Written and directed by Rob Zombie
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Elizabeth Daily, Meg Foster, Richard Brake, Torsten Voges, Lew Temple, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Jeff Daniel Phillips, David Ury, Pancho Moler and Malcolm McDowell
Five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned, Hell-like compound where they are forced to participate in a violent game, the goal of which is to survive twelve hours against a gang of sadistic clowns.
Rob Zombie has certainly had a fairly up and down track record when it comes to his movies, but you can’t argue that he doesn’t have a style. The second a movie starts, you know it’s directed by Zombie. 31 is absolutely no different, but is it at the higher end of The Devil’s Rejects, or the lower spectrum of Halloween II?
In typical Zombie fashion, 31 sees a group of carnies in the 1970s captured by a sadistic aristocracy who put them in a rat-like maze for 12-hours where they must survive the onslaught of killer clown assassins named Sick-Head (a Nazi dwarf), Death-Head and Psycho-Head (a pair of chainsaw wielding rednecks), Sex-Head (a Harley-Quinn knock-off) and her German sex offending partner Schizo-Head along with the terrifyingly crazy Doom-Head. And guess what? There’s loads of gore, swearing, bad jokes and sexual intentions. This is a Rob Zombie movie all right.
In the simplest terms, 31 is Zombie’s best movie since The Devil’s Rejects and what a lesser critic would call, ‘a return to form’. In the same year he dropped his belter of a seventh studio album, he’s also given audiences this gory, bloody and crazy outing. Zombie himself called 31 the craziest thing he’s ever directed and he had several battles with the MPAA to get past an NC-17 rating, and it’s clear to see why. The gore levels are high and the characters have mouths so filthy that not even The Toxic Avenger could clean them up.
However 31 won’t turn any new heads to Zombie, nor convince his detractors of his merits as it features everything that makes a Rob Zombie movie ‘un film de Rob Zombie’. It features nasty characters that saying worse things, it features them telling bad jokes and every single character is sexually charged. It’s set in the 1970s so everyone has long hair and sideburns. Sick-Head is a Nazi dwarf, because – hey – that’s pretty messed up, right? One poor woman is dressed up as a sex doll and then gutted with a chainsaw. Every character, regardless of gender, refers to every female character as a ‘bitch’ and there’s liberal uses of every curse word under the sun. There have been those in the past who have accused Zombie of being too exploitative for his own good, but 31 shows it can work under the right circumstances (i.e not a remake of Halloween).
It also features alumni from Zombie’s previous films, including – but not limited to – his wife Sheri Moon Zombie, Torsten Voges, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster, Elizabeth Daily and former pornstar Ginger Lynn. Sheri Moon has always been a sticking point for Zombie fans with those who love her and those who hate Zombie’s need to put her in his movies (not too dissimilar to Kevin Smith putting his wife in everything post Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), but in 31 she’s actually one of the shining stars and it’s arguably her best performance in a Zombie movie. She goes from free-running and fancy free flirting with a local yokel, but she soon turns into a hunter hell-bent on surivival. Her arc drives the narrative. However Sheri Moon Zombie is out-performed by Foster and Phillips, but its Richard Brake that steals the entire show and could be the Captain Spaulding of 31 in terms of popularity. His performance is incredible and genuinely terrifying. The opening of the movie just sees Doom-Head staring down the barrel of the lens as he delivers a five-minute monologue and its completely spell-binding. Brake, who has had bit-parts in Batman Begins, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Spy, shows here that he’s a star in the making.
Also on form for Zombie are the high levels of gore on show, which 31 has in spades. Easily his bloodiest movie since House of 1000 Corpses, the official FrightFest guide suggests that 31 isn’t for the weak of heart and/or stomach and they’re not wrong. While it’s not ‘all gore all the time’, when Zombie goes for it he really tries pushes the envelope. He is clearly a lover of schlock horror as seen from his previous outings, but 31 might be the best example of this fascination to date. Every drop of blood is on screen for a reason, and Zombie shoots it the same way Michael Bay would shoot a car or Megan Fox’s rear end in a Transformers movie.
As stated earlier, 31 really is a return to form for Rob Zombie and it shows that there is more to him than just being a schlock-horror director who occasionally releases records. There’s a maturity in 31 that shows he’s grown since House of 1000 Corpses in terms of style and – more importantly – as a storyteller since his remake of Halloween and its god-awful sequel. You may not enjoy the characters or the words that come out of their mouths (one feels that Zombie would be better suited directing other people’s scripts), but there is so much to enjoy in 31. Fans of his work will really dig this.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.