Rob Zombie’s Firefly Trilogy: An Old-Fashioned Family Halloween

"Rob Zombie" by Hannah Marren Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In 2003, after three years in release limbo, the world was introduced to the Firefly family. Rob Zombie’s first directorial effort, House of 1000 Corpses, showed us what Halloween was like for one family on the outskirts of Ruggsville in the late ’70s. Ruggsville is a small, fictional, town in Texas that is home to Baby, Mama, Otis, and the rest of the Firefly clan, as well as Captain Spaulding, or Cutter, or whatever you choose to call him. Zombie created a world that began as a haunted house attraction for Universal Studios and grew into one of the most popular original horror franchises of the 21st century, standing with some highly praised contemporaries like Saw and The Conjuring. This franchise first reached the public nearly 20 years ago, but from here on a spoiler warning has been activated.

What Happens in Ruggsville Stays in Ruggsville…

Rob Zombie Says Universal Fired Him After First Test Screening of 'House of 1000 Corpses' – The Hollywood Reporter

October 30, 1977 was not a good night for a lot of folks in Ruggsville County, Texas. Killer Karl and Richard “Little Dick” Wick are just trying to do what anyone would do the night before Halloween, rob a gas station/fried chicken joint/roadside murder attraction spot owned and operated by a clown. The good clown is one Captain Spaulding, played brilliantly by the late Sid Haig. He is having absolutely none of the threats being spewed at him by the ski mask-wearing brains of this dastardly duo. Meanwhile, on the other side of the store, Little Dick has been found out and distracted with the song he hates most in the world. As soon as that distraction happens, BOOM! Spaulding has used the distraction to his full advantage and dispatched the would-be master criminals in a most violent manner, and that is how Zombie kicks off the saga of the Fireflies and the Driftwoods. I still can’t believe the dude got blood all over the Captain’s best clown suit. What a jerk.

Like Wake Up the Chicks and Get the Camera Boss?

Captura de Tela (292) | Robot Lecter | Flickr

The movie just builds on every horror trope you know of from there. A local legend about a psychopath whose body went missing after he was hanged; a beautiful hitchhiker, Baby Firefly, portrayed to psychotic perfection by Sheri Moon Zombie, just trying to get home; a bungling idiot that gets everyone into the mess, to begin with; and every other cliché you can think of from any horror movie since the silent era. Cliché is often used interchangeably with bad or predictable, but not in this case. The only thing you can predict is that these college kids have messed up by stopping in the first place, and picking up this hitchhiker sure as hell didn’t help the situation any.

Their tire is shot out. They think it’s just a blowout, and of course, there’s no spare. So, while they’re waiting on the car to be fixed, they enjoy the unusual hospitality of Mother Firefly and her family. Each family member also introduces a macabre version of the cookie-cutter television families of the ’70s. There’s grouchy grandpa Hugo, misunderstood artist Otis, poor, shy Tiny, strong silent RJ, and of course the warm and welcoming Mama. They’re entertaining these stranded strangers, with what the travelers think is just odd country hospitality. All the while the missing cheerleaders, we’ve heard news blurbs about all throughout the film, are bound and gagged upstairs.

“Holy Miss Moley, Got Me A Live One”

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

The mayhem ensues once the scarecrows come to life as Bill and the gang are on their way out. The elusive Dr. Satan finally makes his appearance, but not until you see the horrendous things done to Bill, who is now the Fish Boy, and his traveling companions. We get a little bit of everything we come to expect from horror films that fall into the ‘torture porn’ category. Otis, played by the great Bill Moseley, in what is undoubtedly one of his most iconic roles, makes a mask out of a human face and dresses Denise, Jerry, and Mary as rabbits before lowering them into an abandoned mine that was long ago flooded. “Run rabbit, run,” is chanted over and over as the survivors attempt to keep the title of survivor and not let it be changed to that of a victim. Chases ensue, and day breaks on November. We find Mary, still in her bunny suit, walking along the road begging for help and mumbling to herself until a car comes into view and stops to help her, with none other than Captain Spaulding himself driving.

