31 (2016) Review

3131 (2016)

Writer/Director: Rob Zombie

Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake, Jeff Daniel Phillips

I can’t think of many horror directors of the modern era that divide opinion as much as Rob Zombie. It seems that half of all horror fans think he is a borderline horror genius and the other half think he is a talentless hack! What they can all agree on, however is that he single handedly created his very own sub-genre, that of the “White Trash Horror!”

Personally, I love the blokes work. I remember I stumbled upon his films by accident, as when I was ill one day I sent my other half out to get me a new film to watch, and specifically asked for a zombie flick. Well the dizzy cow saw a box for a film called “House Of 1000 Corpses” and noticed the word “Zombie”, put 2 & 2 together and got 5! But am I glad for her mistake, as I it was one of the most fun horror films I’d seen for ages!

So imagine my joy, when I saw the news that Zombie was crowd funding for his latest offering, that he named “31”. Unfortunately for myself and the rest of his legion of fans, issues finding a distribution company and running battles with the MPAA meant the film stayed unreleased for a frustratingly long time. But finally early in September the world finally got to cast their eyes on 31(albeit a heavily cut version)!

31-2So was 31 worth the wait? Read on to find out!

31 introduces us to a van full of “carnies” travelling to their next town down a desolate desert road. Anyone who has seen a Zombie flick will know the type of Characters these are. Basically trash with very little morels. After acting like your stereotypical carnies, they stop for fuel at a dilapidated petrol station run by a guy with less teeth than out “heroes” have morals.

Once they drive off and night falls, their path is blocked my a bunch of “scarecrows” placed in the road. When they get out to investigate they are all attacked and knocked unconscious. When they awake, they are bound with chains, and a mysterious voice makes them aware they are the participants in a dead game called “31”. From here the gang have to find each other then survive for 21 hours. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Unfortunately they will be hunted by a series of evil clowns that are highly skilled killers! If they survive, they win, if not then its just too bad!

31-331 is basically Rob Zombie’s sick take on “The Running Man”. Only with less of a story and a million times more sleaze. However, this lack of story is the biggest issue with the film. Zombie has got the pacing of the film all wrong, and it just feels like a series of “boss” fights in different rooms, which usually leads to one of the group either being killed or seriously injured. Usually this would be fine, but he fights just seem to get repetitive, with very little to distinguish one from another.

It’s a shame, as the “heads”(the killer clowns) that they are up against were all really unique, and if a little time was taken to flesh them out, they could have gone down in the annuls of horror icons. Each head, or ten of leads were all completely different. The first was a midget Nazi, with a penchant for taunting his victims, then we had a team of brothers that liked to use chainsaws, followed by a huge crossdresser and him girl. This is about all we learn about these characters, and after their 5 minutes of screen time, we don’t hear from them again.

31-4Luckily for us, the one Head we do get to learn a bit about is the best. Doom-Head (Richard Brake), who we are introduced to while in the middle of knocking the back legs off a “lady”. When he gets the call to “go to work”, he applies the grease paint, before proceeding to punch himself why screaming that “I am in control”. Brake’s performance was amazing and ensured that at the end of the film “Doom-Head” will be the only character that stands out!

As for the other cast, many of which are regulars in Zombies offerings, the performances range from ok to great! The one actress that gets a lot of stick for being in ALL of Zombies films is his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie. You know what you are going to get with her. A solid, if not great performance. Joining her as is the brilliant Jeff Daniel Phillips who’s portrayal as the sleazy Roscoe is one of the films better turns. Horror regular Meg Foster is there too, but I thought she could have done more with the character. Rounding out the the rest of the “contestants” are Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Kevin Jackson who were both decent.

31-6Another regular in Zombies films is a veteran actor who originates from the little village of Holmfirth (which is about 10 minutes from me), Malcolm McDowell. McDowell plays Father Murder, one of the people orchestrating the “game” and gambling huge sums of money n the outcome of the night. I thought, like with the majority of the villains, the character needed a bit of a back story to explain why they play this game.

While I am fan of Zombies films, he makes the same mistakes in 31 as he seems to make in each of his films. As I’ve already mentioned, his pacing was all wrong, and and the lack of backstory for the vast majority of his characters doesn’t allow the viewer to emotionally invest in what they are watching on screen. I am going to cut Zombie some slack here though, as it was widely reported that he was having issues getting the film rated R from the MPAA, so the cuts may have ruined the film. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing the UNRATED cut to see if it improves the viewing experience

But at the end of the day, this is a Rob Zombie film. And seeing as the vast majority of the films funding came from crowd funding indicates that this is exactly what his fans want to see. However, I can see many (non hardcore) horror fans being left disappointed by the issues the film has.

