How 3 From Hell Brings Back the Devil’s Rejects

Rob Zombie tells us about visiting with his unholy trio again in 3 From Hell.

Rob Zombie and the Cast of 3 From Hell
Lionsgate/Saban

It’s been 14 years since we saw the members of the Firefly clan — Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and “Baby” Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) — apparently get sent to hell in a blaze of bullets at the end of writer/director Rob Zombie’s second and still most celebrated movie, The Devil’s Rejects.

But against all odds, the three sadistic criminals are back in 3 From Hell, Zombie’s latest chapter in what has now become a trilogy that started back in 2003 with his directorial debut, House of 1,000 Corpses. And if the Firefly tribe are anything in this film, they’re even more unrepentant and wicked than before.

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How they made it out of The Devil’s Rejects alive, what happens to them in prison and how they find all kinds of new and horrifying trouble to get into — along with new family member Winslow “Foxy” Coltrane (Richard Brake) —  is the stuff of spoilers, which we won’t get into here.

But Den of Geek did get a chance to speak with Rob Zombie (who’s also got a finished new album in the can) about how he came up with the idea of revisiting the Firefly clan, whether there are other members of the family lurking out there and the unusual premiere that the movie is getting this coming week.

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Den of Geek: There was a time when The Devil’s Rejects seemed pretty much your final word on these characters. When did you start to think about visiting them again?

Rob Zombie: Every time I would finish a movie, I think, “That’s that. Onto the next thing.” But these characters, for some reason, just would always stick with me. They always meant more. I think because they’re from my first movie, and I was still tight with the cast members. They were just more in my life than other movies. As time would go on I would always think, “Oh man, what if we did another one? What if we did another one?” But then I would just brush it off. I would never go any further than that fleeting thought, or just sort of thinking about it like, “Oh, it could be this, could be that.”

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Also, too, over the years the characters have grown in a different way, where people are always dressing up as them for Halloween, they’re showing me their tattoos of the characters, they’re wearing T-shirts, they’re buying merch. Even this year, Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando were doing these huge events around House of 1000 Corpses. The characters don’t go away, so they would never leave my mind. Then, it was about three years ago where I really thought to myself, “Fuck it. I’m going to try and make this happen.” That’s when I went in and had meeting at Lionsgate, and started telling them, “I got this idea to bring this back.” They were receptive, then over the next year or so we started figuring out when and how we would do this, and that’s how it started.

Another part was, I was realistically thinking, “If not now, when? It’s already been 15 years.” I got together for lunch with Sheri, Bill, and Sid. We all sat down together, and everybody looked basically the same…I thought, “Okay, let’s do this. This will make sense,” and that’s how it all started.

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Once that got the ball rolling, did the other plot elements fall into place for you pretty quickly?

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Yeah, it was always the third act where I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. I always knew I wanted the beginning to be kind of like a documentary, explaining what happened, and I knew I wanted it to be like a prison break movie, which would then, sort of, turn into this film noir, Desperate Hours home invasion movie. But then I was like, “Okay, once they’re out and they’re reunited, what the fuck am I doing with them?” That’s where I kept getting hung up. Then, once the idea of Mexico entered the picture, I was like, “Ah, that’s going to make it.” I wanted the third act to be something that looked and felt completely different than everything else. Once I hit upon Mexico, that’s when it all started going.

When they get there, you really wonder if they’ve met their match this time.

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Well that’s the thing, too. I was like, bringing in your main nemesis in the third act is tricky, because you haven’t really stepped them up. So I’m like, “Well, I can’t just bring in any anonymous person.” So, I was like, “Well, if I tie them back to the Danny Trejo character from the beginning, then people will remember him, because he’s hard to forget.” Then I thought, “Okay, then there’s some backstory. Then there’s a revenge element.” Then I came up with the idea of the look, the lucha libre mask…You don’t need a lot of set up with those guys, because they’re kind of like a faceless army. Only Emilio Rivera’s character had to have a personality.

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How did Richard Brake come into the picture?

He had a small part in Halloween II. He was the guy driving the coroner’s van, whose head gets cut off by Michael Myers. I worked with him again on my last movie, 31. He was one of the main killers, Doomhead, in that movie. We got along great, and I just knew he was the type of actor that would be down for the way I like to work, and where I wanted to go with this.

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(Richard) was in Spain, shooting another movie. But he was just wrapping that movie. He got on a plane, he came to LA, and started working, basically, the next day. Jumped right in. Having worked with everybody several times, I just knew it would be great, because Richard and Sheri were great together in 31. Bill and Richard hadn’t worked together, but I knew they’d vibe, just by knowing them.

You open up a lot of possibilities with his introduction. We don’t really know how far this Firefly clan extends, do we? Or how many branches there are.

