3 From Hell (2019)

OCTOBER 15, 2019

GENRE: HERO KILLER, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: 4K UHD (OWN COLLECTION)

With the exception of Lords of Salem, you rarely hear anyone say their favorite Rob Zombie movie is anything but The Devil's Rejects, his 1000 Corpses sequel that dropped the Texas Chainsaw-y kinda stuff in favor of a violent revenge thriller that pitted the Firefly family against the brother of a guy they killed in the first film. I wouldn't say Zombie ever sided with Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding in that film, but he clearly didn't want us rooting for their hunter (William Forsythe) either, allowing them a few minutes of "triumph" after offing him before they too met their grisly and deserved end in a hail of police bullets. We never actually saw them die, but it seemed pretty unlikely that a dozen cops firing on them would leave any of them alive, and so when he announced the long awaited (?) sequel 3 From Hell, my assumption would be that he'd be returning to the more traditional horror elements of the first film by introducing a supernatural angle.

(NOTE - Some spoilers follow, including details about the film's third act!)

Alas, the title isn't meant to be taken literally - the Fireflys simply miraculously survived their wounds (we're told they were shot about 20 times each) and that's that. I don't know if it was the lowered budget or simple laziness on Zombie's part, but it's kind of distressing that he'd wave away a fairly definitive ending to his best movie with such a half-assed excuse to keep them around (it's in the same eye-rolling territory as Halloween: Resurrection's "she beheaded a paramedic"). Alas, by "them" I mean Otis and Baby; due to star Sid Haig's health issues, Zombie was forced to rewrite his script a bit (Haig fell ill just before production began, apparently) and fill his role with a new character named Foxy (said to be Otis' half brother) played by Richard Brake. The filmmaker was only able to get Haig for one day to give Spaulding a single scene where he is interviewed on Death Row by a documentary crew, and that's it - we're told in the next scene that Spaulding had his lethal injection and died without any fuss the next day.

Yep, he survives being shot 20 times (not to mention the torture from Forsythe) only for a few fluids to do him in. It feels like a disconnect, which got me thinking perhaps there WAS some kind of "they're unkillable" element in the original script that Zombie had to abandon in order to give Spaulding a proper sendoff? The filmmaker has never been one to be too forthcoming with abandoned story ideas (indeed, the making of doc shows Danny Trejo apparently filming scenes for a part of the movie he has no role in whatsoever, but Rob doesn't explain it there or in the commentary), so we'll probably never know - it's kind of a victory that he even admitted the "Foxy for Spaulding" switcheroo. And Brake is fine, but the movie never quite feels like the "end of the trilogy" it should because of Haig's unfortunate inability to participate two weeks before shooting, when sets had been built and actors/locations secured, etc (i.e. too late to wait for Haig to get better, which, as we sadly now know, he never did - RIP Sid!).

But that said, I don't think Rob changed the script so drastically that he created what the real issue is with the movie, which is that it feels too much like Rejects. If I were generally sum up the film, I'd say that Baby and Otis escape the law, meet up with a relative, terrorize and ultimately kill an adult family, then head to a brothel for safety, only for the owner to sell them out to a guy that wants to kill them as revenge for a loved one they killed earlier - that sound familiar at all to you? One of the things that made Rejects work as well as it did is that it took a few of the characters from Corpses and plunked them into a different kind of movie, something I was hoping he'd do again here, but if anything it's not only the same kind of movie, but it recycles a few too many of the same beats as well. Ironically, if not for Brake's presence it'd come off as a Wake Up Ron Burgandy kind of thing where we might as well just be watching alternate scenes from the last movie.

