For whatever reason, I’ve spent over a decade pushing for rocker/filmmaker Rob Zombie to make a truly great movie. I would have even settled for a good movie.
If nothing else, you have to give him credit for the fact that his 2003 horror movie House of 1,000 Corpses helped reinvigorate a slowly dying horror scene that is now thriving beyond belief. Sure, Wes Craven’s “Scream” movies did a good job making horror popular among young, mainstream audiences, but otherwise, horror had become very cheesy and easy to wait to see things on cable or VHS.
3 from Hell is a direct sequel to Zombie’s 2005 movie The Devil’s Rejects, a movie I absolutely loathed. When that movie ended with the film’s “heroes” shot to hell Bonnie and Clyde style, it made me think we’d seen the last of this ‘70s throwback series. No such luck.
The sequel opens in 1978 with a pseudo-documentary about the fate of the “Devil’s Rejects Cult” – Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding, Bill Moseley’s Otis Driftwood and Sheri Moon Zombie’s “Baby” Firefly – who magically survived that shooting. The short prologue “doc” covers their trial that gets them death sentences within the Bain County Correctional, run by warden Virgil Dallas Harper (Jeff Daniel Philips). It also includes fake “testimonials” from people who seem to idolize the Rejects, despite their crime wave of murder and mutilation.
Ten years later, Otis Driftwood escapes after being sent out on a chain gang along with his fellow inmate Winslow Coltrane, played by Bruce Dern wannabe Richard Brake. The duo are on the loose and they continue killing until they find the warden’s house and take his wife hostage as collateral to break Baby out of jail.
Haig’s Captain Spaulding, the best part of House of 1,000 Corpses and Rejects, is killed off-screen, executed via lethal injection, which is a true shame, since that leaves us with the weaker characters played by Moseley and Zombie’s wife Sheri. (Note: Haig had to bow out of the movie due to illness.)
This is a movie that is grueling to sit through unless you have something seriously psychologically wrong with you, a movie that thrives to make violence and murder cool and fun. Otis and Baby are supposed to be your heroes? Why? Because they’re terrorizing and torturing the people who have been employed to keep their type in line and Zombie sees this as his symbol of anti-establishment? The penal system sucks. There are a lot of people making bad decisions. There are a lot of people in prison who don’t deserve to be. But the “Devil’s Rejects” do deserve to be in prison, so why would you root for them?
There have been some really good and some equally bad genre movies set in prison with The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence still being the worst, but 3 from Hell seems to be more than willing to take second place. 3 from Hell is a movie for people raised on video games who think that inserting the word “mtherfcker” into every other line makes the filmmaker some type of Tarantino peer.
The writing is abysmal. I could quote some of the trash that comes out of Otis and Baby’s mouths, and you wouldn’t believe these were lines from an actual script written by an established filmmaker. (I might jot a few of them down to get a laugh, though. “This is my death machine, and you are the product” is pretty funny.)
Zombie has gotten to the point where he can make these trashy movies for a fraction of the budget of a real movie, and his fans will still eat it up, allowing him to continue to make nearly-unwatchable garbage to further sate their blood lust.
The actors Zombie has assembled around the main trio – mostly drawn from his usual ensemble — are so awful, they offer very little to elevate his material, including Phillips as the warden and Kevin Jackson as a parole officer also taken hostage by Otis and his cohort. Although the acting across the board is terrible, none of them are quite as bad as Sheri Moon Zombie, who was actually quite good in The Lords of Salem. Her exaggerated performance of Baby as a cross between a 4-year-old and a demented hippie is easily the worst part of an already very bad movie.
As an example of one of the film’s typically offensive scenes, a female officer throws Baby into a cell with two other cutthroat fellow prisoners who threaten to torture and kill her. They don’t get very far and are systematically slaughtered like anyone else who comes up against the Rejects, and that’s it. There is literally no point to this three-minute scene except to show more gore and violence. There’s also an unfortunate appearance by Clint Howard as a particularly unfunny clown calling himself “Mr. Baggy Britches,” who has the misfortune of showing up at the door where the warden is being held hostage.
When the trio travels across the border to hideout, things don’t improve, although we do learn why the great Danny Trejo — the best actor in the entire movie — made a brief cameo and was killed by Otis during his breakout.
Even the music, which should be Zombie’s forté, isn’t great. Much of it seems to be pilfered almost verbatim from far better ‘70s movies, mostly John Carpenter, with random needle drops like Suzi Quatro’s “The Wild One,” which is used out of context and completely wasted in such a crappy movie. (I rarely get to hear Quatro’s version of the song, so it’s a shame it’s now always going to remind me of my experience watching 3 from Hell.)
3 from Hell is an offensive abomination of a film that doesn’t deserve to be shown in any place that involves people gathering to watch it– easily, the worst movie of the year. If you couldn’t tell, I hated every single minute of it.
Three from Hell opened last night for a three-night run via Fathom Events. If after reading this review, you STILL feel the need to see it, you can learn more about it at the Official Site…. or just wait for the Blu-ray next month.