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.
For better or worse, Rob Zombie has a distinct style meaning that semi-knowledgeable audiences know what they are getting into once they purchase a ticket; white trash characters spewing.dialogue so foul that you almost have to commend Zombie for even brainstorming such shocking remarks (at one point one of the psychopathic murderers jokes “what’s the best part about fucking a pregnant woman”, and as you would expect the answer is repulsive), an onslaught of blood and gore capping off multiple brutal deaths, and a ton of nudity scattered throughout the whole experience, because why not I guess. You really don’t even need this review to know if 31 is for you or not, because if you enjoyed something like The Devil’s Rejects it’s definitely worth getting in line for this madness
During the post-screening Q&A, Zombie was asked how 31 differs from any other film has made, to which he answered that it doesn’t, and that if anything, this is the most Rob Zombie movie he has ever made. 31 is a film from the director reeling in all of the tools and tricks he has learned over the years and honing them to make a mainstream horror feature accessible to anyone hankering to see people get cut up by chainsaws. In some ways this is admittedly disappointing, because Zombie mentioned that the only reason he followed up the highly bizarre and abstract Lords of Salem with a film featuring a much more simple premise is due to the fact that it’s what distributors will pick up easily. The other film he is working on was apparently becoming far too frustrating to make, so instead we get 31, although honestly, it most definitely is a movie with some really high ups.
31 opens up with a monologue from Doom-head (Richard Brake) sickeningly ranting about the disturbing life or death game played with civilians, right before chopping off the head of a priest. I could watch a whole movie of Doom-head delivering monologues, but my point is that not only does this set the mood and tone for what audiences will be in store for during the next 100 minutes, but it is also a startling and horrifying introduction to what just might be the greatest character creation Rob Zombie has ever concocted. This sick clown reminiscent figure isn’t too far off from DC Comic’s Joker in both appearance and personality, although naturally cranked up to about 20 and “it’s a wonder Zombie ever won his battles with the MPAA and got the movie released” levels. The ending scene alone is haunting and terrifying, brutally uneasy, and might just be the greatest scene’s of the director’s careered so far simply because of this menacing cretin. ‘Dream On’ also makes everything 10x more awesome.
Doom-head is just one character though, and while 31 has plenty of other warped creations (one of the psychopaths is a dwarf tattooed in Nazi iconography), they don’t leave the lasting impression that he does. I understand that the shooting schedule was a ridiculously short 20 days, but that sort of swift process might be harming Zombie in the long run considering that he might not be getting the most out of the admittedly fucked up stuff he is coming up with. There is much more mileage that can be siphoned out of the other psychopaths, instead of resting everything on the shoulders of Doom-head. Unfortunately, 31 doesn’t get truly intense until his reintroduction into the story.
Once again, Zombie also gives us a bunch of protagonists that aren’t very relatable or likable, instead blurting out obscenities and generally being pieces of meat with no substantial character. However, Sherri Moon Zombie does play the fighting survivor role well, while other fan favorite actors from Zombie’s previous films come along for another collaboration using their charisma to get audiences invested somewhat into their lives. There’s also a pretty rad Jamaican dude who makes me wish there were more Jamaican characters in movies.
Also holding back 31 is how cheap and amateurishly edited it looks. There are far too many fight scenes featuring shoddy shaky camera work, showcasing a blurry mess of weapons clanging against each other, making it impossible to decipher what’s happening until someone is actually dying. At the same time, the run-down and dirty abandoned factory hosting the death games looks appropriately shitty, filled with graffiti lambasting God and whatnot. There are also some ritualistic satanic locations where the headmasters of the private hell operate, but their addition to the narrative doesn’t add much and surprisingly feels disconnected from the core story. Basically, Malcolm McDowell is wasted.
Still, the actor making performance and strong character work from Richard Brake will leave audiences with something to talk about. What the hell was DC doing not casting him as Joker? Foul mouths, blood, sex… Rob Zombie delivers everything to be expected from his fans, even if 31 is one of his middling projects.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★