Cinematic Releases: 3 from Hell (2019) - Reviewed

Hard rocker turned horror-grindhouse movie director Rob Zombie was, is and always will be a divisive filmmaker.  From his introductory chapter to the silver screen as well as unleashing of three of horror lore’s most savage evildoers, House of 1,000 Corpses is best remembered for being dropped by Universal Studios for being ‘too violent’ before being picked up by Lionsgate and asking the world if it was ready for a Rob Zombie film?  Seven features later, we’re still asking ourselves that question. 

After bouts of inspired filmmaking like The Devil’s Rejects and the intriguing misfire The Lords of Salem, the former production designer turned musician/filmmaker found himself reaching an impasse with his last feature 31 which saw the director receding to the well.  His most recent film and loosely-connected third entry to his ‘Otis, Baby and Captain Spaulding’ trilogy, 3 from Hell, only doubles down further on that creative recession, serving up familiar set pieces and largely disengaging conflicts with torture scenes that start to make one subconsciously reevaluate their love for The Devil’s Rejects.

The premise this time around for the demonic trio finds them doing a decade of hard time with Captain Spaulding (a tragically sickly-looking Sid Haig) being executed off with fellow inmate Foxy (Richard Brake from 31) assuming the now missing role as an escape plan between Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) hatches.  From here amid the usual kidnappings and murders along the way, 3 from Hell posits the three into the open hideout of Mexico, blending right in until they awaken the vengeful wrath of a Mexican gangster with a score of his own to settle.

While I’ll take this recent offering over 31, 3 from Hell is a redundant retread of familiar ground better explored in his still great second feature.  Where that film felt inspired, this one feels tired and kind of dismal.  There’s some amount of sympathy for these monstrous characters ala the grudging “friendship” with Alex from A Clockwork Orange, though even Baby is starting to show her age.  The Devil’s Rejects took you through the whole gamut of love and hatred for them whereas 3 from Hell makes you feel kind of bored by their company.

Visually, while Zombie and his cinematographer David Daniels have always gone for the grungy aesthete, here the end result borders on amateurish.  Unmistakably you know you’re watching a Rob Zombie film and yet there’s a cheapness to this one which works against the film.  The score by Zeuss is your typical rough and ragged electronic/rock soundtrack with some occasional use of familiar hits used in an ironic sense, though even that element in this case is starting to feel by the numbers.

No one can accuse Rob Zombie of not being a one-of-a-kind auteur, a filmmaker with a head on his shoulders and a clear cinematic vision.  You know you’re watching one of his films even through flipping around the channels late at night.  And yet while I can still stay with The Devil’s Rejects and still will subscribe to the idea of the man being an original in film, if I were to come across 3 from Hell surfing the cable box my instinct would be to change the channel.  As with 31, count Zombie down but never out!

--Andrew Kotwicki