A Retrospective on the Firefly Family Trilogy

Baby Don’t Hurt Me!

A retrospective of Rob Zombie’s ‘Firefly Family’ trilogy: House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and 3 from Hell.

Sid Haig dressed as a clown in House of 1000 Corpses.

Is Dysfunctional Family a legitimate horror subgenre?

If it is – and there seem to be enough examples to justify it – Rob Zombie’s ‘Firefly’ series gives us a very distinct spin on it.

Better known as a musician – frontman of heavy metal band White Zombie – he is a lifelong horror fan, and his films watch like a love letter to the classic gore/slasher films of the 70s and 80s.

In re-watching the trilogy for this article, I’ve also had the opportunity to see Zombie’s development as a filmmaker, across two decades, from the cartoonishly surreal House of 1000 Corpses in 2003 to the polished depravity of 3 From Hell in 2019.

Much as his love for horror is evident, like the best filmmakers, Zombie is keen to subvert genre expectations.

The classic structure for a dysfunctional family horror is to follow a group of innocent victims into the realm of the family. That’s the pattern for the Wrong Turn films; The Hills Have Eyes series; and even the mighty Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Zombie chooses a different path: across his three films: we follow the perspectives and experiences of the family themselves. And what a family they are!

The deliciously over-the-top nightmare-clown that is Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig); the delightfully violent and psychopathic Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie, his wife); the sadistic and malicious Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) are the core members, joined by cousin Winslow ‘Midnight Wolfman’ Coltrane (Richard Brake) in the last film.

And the thing is, these guys are villains.

At no point does Zombie try to make them into anti-heroes (although the third movie gleefully plays with the idea that they might be seen as that by certain members of the public, who launch a ‘Free The Three’ campaign to liberate the incarcerated family).

The Fireflies do not engage in quips, nor are there any redeeming moments of honour for them, no signs of even a rough sense of decency, respect, or fair play. Like Art the Clown of the Terrifier franchise, and Mick Tyler of Wolf Creek, these are codeless murderers who kill for the sheer visceral thrill of it.

As Otis says, in the second film (conjuring the spirit of Charles Manson): ‘I am the Devil. And I’m here to do the Devil’s work.’

Zombie goes for a deliberately rough quality of filming throughout the series, evoking a mixture of documentary and found-footage cinematography. By the third film, this has settled into a retro grindhouse style. And in the spirit of retro, Zombie is keen to sprinkle cameos across the trilogy from iconic horror stars like Michael Berryman, and Dee Wallace.

The Devil’s Rejects brings us cult movie legend (and now London restaurateur) Danny Trejo as amoral bounty hunter Rondo. And then in 3 From Hell, Sons of Anarchy’s Emilio Rivera as his son, Aquarius.

The Firefly trilogy is well and truly done, but if you want to keep up with the family, there’s a pretty unusual way to do so. Games design company Trick or Treat Studios announced this year that they’re creating a board game based on House of 100 Corpses, and their Kickstarter raised over $100,000.

Guess I know what I’ll be bringing out after Christmas lunch this year…

We’ll survive if we all just stick together!

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