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This is a case study on the movie series Firefly Family trilogy: “House of a 1000 Corpses” (2003), “The Devil’s Rejects” and “3 From Hell”, three of the horror movies by Rob Zombie.
This saga polarizes people, for me they are one very good movie and two okay movies, but most of the reactions from others I’ve seen in all these years were at either extreme of the spectrum, undiluted love or hardcore hate.
My feelings about this saga go way against the current of what audiences and critics think of it. They seem to favor the second movie over the first, I do not. Also, some downright knock Rob Zombie in general as a Director. The kind of people that you have to put in their place at once and lash out at them, counter-attacking with an immediate question of why they think so.
Haters will hate is one of my favorite phrases. Below I will list a few of the arguments that those who knock down these movies use, and I will follow with an explanation of why I think those arguments may be valid, but in the big picture of the story, they don’t matter.
- The plot is basic: You don’t need a lot of story for movies about psychopaths against the world.
- The entertainment value of the film is low: Only in the second movie “The Devil’s Rejects”.
- It pays homage to just too many movies: So what? Too many horror movies do that, it’s common.
- The characters are underdeveloped: They are satisfactorily fleshed out on the first, and that suffices.
Firefly Family, Rob Zombie, Sheri Moon Zombie, Lions Gate Entertainment, Psychopaths Horror
The first movie was purchased from Universal, and many scenes were filmed in the studio’s back-lots. Universal shelved it due to its crude content and feared about what it was going to be rated by censors.
Around three years after that, Zombie purchased the film back from Universal and sold it to Lions Gate.
Rob Zombie debuted as a film score producer when he composed the score of “House of 1000 Corpses” with Scott Humphrey.
Damien Leone (the director of the movies featuring Art the Clown) says, in this video, that doting Art the Clown with a gun was definitely intentional and that he was aware that many slasher movie watchers reject slasher flicks that feature guns.
That’s something that connects Art’s world with the Firefly’s universe because Captain Spaulding is also a killer clown that uses a gun. I didn’t have time to research if Leone gives credit to Captain Spaulding or Zombie among his influences. Still, directly or indirectly, the fact of Art the Clown as a great way to pay horror studies due, and the connection are undeniable.
Even before knowing that Rob Zombie said that “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Hills have Eyes” were two movies that influenced it, for those that know those other two movies it becomes pretty obvious.
It’s not just in the scenery, props, characters, and narratives. It’s evident in the cinematography also. I remember off the top of my head two scenes in which the acting in one and the camera work in the other instantly reminded me of Chainsaw Massacre.
Before Rob Zombie ventured into movie-making I always thought about him that his style was spot on. When I watched those videos, especially Thunder Kiss 65, it conjured a spirit of enjoyment of horror and bizarre movies and a yearning for all kinds of nostalgic, exploitative, and bizarre cinema that I had not yet seen.
Before watching any of the movies I thought that a movie by Zombie was going to be, first, an aesthetic object, and only after that an audiovisual rendition of a story.
Add to that prejudice that, around 2006-2008, I was very fastidious about the things I had learned about movies, and wanted to prove to myself that any movie, especially one by Rob Zombie, if good, stands on its own merit and can be enjoyable, even if it’s a sequel of a saga that I hadn’t yet watched.
“House of 1000 Corpses”
The Firefly family is a broken family of psychopaths. A previous head of the family, Cutter, known as Captain Spaulding, is an evil clown located outside of Ruggsville. He has a gas, chicken, tourist trap museum, and dark ride business. He lives away from the rest. He tantalizes the visitors to his dark ride, then makes his customers interested in seeing the tree from which Doctor Satan was hanged.
Once his customers’ curiosity is awakened, the unsuspecting visitors almost always end up wrapping themselves up; asking for directions to the tree to see it. Once tourists do that, it’s all over for them, because the evil clown is more than eager to give those directions.
What awaits them there is the rest of the family, Grandpa Hugo, Mama Firefly, and her (all by different fathers) children: Rufus Jr, Baby, Tiny, and Otis B. Driftwood, the adopted sibling.
“The Devil’s Rejects”
I think “The Devil’s Rejects” is a movie that’s specially catered to fans of audiovisual terror, meaning horror movies without paranormal elements. Still, there are a few specific niches that it adopts, that are going to sit great with niche fans of a few sub-genres of horror.
