Rob Zombie on the Compulsion to Resurrect ‘3 From Hell’

Some characters cannot die. Even after you’ve riddled them with bullets and left them bloody and ragged on the side of the freeway. They stand. They live. They shake themselves of their wounds and prepare to receive more. Rob Zombie thought he was done with the Firefly clan after The Devil’s Rejects, but years later a soundtrack for an unmade sequel began to form in his head, and he had to resurrect the monsters for 3 From Hell.

The plot description on IMDb tells the audience all they need to know: “the sequel to The Devil’s Rejects” (itself a sequel to House of 1000 Corpses). If you don’t already have an inkling of what to expect from the experience, then you better keep stepping. This movie is probably not for you.

Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, and Sid Haig all return to inflict mayhem, and they’re bringing Richard Brake into their fold of terror. 3 From Hell picks up almost immediately after the gnarly events of the last film and then throws the audience a bit of a curveball. Why not? Zombie himself faced several real-world roadblocks before the cameras rolled on the sequel, so he might as well translate the frustration into the narrative.

I spoke to the writer/director a few days before the film launched into theaters courtesy of Fathom Events. Our conversation begins with the 14-year gap between movies, and how the characters refused to stay dead on The Devil’s Rejects‘ climactic asphalt. We discuss his love of old faces, and how contemporary Hollywood seems terrified to cast any actor over the age of 30.

You don’t have to look deep into Zombie’s filmography to understand that the filmmaker has a sincere love for classic cinema, and he’s certainly not interested in psychoanalyzing the reason. It’s obvious. Those movies were rad. He wants to make rad movies. Of course, The Desperate Hours should be a template for 3 From Hell.

Here is our conversation in full:

Hey, so I’ve been waiting a long time for 3 From Hell. How has the concept evolved over the last decade-plus?

Well, it just was always an idea lingering in my mind, but not a full-fledged idea. I mean, truthfully, what would always make me think of it was the Terry Reid album Seed of Memory. I used many songs from that album in The Devil’s Rejects and whenever I listened to those songs, there were a couple more that every time they would play, I would start seeing images in my mind of a third movie. You know, I’d just go, “Wow, that sounds like the soundtrack to the next movie that I never made,” and that would always strike me year after year after year.

It wasn’t until about three years ago, just thinking about how much time had gone by and I was like, “You know what, the time feels right to actually do this for real.” That’s when I went in and met with the guys at Lionsgate to see if there was any interest there. So, for the next year, we developed it and I started working on the script and getting it all together and getting with the cast and seeing how everybody felt about it until it became a reality.

And those initial songs, did they make their way into the film?

Yes, yes. They are in there.

The song that immediately pops into my mind is the Slim Whitman tune “It’s A Sin to Tell A Lie” that plays over Sheri Moon Zombie chasing down her hapless victim.

I wanted to use Slim Whitman. I wanted to find a few ways that I could throw back to House of 1000 Corpses, because visually I knew it wouldn’t really do that, and tone-wise it wouldn’t do that, but having a big, showstopping moment in the middle of the film to a Slim Whitman song was, I thought, the best way to reference their beginnings. Just referencing that scene in Corpses with the long hold before Otis kills the cop and the Slim Whitman song plays right before it. That was my throwback moment.

Clearly, you’re a filmmaker chasing a nostalgic aesthetic. You’ve got Slim Whitman on the soundtrack, a plot pulled directly from The Desperate Hours. Are you looking backward because you’re not seeing what you like in today’s cinema?

I basically do what I like. You know, like what else would you do? If you’re in a position where you can make movies, you go, “Well, these are the movies I would like to see made. I would like to see adult, rough ’70’s style movies. So when I get the opportunity to do things, that’s what I do, because that’s what I want to see, and that’s what I enjoy making, that’s what I feel closest to.

I think so much of that, too, is that as a kid, that’s what I was watching. Hollywood has a real obsession with youth where every movie has to star young people. But when I was a kid, movies didn’t. You were watching Clint Eastwood or Burt Reynolds or Steve McQueen, they weren’t kids. I wasn’t hoping that Dirty Harry was played by a 17-year-old. Wow, look at Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle. He’s fucking amazing. I didn’t think, “Oh, he’s too old.” You know, we watched Jaws and Robert Shaw was the coolest guy ever, I didn’t care that he was …

That he wasn’t a kid.

Yeah, he wasn’t a teenager. It didn’t even cross my mind. Now I feel that there’s so much of that. There are still so many great faces out there that you can put in these movies and give it that vibe. So yeah, that’s the why, the reason I do it.

3 From Hell has lots of great faces. How do you go about casting?

I just keep looking, trying to figure out who’s around, who there is. There were people that I, unfortunately, had to drop. You know, sometimes people come and they go from the movie because they have a small part, then they got offered a bigger part in some other movie, so they drop out, this and that, and maybe I’ll use them next time. But it’s always nice when somebody pops up, say like Richard Edson, whom I’d never worked with before. I really liked him in Stranger Than Paradise and, you know, films like that. So that was kind of cool to add him, and he’s kind of different; he’s from that indie world. Even though a lot of people remember him from things like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Laughter). So, there’s always cool faces to be found out there.

