It’s been 14 years since horror director Rob Zombie found his cult status in serious jeopardy as the whole world discovered his talents with The Devil’s Rejects. As the world discovered the larger than life Firefly clan and characters like Captain Spaulding, Baby, and Otis Driftwood became all but household names, Zombie pulled the ultimate long-con troll job teasing the return of the assumed dead psychopathic family for a decade and a half. Finally, with 3 From Hell, the heavy metal director has resurrected one of the most beloved family of miscreants to be put to film in recent memory and given them another go around for old times sake.
After barely surviving a highway shootout with the police, the bullet-ridden Firefly family are brought back from the brink of death and the gates of hell and put on trial and imprisoned for their crimes. Now, with Firefly patriarch Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig – Bone Tomahawk) executed by the state, his adopted son Otis (Bill Moseley – Boar) escapes his outdoor work detail with the help of half brother Foxy (Richard Brake – 31). The pair take the prison warden hostage and use him to release their sister, Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie – Lords of Salem) who has recently been denied parole due to her deteriorating mental state.
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More-or-less reunited as a family, the three hit the road and head for Mexico to try and escape the pursuing police. But no matter where they go, or how hard they try to get away from trouble, it just seems to follow them. With bloody consequences.
After the relative failure of 2016’s 31, Rob Zombie has been looking for a way to garner his favour back with horror fans. Bringing back Baby, Otis and Spaulding was the perfect answer for a man who found a world of admiration with The Devil’s Rejects all those years ago. The Firefly family are one of a rare breed of antagonists that audiences can’t help but scream and cheer for, no matter how heinous their on-screen acts or how despicable their characters, the terrifying trio are endlessly entertaining to watch. But where Zombie could simply put these three on the film’s one-sheet and phone in everything else, the director has instead made a thrilling second sequel to House of 1000 Corpses and, if it’s possible, increased the love he’s poured into these characters – and then some.
What hits audiences almost instantly is how little screen time (and poster time) the recently passed away Sid Haig has in 3 From Hell. The film franchise that introduced Haig to a whole new generation of horror fans couldn’t bow out without Captain Spaulding making an appearance, but sadly the actor’s diminishing health meant that little more than a cursory trip to set was possible. It leaves the film with a faint sense of melancholy having the iconic killer clown succumb to the will of the judicial system, leaving the Fireflys leaderless and directionless. Those left behind do a splendid job of trying to find their way without “Cutter” to guide them.
Of course, without Spaulding, Rob Zombie needed to find a third team member. Enter, Richard Brake. More or less straight from his brilliant and terrifying turn as Doomhead – the antagonist’s super-violent, psychotic clean up man in 31, Brake was a natural fit for the part of Firefly brother Foxy whose part in 3 From Hell was re-written on the fly from Haig’s intended position in the film. He plays crazy killer as well as Sheri Moon Zombie or Bill Mosley and plays off of the pair perfectly, adding a fresh, if somewhat familiar feeling third dimension to the murderous road crew.
Sheri Moon Zombie continues to split audiences in her performances. But love her or hate her, she brings everything she has to her role as Baby and doesn’t take prisoners on screen. We get to watch as her mental faculties become more and more broken. She descends deeper into a madness that even she struggles to control, which is a pleasure to sit back and watch. Likewise, the quieter moments – such as her chilled out wake and bake with 31’s Pancho Moler or her reminiscing about Spaulding with Otis – all feel like a natural growth for a character who has spent a little time behind bars after racking up a body count matched only by Jason Vorhees or Ebola. As Zombie tries her hand at different characters under her husband’s direction, Baby will almost certainly be her greatest performance and its evolution into 3 From Hell is testament to her dedication to such a great character.
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Like it was with The Devil’s Rejects, the entire film is driven by Bill Mosley and his portrayal of Otis B. Driftwood. Hilariously written and acted, bone-chillingly scary to behold, if Oscar nominations were given to actors in low-budget, under-the-radar hillbilly horror films, Mosley would be looking at a repeat win for every second Otis is on screen. Unlike Baby who needed to grow from Rejects, Otis had to stay exactly as he was. Audiences wanted more of the same and they got that. Almost. Otis still needs to grow into the role of leader of the trio and fight the urge to put everyone at risk with his antics. It’s a subtle internal struggle that we get to enjoy, that doesn’t take away from Driftwood’s primary role of hilarious nutter!
3 From Hell is a much more natural sequel to The Devils Rejects than Rejects was of House of 1000 Corpses. Violent road movie continues into more violent road movie, making the film an easy win for Rob Zombie. Fan favourites Baby and Otis leave audiences cheering and pumping their fists in love and admiration for the pair, while newcomer to the family Richard Brake fits in easily and doesn’t force a beat of the film to be missed. This third entry for the all-but-superhuman bad guys is as fondly put together as any in the series and is a loving and affectionate send off – more than was known at the time of filming – for Sid Haig and Captain Spaulding.
It’s a film for fans, it’s a film for rejects. And for those knowing what they want with this latest entry to the Firefly’s saga, it’s a near-perfect experience.