Well the release of this is somewhat overshadowed by the passing of one of this trilogy of film’s most loveable stars Sid Haig. So much more than just a bad tempered, homicidal clown the veteran actor had appeared in nearly 150 productions from Jack Hill’s fantastic Spider Baby (1967) to westerns such as Gunsmoke, blaxploitation movies with Pam Grier and Philippine prison movies. Recent generations will no doubt remember him fondly as non-stuttering, grumpy clown Captain Spaulding and he will be sorely missed leaving us after complications from an accident aged 80.

But as they say the show must go on, even sometimes when it is a show that you really never envisaged doing so. Love or loathe him Rob Zombie’s career from music to the film world has not been the easiest due to him partly being hampered by studio interference and also as far as the UK is concerned there are obviously some problems with rights issues still preventing certain films of his being obtained. There is no blu-ray of House Of A Thousand Corpses (2003) or Halloween (2007) and Lords Of Salem (2012) is not available on blu or even DVD. Unfortunately his last flick 31 was an unmitigated and near unwatchable disaster after the studios had hacked his vision to bits so fans of his are naturally hoping he was going to pull something out the bag here despite 3 From Hell coming straight to home entertainment rather than as a widespread theatrical cinema release.

The 116 minute run time released without BBFC cuts bodes well for part 3 of the trilogy which starts off with House Of A 1000 Corpses and continued with The Devil’s Rejects 14 years ago (my, how time flies). I am sure you have probably seen the finale of that and are wondering just how the hell our anti-heroes Spaulding (Sid Haig), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri-Moon Zombie) were going to survive being pumped full of bullets in gritty Peckinpah slo-mo. Well be prepared to suspend your disbelief as they do and the film starts with trials and imprisonment in a style akin to The Manson family and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994). Of-course there would not be much of a film if they didn’t, or at least some of them got their freedom and things develop at a pretty cracking pace. Zombie gets the chance to make not just one film here but to incorporate some of his no doubt favourite sub-genres in the process. During the first half of the film we flirt between Baby’s incarceration with many tropes of the WiP (women in prison) movie being trotted out. There’s even a wicked warder called Greta in a possible nod to king of sleaze Jess Franco and she is played with great panache and enthusiasm by Dee (The Howling) Wallace. Then we have a parallel home invasion film going on and it is here the mean spirit of the films predecessors really come to light. It’s not pleasant in the slightest. I should point out that the 3 from hell are not necessarily the ones that you might expect but Baby and Otis are joined by their equally objectionable half-brother Winslow “Foxy” Coltrane (Richard Brake). Both these sections are really made enjoyably manic and bloodthirsty by over the top Warden Virgil Dallas Harper played by Jeff Daniel Phillips, effectively taking over as the character of Sheriff Wydell (William Forsyth) of Rejects.

Leaving a trail of bloodshed behind them, the trio flee to find, peace love and harmony somewhere they feel they might be safe. Naturally paths have been crossed and it’s not just the law after them but a horde of bloodthirsty maniacs looking for revenge. Saying more would spoil the plot entirely and this is not the easiest of films to review unless it is done so by being somewhat vague. At times though 3 From Hell does seem like a case of deja-vu as much of what we saw in Devil’s Rejects is kind of repeated here, luckily that doesn’t really spoil it that much but if looking at which film is the best you are always likely to come up with Rejects after seeing this. I’m not sure if there was much interference here but it doesn’t seem so as Zombie is also left to develop things into his own Western of sorts. There’s plenty of gore and blood and guts although at times the violent gun battles are a little bit too CGI for comfort of those who like their effects old-school. The dialogue is fast, foul and again absolutely brilliant especially on behalf of Moseley whose Otis is the true reincarnation of evil devilry. I think we have gone past cries of nepotism as far as Rob casting his wife, Sheri-Moon has proven herself time and time again and Baby is kooky delight to watch, a true viper poised to strike with the slightest provocation; demented, gorgeous and dangerous as hell.

Not everyone could be brought back from the last film and although some cult actors such as Michael Berryman and Ken Foree are not here there is Evilspeak’s Clint Howard clowning around and Z-Nation and Mayan’s MC actor Emilio Rivera playing a somewhat fun and stereotypical part. On the whole Zombie plays it straight in a style you will be accustomed to. There’s some psychedelic stimulation for the potheads and some cool music with cult written all over it and at the end of the day 3 From Hell is a lot of good old nasty fun. One does kind of feel Rob Zombie has run out of ideas and the Firefly’s journey has gone about as far as it can go, so perhaps it was a good idea leaving it almost a decade and a half in making this film. So, what about a part 4? Well actually it’s a damn sight more conceivable that 3 From Hell was in the first place, so I wouldn’t say it’s entirely out the equation.

Just as Rob Zombie enjoys remixing his music he also loves doing making of features for his films and as with Devils this one comes with a whopping 95 minute making of as an extra. Of-course this could be tedium in extremis and for those with OCD who don’t allow themselves to move onto the next film they watch until sitting through all the extras a bit of a chore. Thankfully here we get just the sort of in-depth extra all film-makers should look at providing. Everything is presented in easily digestible bite sized chunks and all facets of the film and movie making process are explored mainly on set during the filming of 3 from hell. We get insight into reasons for making the film and some problems involved with the casting involving a rewrite of the script. Rob Zombie talks about the beginning segment and the documentary style which totally does stem from early Charles Manson docs. The rehearsals are looked at, the work of everyone from costume designer, set design and location scouting to SFX and a look at all the weapons and the training that is involved with them including plenty of safety measures so no accidents on set are likely. Hell, there is even a lesson on making the (fake) spliffs smoked by the cast. One really gets the feeling of family here and that everyone was on the same page. There’s nothing in the way of complaining and they are given no time to sit around and get bored as Rob Zombie worked quickly and effectively over the 20 day shoot doing a good job all round (and getting this doc put together in the process). Just what you need basically and if you want more there’s a director’s commentary track too. I’ll definitely be buying 3 From Hell and doubt it’s going to be long at all before I watch it again, maybe all 3 films back to back.

(Pete Woods)