It’s hard to believe that rocker turned horror auteur Rob Zombie would become one of the most divisive filmmakers of the 21st century. His debut feature, 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses, was fetishistic in its re-creation of ’70s-era exploitation flicks, right down his use of handheld cameras and 16mm film stock. Zombie’s detractors rightfully accused his stylistic excesses as derivative, but that was completely beside the point for a genre built entirely on grime and attitude. 2005 saw the release of The Devil’s Rejects, Zombie’s magnum opus on crime and punishment in 1978 Texas, as the Firefly clan from Corpses cuts a swath of violence and mayhem across the sun-baked state with troopers hot on their trail. Even Zombie’s most vocal critics admitted that Rejects was at least a valiant attempt at something that seemed, in theory, contradictory: epic grindhouse. Somehow, Zombie was able to pull it off, wallowing in the nastiness of the death and destruction on screen, and rubbing viewers’ noses in it with the approach of a Southern-fried Michael Haneke. Rejects acknowledged the heinousness of the family’s crimes, their death at film’s end both inevitable and deserved, the universe righting a severe wrong. It is this precise quality that has been sorely missing from every other Zombie work, save for Halloween II (which, not coincidentally, is his other most successful work), but all is completely undone with Zombie’s latest, 3 From Hell, the official sequel to The Devil’s Rejects and a return to the filmmaker’s worst instincts.
Most of the events play out like little more than a lesser filmmaker’s cover version of Rejects’ most famous scenes.
Having miraculously survived that aforementioned shootout, the Fireflys–Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig)–have been found guilty of 38 counts of murder and will spend their remaining years rotting in jail. Ten years later, Otis is finally given an opportunity to escape, setting in motion a series of events that will send the family on the road yet again, this time with brother-in-law Wolfman in tow. Unfortunately, Zombie has grossly miscalcuated what is meritorious about The Devil’s Rejects in the first place, instead presenting the Firefly clan as a bunch of murderous goofsters. The violence is just as gruesome, but it holds no real weight, and the CGI blood certainly doesn’t help matters. Most of the events play out like little more than a lesser filmmaker’s cover version of Rejects’ most famous scenes. Even the ’70s aesthetic is distracting, as the film explicity takes place in 1988, an era which had its own unique, dissimilar look and feel. There’s opportunity to embrace the aesthetic possibilities this allows for, like shooting on low-rent VHS, but instead Zombie retreads. It doesn’t help that the plot has absolutely no sense of forward momentum, with the 111-minute runtime feeling nearly twice its length. And in making Moon Zombie’s Baby character literally insane, 3 From Hell allows the actress to indulge in her worst instincts, which prove remarkably painful to endure here. By the time we get to our climatic Mexican standoff – in Mexico, mind you – one wishes that “Freebird” would kick in on the soundtrack and put us all out of our misery. Thank God, then, that the door is left open for a sequel. In another 14 years, Zombie can once again shamelessly attempt to regain relevancy, and we can all, once again, politely look the other way.