Returning to the material which produced The Devil’s Rejects (2005), Rob Zombie resurrects his most cherished characters in 3 From Hell (2019)—and in reanimating them, undoes nearly everything the prior film accomplished. Opening with a strong expository prologue filmed in the manner of late ’80s tabloid-news TV, 3 From Hell instructs us that the villains killed off in that earlier film, Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), and Captain Spaulding (the late Sid Haig), actually survived their hilariously overdone death scenes and have been locked up ever since (although due to Haig’s ill health at the time of production, his character is quickly swapped out for a new one played by Richard Brake). But the reason Zombie’s script brings them back to life is, rather depressingly, only to perform a simplified retread of the action seen in Rejects: Just like its forebear, 3 From Hell features two central set pieces; one in the middle where the killers physically and psychologically terrorize a group of eventual victims in an enclosed setting, and one at the end where everybody goes all Wild Bunch (1969) while up against a group of antagonistic characters who are on some level connected to a figure played by Danny Trejo (a sequence that in the new film is so broad and contingent upon pre-existing imagery that, even aside from Trejo, it borders on the Robert Rodriguez-esque).
The primary differences between Rejects and Hell, in extremely reduced brief, are that this new iteration is cheaper, cornier, more contrived, more cliche (on two different occasions it does the deal where someone points a gun at a primary character and you hear a gunshot only to discover that actually a third person fired it from offscreen, real hack shit), and, most disappointingly of all, far less conflicted about portraying serial killers as antiheroes (in some cases even framing their victims in a they got what was coming to ’em sort of way, and not in a manner all that ironic either). An experience lesser and more usual than its predecessor on nearly every level, 3 From Hell doesn’t even manage to make all that much of the one characteristic which seems inherent to its making, that being the time that’s passed in between entries—while this may be a half-sequel/self-remake in the manner of, say, El Dorado (1966), it has none of that film’s interest in charting what changes about people or personas as they grow older. The Devil’s Rejects, to be clear, seems a great film even still: By transitioning villains into antiheroes at the height of the horror genre’s Bush-era torture-fetish, Zombie created a film which investigated the obsessions and transgressions of cinema and contemporary life alike, not amplifying the pleasures of screen-violence but instead foregrounding those depictions of gruesome amoral grotesquerie to such an extent that any pleasure came accompanied by queasiness. Nothing of the sort can be said of 3 From Hell, merely a simple, indulgent, self-congratulatory victory lap around that which came before it.
3 FROM HELL. REVIEW BASED ON UNRATED CUT. ONE NIGHT ONLY SCREENINGS VIA FATHOM EVENTS ON 10.14, 7PM @ REGAL FENWAY, AMC SOUTH BAY CENTER, AND REVERE SHOWCASE. AVAILABLE ON HOME VIDEO AND VOD OUTLETS ON 10.15.