To be fair, it's not really all that bad - it runs a bit long but I wouldn't say I was ever bored, and Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon deliver their expected animated performances, both of them clearly enjoying revisiting their most iconic roles (well, a tie with Chop-Top for Moseley). Baby is crazier than ever, and her scenes in prison are a hoot - there's a guard played by Dee Wallace who seems kind of obsessed with her, and they have a strange allure that almost gives you a glimpse of what a Rob Zombie Ilsa movie might look like. He even lets the characters just stop and talk about their lives every now and then, and while I never stopped missing Spaulding (Otis giving him a bit of a eulogy takes on new meaning with Haig's real life passing since the film was completed), Brake's character had some amusing monologues and a fun chemistry with Moseley - the two of them arguing about Cagney vs Bogart is a highlight. If there's any such thing as a "lighthearted" Rob Zombie movie, you'll see glimpses of it here. And the torture-y kinda stuff has been toned down somewhat; the new "villain" isn't as vicious as Forsythe and the Fireflys off most of their victims fairly quickly (or off-screen entirely in a few cases).

Then again, the bad guy (Aquarius, the son of the Danny Trejo character from Rejects, who is offed by Otis after a chance "reunion" while on a chain gang) doesn't even exist until the movie's final half hour or so, even though they set him off in the first ten minutes or so by killing Trejo. Their antagonist for the first half of the movie is the warden of the prison they're at, played by Zombie regular Jeff Daniel Phillips. More than once it seems like the character is being groomed to embrace his dark side and become a sort of willing accomplice to them, like Robert Downey Jr in Natural Born Killers, who they'll happily use until they don't need him anymore, but nah - he exits the film just past the halfway mark, almost as unceremoniously as Spaulding is written out. It's very awkward, and gives the film a kind of episodic feel that it doesn't quite benefit from in any way that I can see, since our "heroes" just kinda hang out for a while until Aquarius enters the picture. Sure, it's a surprise when these things happen, but it robs the movie of cohesion and momentum - it feels patched together and even kind of sloppy at times. I've long held the opinion that Zombie is a much better director than a writer, but there isn't much here I'd want to use to prove my point.

At least, not in the movie itself. The feature length making of on the disc shows, in some ways more than ever, how hands-on and detail oriented he is when it comes to his sets and staging the action. We see him fixing up a costume, dressing the set, walking actors through their movements, working things out with the camera crew, etc - he is not a guy who will sit in his chair in video village and wait for everyone else to do the work. As always, he frustratingly ends the doc as soon as filming wraps instead of showing us the post process (again, my man isn't all that into showing alternate ideas), but it's an otherwise thorough look at what was a tight - and unfortunately re: Sid, somewhat melancholy - shoot. Rob provides his usual commentary as well, noting a few on-set issues (Clint Howard was apparently late to set for his bizarre but kind of awesome scene) and why this or that scene was difficult, but it can be a frustrating listen since they didn't turn down the sound of the movie as much as you'd normally find on a commentary, so it can be hard to concentrate on what he's saying when you can clearly hear the dialogue or music he is talking "over".

I liked 31 more than most, but it was one of his lesser films for sure, and now this ends up more or less in the same place. After seemingly hitting his creative peak with Lords of Salem (which followed his Halloween II, which I've come to like more and more over the years), it feels like he's kind of phoning things in now, which bums me out - the movies aren't terrible or anything, but they also lack any real spark. After 14 years, what exactly made him decide to return to the Firefly family when he's not really doing anything different? If this was a "Rob Zombie Presents" kind of deal, with some old buddy of his taking over writing/directing duties and respectfully not putting too much of his own stamp on things, I could forgive the sameness, but I kind of expect more from the man himself. Hopefully it's just a brief rut and he'll come back swinging on the next one - which will ideally be something entirely new.

What say you?

P.S. Amusingly, I have this movie on 4K UHD, whereas I never even upgraded the first two from DVD to regular Blu-ray. It's kind of crazy that an entire format passed by while the Firefly family lay dormant.

1 comment:

  1. Exactly how I felt! He should’ve run with the Natural Born Killers/Manson Mania direction it started with. He could really use a a second or assistant writer sometimes I feel.

    ReplyDelete

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