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Yeah, that’s the funny thing. Now that I’ve branched out, I could go, “Well, here’s cousin Joe.” I guess I could do anything. It’s not really my plan to do that. I thought about it for a long time. You have characters that have been kicking around for almost 20 years that are well known. Can you create a new one, and fit him right in? That was always the worry. I’m not just saying it because I have to, I really think it worked.

Where did you shoot, and how long was the shoot this time?

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The shoot was quick, as always. We shot in California, as always. I like shooting in California because, on these schedules, I like having everything possible there. That’s why I can always get so many interesting cameos. People are willing to come down and work one day, whether it’s Dee Wallace, Danny Trejo, Clint Howard, or whoever. They’re awesome in the movie. So yeah, California for sure. We shot it in 19 days, if you can believe it.

Indie, low budget filmmaking is always an adventure, but do you feel like you’ve got enough of a handle on hw to make it work for you now?

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There’s a certain budget that, if you stay at that certain budget, it’s definitely the budget where no one will fuck with you. Because, obviously, the bigger budgets get, the more people weigh in. Because you’re spending more money, and then people start worrying about their money. I mean, when I was making this movie, Lionsgate didn’t say anything. They’re like, “Okay, cool. You tell us when you’re done.” That’s the way to make a movie. You don’t need people weighing in all the time and getting involved. Especially when you have short schedules, you don’t have time to fuck around.

Pre-production is everything. You have to know exactly what you are going to set out to do, and do it, and everyone around you has to be a total pro who can do it. This only comes from years of experience. I could never have done this five years ago, or 10 years ago. Not even close. I wouldn’t have had the experience to be able to know how to work that fast, and make a film like that. I just couldn’t, if my life depended on it.

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What are your overall thoughts on the creative ways that movies are getting out there these days?

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Things are really changing. There was a time where, if something was quote/unquote direct to video, the general public would think, “Oh, it’s not good, because if it was good they would go to theaters.” That’s just not the case anymore. The thing with going to theaters is, it’s very expensive. The reason that I can make the movies and be left alone is (that we’re) not trying to go, “Oh, we’ll take 3 From Hell and put it on 4,000 screens.” Because you do that, and suddenly you’ve got to get Lionsgate to go, “Okay, we’re going to put a $40 million ad campaign behind this little, tiny movie.” So now you’ve got to earn $70 million to break even.

These are insane numbers to deal with, but now they make big budget, expensive movies just to go to Netflix. Scorsese movies, or whatever, or different things. It’s so different. Even if you have a movie in theaters, and it is a huge hit and grossed, whatever, 100, 200, 300 million, it still seems like, after like four weeks, no one cares anymore. It’s such a quick burn. If your movie doesn’t blow up huge, you’re just fucking dead.

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This way, what I like about it is, I get the money, I make the film, and there’s a really structured, sensible way to release it where I go, “I know this is going to get them their money back, and then I can make another film.” That’s all I’m concerned with, is making the film. I’ve made films on every possible level, from little tiny studios, to doing the big, giant releases where it came in at number one and grossed all this money. I don’t even care about that stuff anymore, because it’s all the same to me, at the end of the day. It’s just, get the film made. I can’t control the other stuff…if the movie is made, you’ve already won the battle.

You’re doing a three-night premiere event in theaters for this with Fathom Events this week (September 16, 17 and 18). Each night will have additional bonus content as well.

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The Fathom Events are great, because it’s on about a thousand screens, I think, around the U.S. It’s there for three nights, if people want to see it. When I was a kid and I’d want to go see weird movies, it wasn’t playing just down the street. I’d get in the car and I’d drive for two fucking hours, because Flesh for Frankenstein was not playing at the local cinema in 3D. It wasn’t playing anywhere. Or Dawn of the Dead, or anything. So that doesn’t seem that strange to me. People don’t even care about going to the theater. I don’t even go to the theater that much anymore, which I can’t believe I’m saying, but I really don’t. I watch so much stuff at home, as most people do. I guess it really doesn’t matter. As long as the content exists, people will see it.

Do you know what the next film is, and do you have a release date for the new album?

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I don’t know the exact release date for the album. It’ll be sometime, most likely, in February. I don’t know the exact date because, yeah, it’s been done, but I had to get this movie out and done before I could put it out and deal with it. Probably in December or January I’ll start with shooting all the music videos, and gear up for that for next year.

As far as the next movie, there’s a couple of different things that I’m trying to make happen. I don’t know which one will happen. I never know because, like I said, whenever I think the next movie is going to be, it never has been. It’s always something else. It’s so weird how that works, and I think that’ll probably be the case again. There will be another movie as always, and another record, and we can keep doing interviews for another 30 years.

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Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye