Starring Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Richard Brake, Sid Haig
Directed by Rob Zombie
Distributed by Lionsgate Films
Rob Zombie’s filmmaking career hit a peak post-The Devil’s Rejects (2005), with the now-certified horror helmer taking on his biggest challenge yet: Michael Myers. That infamous remake generated good box office despite tepid reviews, but its sequel was less-than-warmly received on both fronts – as was every movie Zombie has done since. No longer much of a theater marquee draw, Zombie took to the independent circuit and used his limited funding to produce The Lords of Salem (2012) and 31 (2016), the latter being one of the worst films I saw in 2016. His film career needed a jolt – and what better way to get back into horror fans’ black hearts than by resurrecting (almost quite literally) the Firefly clan of Otis, Baby, and Cpt. Spaulding?
Who cares if they clearly died at the end of their last adventure?
Rather than focus on what Zombie gets wrong here, I’d like to examine what works. The horror community has (justifiably) blasted Zombie’s films for poor writing, awful dialogue, atrocious camerawork, and bad editing. I’ve always thought his ideas worked best in short form and anything longer (read: a feature) could use a co-writer to better shape his original thoughts. Not that Rob needs me or anyone else to defend him but picking on this film seems like low hanging fruit; nobody expected a masterpiece.
First, let’s talk the late Sid Haig. Zombie commented last year that Haig’s role was limited to a single day because he couldn’t be insured through the production because of ailing health – and that much will be painfully obvious when a weary Cpt. Spaulding appears for a few minutes during the film’s opening. Haig was the backbone of the previous films, giving House of 1000 Corpses (2003) all of its best moments and co-carrying The Devil’s Rejects with Bill Moseley. By not being able to include Cpt. Spaulding as planned Zombie should have just scrapped the film entirely. Or, you know, made it ten years earlier. Much as I hated my last cinematic image of Haig to be a man clearly in poor health, I’m sure he was elated to be able to deliver what he could and with that thought in mind, it was truly a pleasure seeing him one final time (yes, I know he technically has two more films coming out but neither is likely to garner my eyeballs).
Bill Moseley’s Otis single-handedly carries this film. That’s probably not surprising. Moseley clearly relishes in playing such a wild, wily, wry, wicked character and his performance is just as good here as it was in Rejects… although the material he’s given is not up to that level. This series gave Moseley a renaissance in both the horror film and convention worlds and he clearly appreciates the boost because the man leaves nothing on the table with his performance.
With Cpt. Spaulding out of the picture Zombie needed a replacement – enter Richard Brake, who was lauded as a standout in 31. I found him too over the top there but he’s more subdued in this role. He works well enough, I suppose, but he’s no Spaulding (not that the film was trying). Brake is really just there as a third body because otherwise the film’s title doesn’t exactly work.
Sheri Moon Zombie is the least annoying she’s been in this series here so… there’s that. Zombie still enjoys reminding audiences his wife has a great ass, too.
There are two distinct halves to the film and the first is a chore to get through. I won’t delve too deeply into spoilers but the focus of the first hour is on a prison break attempt and since it’s exceedingly clear these three are gonna be on the run together the time wasted on waiting for the last member to breakout is noticeable. Once the trio is off and on to Mexico the film begins to pick up but poor plotting and a third act conflict with some group called the “Black Satans” causes the last act to feel incongruous to the previous two. This is worth checking out if you’ve followed the Firefly family through the last two films, though I can’t imagine it’ll warrant repeat viewings for most. After Rejects these characters transitioned into pop culture staples in the horror world and this film is a reminder that’s probably where they best belong.
Lionsgate Films presents 3 From Hell on 4K Ultra HD, with a 1.85:1 2160p image that was likely sourced from a 2K DI (digital intermediate), meaning this is an upscale. Zombie is well known for utilizing a wide variety of visual methods to express his films – color grading, additional grain, choppy editing, handheld cameras, black-and-white footage, etc. – and 3 From Hell is truly no exception for at least one good reason: gotta hide that low budget. “Rejects” was shot on film (16mm blown-up to 35mm for theatrical exhibition) and it was lensed by Phil Parmet, a veteran cinematographer who had partially shot the documentary Harlan County U.S.A. (1976) which has a very grain-heavy distinct look similar to how Rejects appears.
3 From Hell was shot digitally by D.P. David Daniels and the digital image on its own can’t match up to what Parmet shot on film. I won’t bother commenting on the heavily-graded sections of the film because they look however Zombie wants them to look, whether that be distressed, over-saturated, blown-out, or whatever. But the film proper, those scenes that appear to be the least tweaked, look rather good in 4K. Colors are rich and bright, often much more vibrant than a 1080p image could allow. Skin tones and details are amazingly lifelike, giving the image that “open window” quality we all hope to see. I don’t know if I could say the average consumer is going to notice (or care) this version is a mild-but-appreciable upgrade over the Blu-ray release but considering the two are so close in price I’d call the 4K the clear winner. Also note: this set contains both 4K and standard Blu-ray discs.
An English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround sound mix brings the thunder, most of which is heard during the back half’s frequent gunfire. The real meat here is often the soundtrack, which is full of the classic rockin’ cuts fans expect from Zombie. His soundtrack curation skills are similar to someone like Tarantino or P.T. Anderson and usually are the highlight of his films for me. The man has impeccable taste in music; shocking, I know. Outside of the bombast, dialogue is consistently clear and understandable and there is plenty of activity both big and small that registers throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
- Audio Commentary by Rob Zombie
- To Hell and Back – Making of Documentary (95 min)
This doesn’t reach the artistic highs of “House of 1000 Corpses” nor the gritty ‘70s cinema style of “The Devil’s Rejects” but “3 From Hell” does offer up a decent epilogue to what should have been the Firefly’s last hurrah. It feels too late in coming but a strong performance from Moseley and a bitchin’ soundtrack both make this one worth watching if you want to see the end (?) to this saga.