Thursday 17 October 2019

3 From Hell (Rob Zombie, 2019) Review...

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“Hello, America. Did you miss me?” 3 From Hell is the belated third, and likely final, entry in Rob Zombie's grisly 'Firefly family' saga. Following on from the psychedelic slasher circus of 2001's House of 1,000 Corpses and the down 'n' dirty killers on-the-run road movie of 2005's The Devil's Rejects, 3 From Hell might seem inexplicable considering the spectacular guns-a-blazin' finale of the previous film (arguably Zombie's finest cinematic moment), but the story's continuation, maybe somewhat incredibly, actually works.

“Free The Three!” Having been riddled with lead, the audience discovers that Otis (Bill Moseley, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie, The Lords of Salem), and Captain Spaulding (the late, great Sid Haig) clung to life and were promptly sentenced for their heinous crimes. Now, ten years later, they are perceived as cult anti-heroes as a TV documentary within the film lays out with star struck groupies watching on from the sidelines, championing The Devils Rejects' status as the ultimate in anti-authoritarianism – they are the ultimate expression of freedom in a fucked up world. Reflecting the bizarro cult status that world's most notorious serial killers have gained – such as the likes of Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy among many others – this extended opening sequence proves to be one of the film's most fascinating and enjoyable moments, thrusting the fringe-dwelling Firefly clan into the limelight...

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“I'm just a clown dancing to the sins of mankind.” Inevitably, you can't keep these deranged lunatics in a cage forever, with Otis and new character Foxy (Richard Brake, 31) busting Baby out of prison so they can once again seek to turn us into the product in their 'murder factory'. It should be noted that, sadly due to failing health, Sid Haig was only able to return for a brief scene (which was shot in secret while the nervous insurance nerds weren't looking), and while his absence is notable and keenly felt, it's admirable that Zombie was still able to close out Spaulding's story, even if not as originally intended. Stepping in to support Otis and Baby, Richard Brake's twisted Foxy successfully merges into the established group as their half-brother, sharing Otis' warped sense of humour and Spaulding's amusement at Baby's own particular brand of shenanigans.

“There's no justice in this world. I am justice!” However, the film's main focus naturally falls on that of Otis and Baby, and more so on the latter, who has come somewhat askew since we last saw her, the result of a decade of incarceration, isolation, and survivalism. She is beginning to question how long they can keep going – and even if they should. Indeed, one of the most striking aspects of Zombie's three sojourns with the Firefly clan is that the writer/director has consistently drawn his audience uncomfortably close by humanising the 'bad guys' and tainting the 'good guys', which is further explored through Pancho Moler's put-upon artist/bellhop Sebastian. It's an effective tool, making the viewer believe that they could possibly talk their way out of a sticky situation with these wolves, only to realise that such thinking would be futile. Otis, meanwhile, seems to have grasped his status as an icon for the diseased world of 1988 – a fitting role for a grandiose pontificator with as much flair with a sound bite as a hunting knife. Suffice it to say, the family vibe continues to be strong in front of and behind Zombie's camera, something else which horror fans should enjoy.

“Now we can have a real Day of the Dead.” When it comes to style, 3 From Hell is much closer to The Devil's Rejects than that second film was to House of 1,000 Corpses. Accompanying the gritty, grainy visuals we see a return of the scene transitions and freeze frames that worked so well before – it even appears as if some of the aerial footage from the previous film has been dug out of the vaults, to go along with familiar sounds on the music track: Slim Whitman and Terry Reid among them. Likewise, the violence is presented in full bloody flush – explosive, sadistic, and not for the faint of heart or easily offended – even now in an age when movie gore is so accepted by wide audiences.

“They're trying to blame us, but we didn't do it.” While the film is strong, it's not without some faults, chief among them being the lack of a strong central antagonist to trouble the remaining Firefly family members. The Devil's Rejects benefited from the inclusion of the vengeful Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), but for most of its running time 3 From Hell pitches Otis, Baby, and Foxy as both hero and villain simultaneously. Circumstance as well as Baby's lack of self control, (and even a little bit of ennui), it seems, is mostly the threat that faces them until an early act of Otis' own revenge catches up with the trio in the final act. As a result, the film can at times lack the propulsive pace that its predecessor brandished with such vitality, an issue that 3 From Hell directly expresses when Otis confides with Foxy that he doesn't know what to do next and that he didn't think they'd make it as far as they have. To be fair, though, it is no mean feat to follow up such a perfectly made film as The Devil's Rejects, certainly not after this many years, and so it's only inevitable that 3 From Hell cannot live up to such expectations. Indeed, it's a tall order for any sequel attempting to break into a horror fan's heart, which tends to be so tightly bound to previous outings in a series. However, 3 From Hell does benefit from a consistent creative through-line of tone and intent with Rob Zombie as the saga's guiding light, something which few horror franchises can boast. It'll be intriguing to see, in a few years time, if 3 From Hell can settle in comfortably beside its forebears.

“Kill 'em! Kill 'em! Kill 'em all!” Those who have taken against Rob Zombie as a filmmaker will most likely not be won over by his latest cinematic outing (and let's be honest, the hatred oozing from some is almost pathological), while his hardcore followers will, conversely, lap this flick up – but more partial observers should find plenty to commend 3 From Hell, which is also a welcome return to form after the impressively grotesque but half-cooked murder party that was 31. Thrusting Otis and Baby into new territory also adds some new wrinkles to a well worn cloth, even if their celebrity status is only partially explored, and the supporting cast of genre favourite faces both new and familiar (Danny Trejo, Dee Wallace, Clint Howard, and many more) further boosts proceedings. On the one hand the film can occasionally feel slightly too-long, but sudden bursts of thunderous action and blood-letting are never far away; expect dusty border towns and domestic homes alike to be painted red. Even some of the more delirious fervour and splashes of colour found in House of 1,000 Corpses return, boldly combining gruesome grit and fabulous flair with a dark sense of humour. 3 From Hell may be a little off-peak, but it is a strong and worthy follow-up to Zombie's best film.

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