A broadcast news bulletin announces the apprehension of the Devil’s Rejects following a violent standoff, and a voiceover describes their survival as one in a million. And just like that, director Rob Zombie’s third chapter in the Firefly saga, 3 from Hell, picks up right where The Devil’s Rejects ended.
From this writer’s point of view, that second film was a modern American classic, resembling an ultra-violent folklore. It was majestic and melodic, and its finale was delivered with poetry and grace. Naturally the idea of another instalment was mystifying, and yet entirely curious, and expectations have been extremely high.
The point of distinction between his films House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects was drastic and essential; Zombie had taken his neon carnival freak show and turned it into a dust-covered exploitation flick. It was a necessary evolution and signified two very different brands of horror.
3 from Hell is a fun yet entirely unnecessary evolution, which panders to the audience’s love for Zombie’s serial killer anti-heroes but suffers from obvious budgetary restraints. Ten years have passed since their capture and Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) are sitting on death row. Spaulding is executed, and after a brazen escape, Otis joins up with his half-brother Winslow (Richard Brake), breaking Baby out of prison before fleeing to Mexico.
It’s great to see Otis and Baby up to their old tricks again, however Zombie’s push for surrealism tips the film over the edge for the most part. The fluency of The Devil’s Rejects gives way to chaos, and the story has the characters hopscotch from one heavy-handed situation to another. In and of themselves, many of the set-ups are great, such as a home invasion sequence reminiscent of the notorious motel scene from the previous film. However, the movie ultimately feels like a patchwork of ideas without sufficient stitching.
Moseley steps back into character as though it was a second skin and he maintains equilibrium with his past performances. Moon Zombie, on the other hand, catapults hers beyond the stratosphere. Having spent a decade in solitary confinement, Baby has regressed and occupies an alternate reality from the others. She is a fully-fledged lunatic and has lost all touch with reality. It’s an interesting character examination to be sure, but does err on the side of tedious before long. As for the new character of Winslow… he just feels out of place and unnecessary.
Putting all grievances aside, 3 from Hell remains a wild and frenetic odyssey. Where it doesn’t match the depravity and grandeur of The Devils Rejects, it compensates with disorder and mayhem. Divided into three very different acts, the film takes its audience from tabloid sensationalism to urban horror before lobbing it into a neo-spaghetti western environment. It’s a jarring and somewhat desensitising experience that may just benefit from multiple viewings.
The Firefly’s are back and their rampage continues… but just how far are you willing to go with them?
3 from Hell screens on October 31 as the opening night film at Fangoria x Monster Fest: Monster Takes Australia, as well as nationwide Halloween screenings. For cinemas, sessions and ticketing links visit 3fromhell.com.au