- Fans of horror movies about psychopaths
- Fans of vengeance horror movies
- Fans of backwoods/hillbilly horror
- Easy-to-please (like me) horror fans
We don’t get to know much about any of the members of the Firefly family. At the end of this movie, what we know is a few more character quirks that expand on what we’ve learned watching the first.
“3 From Hell”
Three felt, to me, very similar to “The Devil’s Rejects”. Still, I felt it had a much higher entertainment value than the second and I loved the bizarre visuals in the third act.
The second movie and the third movie are about the Fireflys, uprooted from their familiar surroundings, spiraling down and pretty much paying back the wages of their bad karma, not without dragging a lot of victims to hell with them first.
I think the second and the third are rather generic movies and less fun than the first. But most of the greatest movies about psychopaths are minimalistic and stark like that.
My Approach to Watching this saga
When I watched the three not long ago, two of them for the second time, I really enjoyed the story as a whole and found that watching them backward is a nice way to exact an enjoyable reading of the saga.
Said meaning was, that starting by the third, and watching them in backward order gave me a more revealing reading of the story. That’s because the family is less and less fleshed out in the second and third movies. Watching the last two before the first made me prepared to be more open to the characters and their story, and they are satisfactorily exposed in the first.
The first time, around 2006-2008, when I watched both “House of a 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects” I remember that I watched them the wrong way, first Rejects, and 1000 Corpses second.
This year, I did the same thing, with the addition of “3 From Hell”. I watched “3 From Hell” in October then I watched part two and part one of the trilogy, in that order.
Watching them like that caused a strange effect that enhanced my experience, because the first movie was the one that was more agreeable to me, and to watch them backward, and the first as the last one gave me enthusiastic ideas to write this article.
What I Found out?
I’ve seen a lot of passion from both followers and detractors of Zombie as a filmmaker. Many stand somewhat in-between that like some and dislike some of his work. It’s kind of annoying to see people hating and not giving any specifics about why they hate something. What I think is that Zombie has been doing this for a lot of years, and more, if you take into account the White Zombie video clips.
A large part of the horror fandom may repudiate him, but they can’t deny his contribution. Also, his movies can be taken as a measure to spot definitely inferior horror movies. I mean by this that Zombie borrows from tons of stories that came before, but manages to create something dead-serious original.
I may be biased because, you know, I’m a dark rides freak, still, I think that once we see someone stealing from Zombie should be pretty obvious.
It’s too late since motion pictures were invented. Most stories have been told already. I think that to make something original borrowing from related horror movies is okay. Add your personal spin to it, and if you have the talent you may do something original. Like the Fireflys saga.
To give an example of what I’m trying to say, take as an example the movie “The Houses That October Built”. Indirectly, this movie steals the idea. It may be a categorically very different horror movie, but the intent to build a narrative on the world of the dark ride and horror amusement, not just a place that the characters visit, like in “The Funhouse” or “Final Destination 3” is obvious.
And I’m not talking only about any invidious themes for a horror movie here, I’m talking of more organic things of Rob Zombie’s style. Like his signature elements, other than always featuring Sheri Moon as a character. Like his use of stock footage and general post-processing footage to make it look aged.
I have held in high regard Rob Zombie, always, since I saw several of White Zombie’s video clips, and liked all his horror movies except maybe for one (“Lords of Salem”). I have seen a lot of people on the internet rejecting him.
Because I thought otherwise I guess both times I unconventionally watched the movies, instinctively, to try to find something about them that others may have not noticed.
My point of contention is this: I think that audiences feel butt-hurt because all the morbid backstory and character development was delivered in the first movie, and they expected the second and the third to be more of the same, in the exposition department.
While I think that if you take the three movies like a single big story of more than four hours running time, it makes all the sense that the second and the third have fewer horror diversions and are more to the point shock oriented and action-oriented.
What did I learn from this Horror Movie Series?
A think this trilogy is an excellent proof of how to create a horror universe with a subject matter and characters that may not seem appropriate for such grade of development.
A non-paranormal horror narrative about a family of psychopathic slashers may seem a very limited substance to create a horror world, but the story of the Fireflys demonstrates that it went the extra mile that similar movies, its sources of inspiration, never cared to develop.
Remember that up to now, we have only seen the natural time succession of the story, but how things were set up in the first movie, gave a lot of room for prequels and spin-offs, two things that the franchise hasn’t got yet.