100% Alabama Ass-Kicking

The Devil's Rejects (2005)

Things have been progressing pretty much business as usual, whatever that may mean, for the Firefly clan, when Zombie brings their world crashing down around them. They are cozy in their beds sleeping in when Sherriff John Quincy Wydell, brought to life brilliantly by William Forsythe, comes in with a squad to perform a “cleansing of the wicked,” as he puts it. Baby, Otis, Mother Firefly, and RJ throw on their homemade body armor and go to war with the officers. Grandpa Hugo is nowhere to be seen due to the passing of Dennis Fimple. RJ is down, and as Otis drags Baby through the basement to their escape hatch, Mother is caught by Sherriff Wydell and tries to take her own life with an empty gun. Que the music. The Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider” begins to play as The Devil’s Rejects begins. I haven’t been able to hear that song without imagining everything that’s going on around me going into freeze frames. Baby and Otis put a comfortable amount of distance between them and the police and stop just long enough to give everybody’s favorite chicken-slinging clown a call. Once Spaulding is informed that the heat is on, he loads up and their getaway plan is underway.

The Devil’s Work

Movie notes: 'Devil's Rejects' actor Bill Moseley to host live event at Alamo | Entertainment |

The middle chapter of this trilogy is in good company with the likes of The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Spider-Man 2, in that it is, in my opinion, the best of the trilogy it belongs to. Zombie is able to take three deplorable characters and, in true horror film fashion, make you put your hope in them. You know the things they’ve done are wrong. The Rejects aren’t good people. In fact, they are horrible people, but you still don’t want Wydell to catch them. You want them to make it to Charlie’s and to live out the rest of their deplorable lives happy, and you don’t care what that means for their possible victims. When the awful things that happen to the musical group Banjo and Sullivan are taking place, you know it’s wrong. You know Otis and Baby are the bad guys in the situation, but you still want them to win. Otis makes another mask from a human face, after proclaiming, “I am the devil, and I’ve come to do the devil’s work,” but it’s just Otis being Otis. That doesn’t make it better, in fact, it makes it worse, but you don’t want them caught. You want them to make it out and for them to move on from Ruggsville and become terrible people in a new place.

Run, Rabbit, Run

The Devil's Rejects - ending scene - YouTube

They make it to Charlie’s, Spaulding’s brother, and they are betrayed. With this betrayal, the inevitable does happen, and with the help of a couple of bounty hunters played beautifully by Uncle Machete himself Danny Trejo and Diamond Dallas, the Yoga Master, Page, Wydell gets the felonious family and begins finishing his plans for them. Wydell informs us, as he tortures the family, that his family have always been vigilantes, and even though he wanted to walk the line of law and order and do things by the book, he had to give in to his true nature. Sounds a little like a group we’ve been following for the bulk of two movies, doesn’t it? Well, John Quincy pursues his “true justice” with things like giant nails, a staple gun, an electric cattle prod, and a can of gasoline. “I can hear you, baby girl! What’s that I smell? Smells like rabbit!” These are the things Wydell says to taunt Baby as he forces her to run from the house so he can hunt her.

He begins his hunt promptly after setting the house on fire with Spaulding and Otis still tied up inside. Charlie comes back trying to fix his mistake and save the ones he betrayed only a few hours earlier. It doesn’t work out for Charlie, but the day is saved, and thanks to none other than Tiny Firefly himself, the Rejects are set free and on their way, once again, be it ever so briefly. They set off and run right into a roadblock and do they give up? Yep, they just surrender and are quietly taken away. Wait sorry wrong movie—they go out in a blaze of glory rushing at the cops unloading every gun they have in the car in the process while all nine minutes and eight seconds of the album version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird plays from the beginning of the shootout through the credits. And for 14 years, we believed we were done with the Rejects and their family, but once again, we would be wrong.

Hello America. Did You Miss Me?

REVIEW: Rob Zombie's 3 FROM HELL could be the worst movie of the year - The Beat

The year is 2019, and it has been 14 years since we saw Captain Spaulding, Baby Firefly and Otis Driftwood shot to bits by police at the end of 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. For nearly a decade and a half, we thought they went out in a blaze of glory never to be heard from again, but Rob Zombie had other plans for his merry band of misfits. Along comes 3 From Hell, the film that now stands as the Firefly swan song. And yes, before you ask, Otis does in fact cut someone’s face off, but he doesn’t wear it like a mask this time. Maybe he has matured a bit. Ten years in prison can do that to a man, I suppose.

