It was the trial of the decade, the Devil’s Rejects, Otis Driftwood, Vera-Ellen “Baby” Firefly and Johnny Lee “Captain Spaulding” Johns, the trio of notorious killers behind the “Houses of 1,000 Corpses” murders, the 3 from Hell taken down in a police blockade on May 23rd 1978 with twenty bullets apiece; none were expected to survive, but evil persists.
The media loved it and a cult sprang up chanting “free the three” outside the courthouse while Baby worked the cameras, her blonde ringlets and perfect teeth framed in her luscious smile making her the manipulative darling of white trash America while those charged with controlling her knew another side, the hair-trigger psychopath who butchered her way across state lines.
For ten years they remained behind bars until October 1988, while Otis was working manual labour with a chain gang, the arrival of his brother Winslow Foxworth “Howling Wolf” Coltrane, armed and vengeful and seeking freedom for his family with no compunction about how he would get it, murder, torture, coercion, so long as he gets what he wants, another trail of innocent bodies to add to the tally.
The belated and unexpected third film in the Firefly family saga from writer/director Rob Zombie after 2003’s House of 1,000 Corpses and 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects, 3 from Hell acknowledges the long gap by moving the narrative forward a decade as it reunites Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie and the late Sid Haig in one of his final roles, his participation limited by his obvious poor health but still untamed, joined by Mandy‘s Richard Brake to continue the carnage.
Again eschewing the teen victim stereotype with their perfect Hollywood faces for his preferred ensemble of eccentrics and outcasts, the removal of that veneer of artificiality makes the violence more shocking, and with grainy colour-saturated video news footage Zombie masterfully evokes the period yet still finds time for the bizarre such as Baby’s Eraserhead fantasy and unexpected kindness in the otherwise unhinged performances such as the touching tribute to Matthew McGrory.
Whereas there was a huge stylistic leap between the first two films, one set in a creepy house on a rainy night, the other a sun-bleached road movie, 3 from Hell drifts through abandons the early hints of a Charlie Manson influenced cult for a harsh drama of prison abuse headed by two other Zombie collaborators, Lords of Salem‘s Jeff Daniel Phillips and an almost unrecognisable Dee Wallace, before hopping the border to Mexico for an overlong final act which is disappointingly conventional after the deranged trip which preceded it.