Film: 3 from Hell
Director: Rob Zombie
Type of Film: Horror, camp
Availability: Released in September of 2019, you can see it several places online. I’m linking to the Amazon Prime listing mainly because I have an Amazon Affiliate account but it currently appears to be on Google Play and on the pay to watch section of YouTube.
Comments: Not all of the Oddtober entries will be wholly odd, and this film is a good example. Graphic, violent horror films will often be a bit odd to some, but had this film not ostensibly been released as a Halloween film (Dia de los Muertos features heavily in the latter hour of the film), and had it not been Sid Haig’s last film with Rob Zombie, it likely would not have been discussed here.
Yeah, Sid Haig died. He is only in the opening five minutes or so and he looks rough but I’m glad he got to rally and be in the franchise he’s so well associated with one last time. His role in House of a Thousand Corpses was one of the funniest horror film roles. Though evil to his core, Captain Spaulding provided viewers with coarse humor to blunt some of the very graphic violence and gore.
I strongly suggest that you go watch House of a Thousand Corpses again rather than mess with 3 from Hell because Sid Haig’s absence is felt acutely. Fuck yo mama, indeed. But if you’re the sort who must see all the entries in a franchise, or you just wanna pay respects to a fine character actor, I guess you could do worse than this latest installment. But still, this is not a particularly good film until the last 30 minutes or so.
There may be spoilers throughout this discussion. But really, you already know what is going to happen. You can’t spoil Zombie’s formula, really. So if you get worked up by spoilers, skip this off-the-cuff discussion until you’ve seen the film.
Synopsis: Okay, I’ve mentioned Sid looks rough and his role is over in five or so minutes but that’s okay in a way because at least we get to see Captain Spaulding one more time, defiant and clowny. Otis Driftwood is still Otis Driftwood, pompous and given to long diatribes, but Baby Firefly is fucked. For people who hated her shrill laughter, baby doll mannerisms and cutesy psychopathy in House of a Thousand Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, she will be unbearable in this film. Gibbering and insane from years in solitary confinement, her character is so over the top and weird that even Otis eventually notices she’s more whacked than usual when he breaks her out of prison. Oh yeah, he breaks out of prison with the help of his half-brother, Winslow Foxworth Coltrane, an Argus Filch look-alike who is clearly a replacement for Captain Spaulding. Bloody mayhem ensues, as you knew it would, Baby becomes a bit more grounded to reality, and some shitty town in Mexico is essentially destroyed. The end.
Me: Holy shit, is that Danny Trejo?
Mr. OTC: Of course it is. It’s always Danny Trejo.
Baby is really batshit. It’s hard to explain how batshit she is because she’s that batshit. But she’s also competent in a violent way, able to beat the shit out of and kill sadistic psychopaths while in chains, even able to write taunting messages in their blood, unnerving the brutal and sadistic guard who set her up to be murdered. She’s a force of chaos with amazing hair. She’s a white trash River Tam.
Me: Oh my god, is that prison guard the mom from ET: The Extraterrestrial?
Mr. OTC: (begins typing into IMDb.) “Yep, that’s her.”
Damn… She really pulled her role off well. She reminded me more of Mindy Sterling as Frau Farbissina in horn rimmed glasses than the mom from The Hills Have Eyes.
There are a lot of homages to other horror films or killers. For example, in the beginning of the film Otis Driftwood is a stand-in for Charles Manson and Baby can be seen as one of Manson’s molls, an extra-demented Susan Atkins. When Baby chases down and stabs to death a naked woman, there is something about the woman’s carriage as she fled, covered in blood, that reminded me of the final scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when Sally runs for her life into the two-lane highway, desperate to either escape or find help. In an earlier scene, Otis flays a woman’s face and the camera pans to the mask he made of her facial skin, a call back to Wisconsin skin-wearer Ed Gein.
Mr. OTC: Can you guess who that clown is?
Me: Not really.
