The latest chapter in Rob Zombie’s saga of the Firefly family, 3 From Hell, has vibrantly satiric energy that propels the movie into some weird places. Zombie, however, pulls the targets of his wit and his influences together into what may be the most cohesive movie of the series. It’s certainly the funniest.
The story of Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and new family member Foxy (Richard Brake) fighting their way out of jail to freedom without extradition in Mexico is a fascinating one. Director Zombie pokes fun at the rise of tabloid journalism during the first third of the movie, with Barry Bostwick providing stentorian voiceover like an overwrought PBS announcer. There is also a nicely twisted subplot featuring a nearly unrecognizable Dee Wallace as a zealous prison guard.
Everything you expect from a Rob Zombie movie is here. Nudity, bloodshed, and creatively foul language are all here, because this is still an exploitation movie. But there’s a maturity to the film, less leering than the rest of the series with a greater focus on the performances.
Gone are the early cult leader inclinations of Otis Driftwood. His apocalyptic pronouncements are few and far between. Instead, he’s become a killer at peace with what he is. He may still refer to himself as Satan, but that doesn’t seem like such a revelation anymore. Moseley plays Otis with a tremendous sense of humor in this movie, saving his grim intensity for when he really needs it.
Richard Brake brings some much-needed growling to the proceedings. As Foxy, the Midnight Wolfman, he howls and scowls through 3 From Hell like he just escaped a Roger Corman biker film. He is the weird grit of the movie, a scruffy dose of thunder. His conversation with Otis about pornographic films is one of the high points of the movie, with dialogue that rivals some of Tarantino’s best.
The real standout in this movie, though, is Sheri Moon Zombie as Baby. Prison has made Baby lose what was left of her mind. Years of solitary confinement have left her shellshocked. When she gets out of jail, which was like a sensory deprivation tank where torture was a respite, she goes nuts. She smokes, she drinks, she kills.
Moon Zombie is the star of this movie, let there be no doubt about it. Her performance, veering back and forth between teeth-baring murderousness and woman-child who sees imaginary dancing cats, is incredible. The restraints are gone. Her guard is down. This is some unhinged work on Moon Zombie’s part, and it is great.
After Rob Zombie gets through his small remake of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry in the second act, 3 From Hell turns into an Italian western. Watching the main characters fight off a band of Mexican bad guys wearing lucha masks is gloriously goofy and gory.
There’s an element of moral ambiguity here. After all, the three principals are horrible, wretched people. Shouldn’t we be happy to see them hunted down in the hopes that justice finally is done? Or should we cheer them on, the way horror audiences rally behind Jason Voorhees or Freddy Kreuger? That is probably a question for sociologists to analyze and break down while the rest of the audience is having fun.
And 3 From Hell is a lot of fun. Dirty, grimy fun. The movie is more of a crowd-pleaser than Zombie’s other flicks, filled with gallows humor and shoot ’em up action. Although there are some horrific elements to the film, it isn’t really a horror movie. It isn’t meant to be. Within the context of the Rob Zombie oeuvre, 3 From Hell is an easy watch.
But the Firefly family have become horror icons. Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding are the subjects of tattoos and cosplay everywhere. The addition of Foxy should only increase that popularity.
Rob Zombie movies don’t engender a lot of middle ground. You love them or you don’t. 3 From Hell rises from the underground long enough to high five the mainstream and it should bring new fans into the fray. Those already enamored with the mythology will find a lot to love here. People who don’t like Rob Zombie movies aren’t going to watch 3 From Hell anyway, and that’s sad.
Filled with great performances and a tremendous sense of humor about the grim state of humanity, 3 From Hell is a slick and sleazy good time.
3 From Hell is available on digital, on demand, and wherever fine Blu-rays are sold.