film is far more introspective than the other films in the trilogy; where “House of 1000 Corpses” crafted a funhouse with horror maniacs and “The Devil’s Rejects” aimed to humanize the cartoonish killers into grungy 70’s outlaws. “3 From Hell” attempts to create a family dynamic with these characters by further delving into their demented intentions and motivations. Unfortunately, the film often loses perspective and balance amidst the mixture of ideas and themes proposed throughout.
The film begins moments after the gun smoke lifts revealing the bullet riddled convertible carrying the Firefly Family members Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig). Zombie wisely uses vintage footage of television reports and newspaper clippings to resurrect his characters and update the viewer on the happenings after the capture. All members of the murderous clan are serving life sentences, Otis is planning escape, Baby is tormented by a vengeful prison guard (Dee Wallace), and Captain Spaulding spouts boastful soliloquies for news reporters explaining the many reasons the Firefly Family is necessary for the world. It’s a haunting introduction that does a great job of moving the film from the late 1970’s into the early 1980’s.
Zombie combines more than a few themes throughout this film but the prevailing focus remains steadfast with the idea of family, both the severe dysfunction and deep-seated connections family members have with one another. When Zombie takes time to let this narrative focus breathe, “3 From Hell” exudes such an interesting blend of character driven ideas that makes the eventual road trip film have insight into the composition of these outlandish characters, even if the outcome is that their chaos is bred by the chaos they are inflicting onto the world.
In terms of violence and brutality, and may I emphasize that this film is NC-17 rated for a reason, this is a far more restrained film considering Zombie’s penchant for pushing the limits of sadism in his films. There is one moment that allows the group to indulge in their specific brand of bloody menace, it’s a scene that is photographed with jolting chaos in an effort to portray tormenting tension and it’s completely unnerving and uncomfortable.
The performances throughout are a mixed bag of emotions, each portrayed with different levels of success. Bill Moseley is mostly effective playing the leader of the group Otis, his sinister swagger and piercing eyes do most of the heavy lifting. Sheri Moon Zombie has the difficult task of playing the broken member of the group, in the big moments her blend of shrieking laughter mixed with playful pandemonium is pitch perfect, however in other quieter moments the performance just doesn’t connect like it should. Sid Haig, in his final performance, struggled with health concerns prior to shooting this film so his Captain Spaulding is only found in one short yet completely effective scene which displays why his character will always be a horror icon.
“3 From Hell” seems like a film that resisted every attempt to exist, yet it still came to life. That seems to be the quality that defines Rob Zombie as a filmmaker, an artist who will push to make his specific blend of horror come to life no matter what. While “3 From Hell” may not connect from moment to moment, with lapses in narrative cohesion and themes lost amidst the big ideas trying to be expressed throughout the film, fans of Rob Zombie’s films should still seek this one out.
2.50 out of 5.00