We are nearly a decade and a half removed from Rob Zombie’s The Devil's Rejects. In that film’s finale the Firefly clan were able to bow and exit stage left having--presumably--succumbed to a hail of gunfire. To return to this world and revive the sadistic family for a third round of violent shenanigans, one would assume Rob Zombie had something more important on his mind than fan service. One would be dead wrong. 3 From Hell neither satisfyingly resurrects Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) for a third chapter in the Firefly saga nor does it take their stories in surprising new directions.
Sid Haig's health and eventual death loomed heavily on the film's brief theatrical run. Prior to the film’s initial release, Zombie called an audible early in the film’s production to limit the strain on Haig. This is dealt with early on in the film with Richard Brake stepping in as a new member of the family, Winslow Foxworth Coltrane. Winslow becomes the key that springs Otis from prison and the two scheme on how to free Baby while planning their subsequent moves to keep their freedom.
From the start 3 From Hell does absolutely nothing surprising to explain how Otis, Baby and Spaulding survived their bombastic capture. The introduction plays as something of a documentary or news piece dumping the information on the audience. It takes little time to get reacquainted with the abrasive and violent personalities of our main characters. It also quickly dawns on us that Zombie has little interest in providing any nuance to their murderous personas. At nearly 2 hours what we get is basically The Devil's Rejects 2.0 but without Captain Spaulding.
A rehash of TDR doesn't seem like that much of a bad thing, but stepping back into this arena after 14 years in order to deliver a film with absolutely nothing new on its mind is a waste. Zombie's attempt at re-creating a grimy grindhouse flick is successful in doing just that. Anyone looking for some progression to the Firefly family's journey will likely have an unsatisfying experience, wondering if the film had any meaning or even a morbid sense of catharsis. This is most demonstrative in a scene in which Baby exhibits some vulnerability in reference to Captain Spaulding that's treated with little more than a shrug. Indeed, Haig’s physical absence in the remainder of the film is notable but the film can’t provide even a slight bit of effective pathos.
3 From Hell feels like just another chance for Zombie to stretch his taste for vulgarity as shock value, further devaluing his status as a writer. As a director, Zombie's talents are still evident, but are begging for a more restrained voice to guide his inspiration. Despite not challenging himself, it is encouraging that the filmmaker continues to not neuter his vision in the face of critical and commercial scrutiny as it leaves the door open for edgier, more refined projects going forward. Hopefully, 3 From Hell is just a stepping stone on the road to bigger and better things.