So, the beginning of the movie is pure exposition, with the explanation of how the Rejects survived the shoot-out and how they have achieved celebrity status with the public, similar to that of the Manson Family. The worst part of the movie is the fact that Captain Spaulding, whose real name we learn is Johnny Lee Johns, is executed via lethal injection in the beginning because Sid Haig couldn’t shoot the original script because of his declining health. Instead of recasting, because how could you, Zombie reworked the script and introduced a new sibling to the crew in Richard Brake’s Winslow Foxworth “Foxy” Coltrane, or as he is also known “The Midnight Wolfman.”

Free the Three

Foxy sets Otis free from the chain gang he’s working on via a massacre—a massacre that is recorded, no less. They immediately set out to hatch a scheme to get Baby out of the big house. How do they do it? Well, in true Firefly/Driftwood fashion, Otis and Foxy break into the warden’s house and use this hostage situation to get Baby from the clink to the warden’s house, and they only kill one clown and defile one urn of ashes before Baby arrives. Once she’s there, it becomes no holds barred, and they take out the hostages and get the hell out of Dodge. They get a room for the night, which turns into a room for a few hours when Baby can’t control her ‘impulses.’ Right before Baby returns, Foxy fills Otis in on his plans for the future, which I will let you discover for yourself. When she gets back to the room covered in blood they have to cut out and where do they cut to? Mexico.

The Age of Aquarius

3 From Hell doesn't match Rob Zombie's previous studies of the psychotic Firefly clan -

When the trio arrives in Mexico, they happen into a village that is in the midst of its Dias De Los Muertos celebration. They think they have made it free and clear—champagne wishes and caviar dreams from here on out because nobody knows who they are, and nobody is looking for them in Mexico, but they, once again, are wrong. Carlos, the owner of the hotel they hole up in, knows who they are and knows someone who’s looking for them. That individual is Aquarius, the son of Rondo. Rondo is one of the bounty hunters from Rejects. Otis and Rondo were on the chain gang together when he escaped, and Otis makes sure to get his revenge on that half of the Unholy Two before he takes off with his brother. Carlos calls up Aquarius and lets him know the man that killed his father was in Mexico and in true vengeance fueled fashion Aquarius loads up his gang, The Black Satans, and comes down on Otis and his siblings like the wrath of God. Well that’s what he thinks is going to happen until the tables are turned and again, I won’t go into full detail but what happens in this small Mexican village is a sight to be seen for sure.

I Love Famous People

Another thing Rob Zombie seems to excel at is the supporting actors he drops into roles that seem almost meaningless until these performers get their hands on them. There are people like Clint Howard, Sean Whalen, Dee Wallace, Ken Foree, Leslie Easterbrook, Tyler Mane, Brian Posehn, Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwick, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. It seems every role is as meticulously cast as the stars themselves, and the music is as carefully chosen as well. Zombie doesn’t only put his own music in the films but fills them with great classic rock and country staples. The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd have already been mentioned, but there is also Buck Owens, The Ramones, Joe Walsh, Elvin Bishop, Kitty Wells, Iron Butterfly and Terry Reid. You can learn a lot about the things that have inspired Rob Zombie through the years watching these movies too. There are references to Marilyn Monroe, Betty Davis, John Wayne, Lon Chaney, Humphrey Bogart, Star Wars, and even Planet of the Apes.

Why, You Ask?

House Of 1000 Corpses review | GamesRadar+

Why should one of the entries of this trilogy, if not all three, be added to your Halloween season watchlist if they aren’t already? Well if I haven’t convinced you, I’m going to let one of my best friends tell you. “The Firefly family brings a sense of realistic, but entertaining, horror to savage cinema that truly resonates with a die-hard horror fan, making it essential to watch every Halloween season.” There you have it folks, and in case this article and that last quote didn’t completely sell you, just remember what Captain Spaulding says: “It’s just so damn good.”

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