Nominations: Best Low Budget Movie
Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Richard Brake, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Dee Wallace, Clint Howard
Writer: Rob Zombie
Director: Rob Zombie
Production Companies: Capital Arts Entertainment, Spookshow International
To be completely honest, 3 FROM HELL (2019) was a better film than I expected. I loved HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003). The throwback 1970s feel with the strong and raw homage to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) was a welcomed addition. At the time PG-13, watered-down, garbage tended to be the typical mainstream horror route so anything with grit was appreciated.
The sequel, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005) didn’t hit the same chords with me. I understood Rob Zombie was going for a completley different feel and wanted to celebrate another sub-genre of 70s gritty horror, but it was so different from the original that it just felt off. I didn’t think it was terrible, by any stretch. It’s just that the returning main characters were so dramatically changed in temprement, it was hard to get into or to grasp onto anything that felt genuine.
I assumed I’d have the same attitude towards 3 FROM HELL so I avoided it. Now, enough time has passed from the former films where I’m not as married to the behavior of Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) and Otis (Bill Moseley) so I didn’t have the same hangups going in. Also, they did have some moments of dialogue that were far more reminscent of HOUSE OF A 1000 CORPSES which brought back some welcomed memories of the old gang.
The film opens with Baby, Spaulding and Otis recovering in the hospital from all the injuries sustained the last time we saw them. Immediately, upon suriviving they are transferred to prison. Via 1970s newsreel footage, we see that the trio have followers similar to the Manson family. The opening scenes are my favorite of the whole movie. It provided a window into the dysfunctional American zeitgeist that is serial killer worship. It reminded me a bit of NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994), and in those initial scenes had the same dramatic impact.
Spaulding ends up being executed, early on. This was Sid Haig’s last role and despite it being a short one, I was vamped to see him back. The first role I ever saw him in was a tame PG-13 RAWR RAWR movie called THE FORBIDDEN DANCE (1990) where he portrayed the trusted guardian of the beautiful Native Princess Nisa (Laura Harring). I loved him then, and for years didn’t realize it was the same dude. He really could portray anything and always did a fab job.
Meanwhile, Otis is in prison and rambling nonsense like Charles Manson. That, I don’t get. It’s too on the nose. In other films, he had his moments of strange philosophy, but it was more intune to his own personality. Here, it was like Rob Zombie watched some old Charlie bits and was like, “imma copy this near verbatim.” I just felt it was lazy writing. Moseley did his best, but there were moments this felt more like a HELTER SKELTER (1976) remake than a continuation of the Firefly family.
Similarily, Baby acted like one of Manson’s gals. She was still tough and her own bitch, which I appreciate. Her badass approach to life and sexualization of violence was still on the forefront, but her manner of speak was very Sexy Sadie. Zombie still does a far better job in this than she did in THE LORDS OF SALEM (2012) or the disastrous abomination that was HALLOWEEN II (2009). She also remains a hot-to-trot fem and is very believable as a chick that could seduce peeps to their death.
As Baby is being denied parole and getting on the bad side of her Correctional Officer Greta (Dee Wallace), Otis’s half-brother Winslow “Foxy” (Richard Brake) helps him break out during punitive labor. Otis murders fellow inmate Rondo (Danny Trejo) before escaping. Rondo’s son, Aquarius (Emilio Rivera) vows revenge. He’s a big-time gang leader in Mexico to a bunch of dudes who wear kickass, killer, Luchador masks. I don’t condone their killing and drug running. That’s bad; but I do condone their amazing fashion choices! Mexican wrestling masks are awesome and I just love pro-wrestling, anyways. A really weird part of me wishes that there was a gang that dressed like Rowdy Roddy Piper, Macho Man Randy Savage and Adrian Street. I mean, if jackwads are going to commit heinous crimes, the least they could is be entertaining and flamboyant in their choice of dress.
So, Otis and Foxy kidnap prison warden Virgil (Jeff Daniel Phillips), his wife Judy (Tracey Leigh) parole board officer Gerard James (Kevin Jackson) and his lady Heather (Sylvia Jefferies). Admittedly, I don’t give a fuck about Virgil. He’s a classic power-mad asshole who thinks he’s a badass because he’s in charge of the inmates. Gerard is cool shit though.
When interviewing Baby for parole, he did show sympathy for her. His inclusion in this scene makes it uncomfortable and pisses me off. I liked Otis in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. Sure, he was a psychopathic murderer, but I really hated all the characters he killed. That wasn’t the case here, and it made me angry.
They get the Warden to get Baby out of the slammer, and end up heading to Mexico. There Baby meets Sebastian (Pancho Moler), a little person who wants to get down to funky town with her. These are the scenes Zombie really shines as she shows a glimpse of Baby’s soft side. When Sebastian is being ridiculed by his boss Carlos (Richard Edson), Baby sticks up for him. She later compares him in a flattering way to her brother Tiny. The two are actually sweet together and I would have liked to see more of that. I like sympathetic psychos, and I enjoy the struggle and mental gymnastics it makes me go through as a viewer. I’m not saying they have to go full-on Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) or Carrie (Sissy Spacek) in their performance, but a little more of Sebastian and Baby would have provided some insight. It also could have forced the viewer into realizing how easily it is to be swept into adoration of mass murderers as we saw initially with the newsreels. It would have been a cool way to come full circle.
In the end, we get a face-off between Aquarius’s Luchador gang and Family Firefly. It’s okay. The action is great. The influence of the Spaghetti Western is easily seen during the final scenes. If only there was someone to be rooting for! By the conclusion, I really don’t care who lives or dies because every single person is a trashbag human, with the exception of Sebastian. He’s cool shit. I like that dude.
I will give kudos where it belongs. Being that the entire production maxed out at 3 million in green, I can understand why some appreciate this film so much. Rob Zombie did a lot with a little. The settings, special effects and production value definitely surpass the anticipated budgetary restrictions. For that, I understand why it has earned the BTS AWARD nod for Best Low Budget Movie.