Sure, and for 3 From Hell, you had to do some creative casting. Sid Haig is not in the film as much as he was in the Devil’s Rejects, and you have Richard Brake to fill in his slot as this lost sibling character to Bill Moseley’s, Otis. How is it incorporating him into the Firefly family?

Well, that was a weird one because the movie was conceived as Sheri, Bill, and Sid. Those are the 3 From Hell. That was the whole movie! And then about three weeks out from the beginning of shooting, I was driving to the sound stage to oversee the construction of the sets and whatnot, and I was thinking to myself, “Man, this is the most prepared I’ve ever been starting a movie. This is amazing. Then the phone rings and it’s Sid telling me he’s been in the hospital, and I’m like, “Oh crap,” but he’s out of the hospital and he’s now in a rehabilitation facility, for physical rehabilitation. And so I’m like, “Oh boy.” And we started talking about it, I’m still thinking, okay, he’s fine. He just had something done, he’s going to be ready to go. Let’s kickass.

But I hadn’t seen him in a while. Previous to that, about, I don’t know, eight months previous, we all got together and had lunch and stuff and he looked like himself. He’s a big dude, he was big and heavy and burly, like he always is. So when I went to visit him, it looked like he had lost about 80 pounds, if not more. I mean, he’s laying in a hospital bed, skinny as a skeleton. And I was like, “Uh oh.” So I stayed with him that day when he was doing his rehab and stuff. I realized, “Okay, there’s no way this guy can do this movie.” I kept writing his part smaller and smaller because I knew it was very, very important for him to be in the movie. I’m like, “Okay maybe he can be in half the movie.”

Sure, he’s essential to the cast.

Then a week goes by, we go visit him again and he’s not really getting better, or he’s not getting better at the rate that he would have to get better to actually be in a movie. We just keep going and eventually, with someone of his age, because he’s 80, you have to get cleared by the insurance company. He’s got to do a physical and all this stuff that the studio makes you do. They wouldn’t clear him to work. They were like, “No he’s not physically capable of doing this.” So then I’m like, “Great, now what do I do?” The studio was nice enough to go, “Okay, you can bring him in for one morning.” I brought him in, I shot everything that I could shoot with him. But in the meantime, I had been constantly rewriting the script because I’m like, “What am I going to do? Make a movie called Two From Hell?” Which was a consideration at one point.

And then I tried to think of other characters I could bring in, but since I have a knack for killing everybody off, there was really nobody I could bring back. That’s when I came up with the idea — fuck it — I’m just going to create a new character and work them into the situation. That was out of necessity, and since I had just worked with Richard on 31 and we got along great and I really love working with him. I thought he’d be perfect, not knowing whether or not he was available. So I called him up, and he was in Spain working on a movie. So I’m like, oh great, now I’m really fucked (Laughter).

But he finished just in time to fly to LA, basically put on his wardrobe and walked on set. I guess he memorized his lines while he was on the plane flying over. So that’s how it all went down. It was like, you plan and you plan and you plan, and then something happens.

Murphy’s Law.

So that’s the reason, man. None of that happened for good reasons.

Well, Richard fits in perfectly with the rest.

He turned out great! I think everybody was there and I talked to Sid before, when it was all going down. It was important to him and me and to the fans that he’s in the movie. Like that had to happen.

Right, of course.

But Richard jumped in there and he’s awesome. Bill and he have great chemistry together.

Yeah, that whole Cagney/Bogart thing.

Yeah.

Before I let you go, can you talk a little bit about your relationship with your cinematographer, David Daniel? 3 From Hell looks similar to The Devil’s Rejects, but it’s slightly skewed from the original’s visuals.

Yeah, it’s slightly different. I didn’t notice at the time because Dave and I have been working together since Pee-wee’s Playhouse, back in the early ’80s when I was a PA on the show.

Oh, I had no idea.

That’s pretty funny. Dave’s been around for everything. He shot Devil’s Rejects. He shot every movie I’ve ever made, except for House of 1000 Corpses. So we have a great relationship. As the movie progressed, there was a thought at first like, well, we could just copy Devil’s Rejects, so that when you put it on, it’s the exact same look.

But then I thought, well, “It doesn’t feel right.” Even when I was color timing the picture, desaturating it to look more like Rejects, I was like, “It doesn’t feel right.” It feels like that was that movie at that time period, and this is a different movie. So that’s why the movie has a different look. Color-wise, the pallet’s a little more saturated at times and it just dictated its own look. When I was making it look like Rejects, it didn’t work. You know, because it wasn’t conceived that way. I wanted it to feel like it’s a little bit in the middle of the two films.


3 From Hell plays in select theaters September 16th through September 18th and arrives on DVD, Blu-ay, and 4K Ultra HD on October 15th.

Brad Gullickson: @@MouthDork Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.