Mr. OTC: He’s played by Clint Howard, Ron Howard’s younger and creepier brother.
The clown is meant to represent John Wayne Gacy’s Pogo the Clown. Maybe. And maybe he’s meant to hark back to Captain Spaulding. But mostly I have no idea why a clown was involved. Otis and his brother had taken the prison warden, his wife, and another couple hostage. The couples were planning on spending the evening eating dinner, had no plans for a party that would need a children’s party clown, yet a clown showed up at the house in the middle of the mayhem.
Baby: What’s with the dead clown.
Otis: I’ll tell you later.
Mr. OTC: Could you explain it to us?
There is no reason for the clown to show up other than that he could sort of represent Gacy. It was a weird decision, plot-wise.
Me: Is that old dude Wilfred Brimley?
Mr. OTC: Nope. (types into IMdb again) That’s a character actor from Office Space.
Me: Wilford Brimley would have been a better choice.
Mr. OTC: Isn’t he dead?
Me: I don’t think so.
Conversation devolves into a discussion about whether or not Wilford Brimley is dead. Eventually Mr. OTC checks and I’m correct. He’s still alive (and it would have been awesome had it really been him in a Rob Zombie film).
Baby, the most lunatic member of the trio, suggests they head to Mexico, which is a good idea. She got the idea from the Halloween party guest she gutted and slashed because he was dressed as a vaquero, complete with hat and serape. So they drive to Mexico during Dia de los Muertos celebrations, though it seems unnecessary in the long run because it didn’t seem like law enforcement was engaging in a careful search to find the escaped prisoners.
In Mexico, we meet a host of ridiculous characters. The motel owner (cue me saying: “Is that Eddie from Stranger than Paradise?”) and townspeople are weird. Best Mexican characters are the one-eyed dwarf and the three-legged dog.
Mr. OTC: If they kill the dwarf with one eye or the three-legged dog, we riot.
While Baby, Otis and Winslow engaged in enough debauchery to cause the fall of the Roman Empire, the motel owner calls who I can only assume is some sort of drug cartel boss whose father Otis killed and who wants revenge. The drug boss shows up with an El Camino hauling three coffins. Men in white suits wearing luchador masks spill out of several cars, ready to find and kill the three from Hell. The suits are so synthetic that when one is doused in gasoline, it pooled on the surface of the fabric until it finally absorbed. I wondered how hot those men were, wearing polyester in the Mexican heat.
Me: Ah, fuck, Baby’s respecting the one-eyed dwarf’s dignity. He’s clearly about to die.
This movie was disgusting in a “please make this character take a shower” sort of way Dirty feet, smelly armpits, soggy navels, gargling with tequila. When a Mexican prostitute poured booze into Otis’ navel and lapped it up, I was finally certain that God is dead and that He never loved me much in the first place. It’s just a grubby, dirty, smegma-smeared film and you can smell these characters from where you sit. But then again, I’m afraid of grime and one doesn’t expect nihilistic serial killers and a bug-fucked lunatic to practice good hygiene when on the run from the law. I suspect that few people will be grossed out by the implied body odor and halitosis when there’s so much blood. I just thought I’d share.
The last 30 minutes are quite good for the lover of good schlock. Consider fast forwarding to the final confrontation between the Mexican men wearing wrestling masks and clothes reminiscent of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Lots of topless women die, Baby becomes the Bellevue Barbie equivalent of Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead and everyone gives too many long speeches when they could just kill their foe already. It’s campy, violent, excessive and ridiculous, a winning combination when you don’t really know which side to root for.
So I guess I am saying that if you watch this film with a friend who grew up watching MST3K or with a case of beer on hand, it won’t be the worst horror movie you’ve seen this year, especially if you’re into the whole “Annabelle” doll franchise. But don’t watch it in earnest. If you watch 3 from Hell with an ironic eye and an eagle eye to catch all the character actors in this film, you may very well enjoy yourself. Not highly recommended but not utterly panned, either.
The three-legged dog abides.