We were introduced to the Firefly Family back in 2003 in Rob Zombie’s directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses. The rocker turned director had a following from his music that had heavy horror elements and his fans were excited to see what he had to offer to the big screen. The result would be a throwback to ’70s and ’80s exploitation horror films, a solid but flawed freshman offering.
The story would be your typical young adults who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time on a dark Halloween night. They end up being tortured and mutilated to the amusement of the Firefly Family (*spoiler alert*). The gore and violence flowed, but most importantly, we were introduced to three fantastically demented individuals that would return as the focal point of his follow-up, which would turn out to be his masterpiece of grindhouse cinema, a film Lionsgate was eager to get rolling after 1000 Corpses made back its money on its opening day.
The Devil’s Rejects followed two years later in 2005 and would have a completely different feel from 1000 Corpses. Zombie had improved greatly in almost every facet of filmmaking since his debut film and that was apparent right from the beginning of Rejects.
You could tell he was leaning too much on inspirations of films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hill Hills Have Eyes in his first film, but here he had found his own signature style. He wanted to make something more horrific with less cartoonish characters in the vein of a violent western. It was gritty and raw like a rusty filet knife under your fingernails where you either hated it or leaned forward and wanted more.
Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Mosely) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) would be on the run from authorities after the events of the previous film causing even more havoc while being tracked by a sadistic Sheriff (William Forsythe) bent on revenge for his murdered brother by, you guessed it, the Firefly Family. Beneath all the nasty violence, there was some really solid writing, character development, and great acting going on from people who embellished in their roles. I have will always stand by Rejects as being one of the best grindhouse films ever made and it being one of the best horror films of this century so far.
Granted Zombie’s movies aren’t for everyone, even a lot of horror fans, but he had a certain niche that appealed to many including myself. After the success of Rejects, Zombie would be set to hit it big time in horror with being handed the honor and arduous task of remaking one of the most classic horror films of all time: Halloween.
For me, he delivered a suitable offering with more of his signature grime and redneck horror ways. Zombie was able to put as much of his originality into Halloween while staying somewhat faithful to the source material. Say what you will about his remake, but he still directed a fine film that was well shot and acted. You may not have liked his version of Michael Myers’ story, but he was making quality movies and honing his craft.
Halloween 2 would see him go even further with his out there thinking. He made a truly original tale for Michael Myers that didn’t rely on nostalgia or throwbacks. Besides featuring a few returning characters, this was a unique and fresh take on the Halloween saga.
ZOMBIE ON HIS OWN
After studio involvement caused his experience making the Halloween films to be miserable, Zombie went back to making his own films in his own unhindered way.
His next original offering was in 2012 with Lords of Salem, one of Zombie’s most weird and out there films. Again, even if you didn’t like this film you could recognize his solid filmmaking. He was a director who was simply trying to stretch his unique imagination.
Then 2016’s 31 happened.
Oh, it still had a number of his signature elements such as the redneck horror, violence, vulgarity, and regular actors, but the filmmaking felt worse than his debut film. It seemed he had lost all the traits and techniques he had gathered along the way. Yet, this was the first unwatchable offering of his, so maybe it was just a fluke.
3 FROM HELL
This leads us to Zombie’s latest outing, 2019’s 3 From Hell, a film I had really hoped would help get Rob Zombie back on track. It felt like Zombie was back in his wheelhouse again. He was working with some of his best characters (Baby, Otis, and Spaulding) while adding in another solid genre actor in Richard Blake, who was the only redeemable aspect of 31 as Doom-Head.
The Rejects surprisingly survived their shoot out with the cops and were sentenced to jail for their heinous crimes. We all knew they would somehow escape, and the mayhem would be back on. We could all be happy as Zombie fans rejoiced everywhere. Well, not this Zombie fan. News had been swirling about Sid Haig’s health and the effect it had on the film. Zombie recently gave an interview citing Sid’s health as a reason for heavy rewrites which is a tough circumstance but something, as a creator, you just have roll with it.
You can tell the first part of 3 From Hell suffered from the rewrites because it’s pretty much unwatchable. It feels aimless with way too much time given to his wife to act as the demented Baby while still in prison. Otis had been broken out by the new part of the trio, Winslow Foxworth “The Midnight Wolfman” Coltrane. Yes, that was his name but thankfully they just referred to him mainly as “Foxy”. Here again, it seemed like the rewrites hampered the story as there were some pacing issues and needless dialogue. Sadly, due to his health, Captain Spaulding was a non-factor. I could be wrong on where the rewrites were and if I am, that just makes it even worse. The first half of 3 From Hell just didn’t feel like a Rob Zombie film.
However, 3 From Hell is not a complete disaster. There are moments where the film turns a corner, becomes entertaining and the fans get what they came to see. Baby, Otis, and now Foxy, doing Reject debauchery with their sadistic glee like only they know how to do. I was finally engaged with this story and was ready to see what happened next. It seemed like everyone settled in at this point and that led me to believe this was part of the original movie Zombie had planned. Nothing was outright great, but it was enough to get me to the end of the movie without completely zoning out.
Sadly, 3 From Hell would barely be a notch above 31 as there was nothing memorable about this entry in Zombie’s filmography. I gave him a pass with 31 as every filmmaker has an off day, but after this letdown, it feels more like a trend in the wrong direction. I still think Zombie has a unique vision and talent, but it may be time for someone to help guide him, at least on the writing side. There’s a possibility that guidance could have helped in the rewrite process of 3 From Hell. Also, it may be time to utilize some new actors.
My rating is 2/5 and that hurts.