31-5I suppose in a way you have to admire Zombie. When he makes his films he obviously has a vision, and wont let anyone or anything (barring the MPAA!!!)compromise it. But with 31, that vision hasn’t worked out on screen, and for that reason I have to add 31 to the likes of Zombie’s Halloween II and personally class it as a dud! Although when the UNRATED cut is released, that may all change!

4/10

31 (2016) Review

31-131 (2016)

Dir – Rob Zombie

Starring- Sheri Moon Zombie, Richard Brake, Malcolm McDowell, Jeff Daniel Philips, Meg Foster, Laurence Hilton Jacobs

In Cinemas Now!

Rob Zombie has certainly made an interesting output in his work in the horror genre. Starting with HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES which was almost maybe too self referential and highlighted his obsession with white trash low life characters. This would further appear in his best film THE DEVILS REJECTS a particularly brutal western-like exploitation film which further extended the characters featured in CORPSES. However he took a misstep in his directing output with the HALLOWEEN re-makes, particularly the god awful HALLOWEEN 2 and his last film THE LORDS OF SALEM divided many critics, though I feel it was an excellent return to form and despite some flaws showed that Zombie had matured in some respects as a director and showed he could handle more narrative and atmospheric based horror that didn’t have to rely on shock and gore so to speak. Now we come to 31 his latest entry and it seems like Zombie is going back to some of the trademarks that set him up in CORPSES and DEVILS REJECTS that of backwoods locations and white trash low life characters meeting even more truly trashy and nastier characters.

31-3Set in 1976 on Halloween, the film follows carnival workers (Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Philips, Meg Foster, Laurence Hilton Jacobs) who while travelling onto their next job are captured and find themselves chained up in an abandoned location. They are then forced into a game, organised or rather hosted by Malcolm McDowell where they have to survive 10 hours against a varied group of psychotic killers in clown make up including a Nazi dwarf, two chainsaw wielding brothers and an articulate and nasty character played by Richard Brake. Its simple set up that runs fast and bloody and isn’t considered with being an in depth study of the human condition and man’s inhumanity to man. Rather it’s a straightforward game of death or as a friend who saw this at Frightfest put it, its THE RUNNING MAN meets HOUSE OF A 1000 CORPSES.

31-4After the mostly subdued more unsettling style of his previous film LORDS OF SALEM, Zombie has returned to the style of his earlier work. He lets it go full tilt to the max with blood and gore and foul mouthed almost deliberately designed to cause offence dialogue that ain’t subtle on any level. He has come back to what he knows best and that’s a grindhouse style gory horror with sleazy white trash characters, upping the shock factor and even throwing in a Nazi dwarf for good measure to tick that politically incorrect box. A showman he definitely is, particularly if you have seen him live with his band and this is reflected in his films. He knows how to deliver the goods, the meat and the spectacle to a point that this film had to be submitted to the MPAA a few times with various cuts requested to the gore to avoid the dreaded NC-17 and get the all important R rating. He orchestrates the action well and its not long before it introduces the travelling carnival workers, dispensing of the lesser known ones in the group and goes into focusing on the remaining members and their forced battle against some vicious opponents.

31-5As well as THE RUNNING MAN I was also reminded of the controversial PlayStation game MANHUNT as it too had you as a character traversing various characters intent on smashing your skull in or killing you in an brutal manner and like a computer game 31 almost has that feel of the characters going up every level and facing tougher opponents until they finally come to the big boss which in this case is Richard Brake’s Doom Head. Much has been said of Brake’s performance and its deserving of credit. Brake is an actor who has been mainly in smaller supporting roles usually playing creeps and one of those faces who you will have noticed from something you’ve seen before usually big budget (he played the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents in BATMAN BEGINS for trivia nerds out there). Though here Zombie allows him to excel as Doom Head, a nasty, almost misogynistic piece of work who is called in by those in charge of the game as the final opponent who can bring an end to the competitors.

31-6The film is not without his flaws though and that lies mainly in some of the use of shaky camerawork during the fight sequences that when utilised can be irritating and make it impossible in parts to see what is going on. Its also not hard to see how this film will be as divisive as some of Zombie’s other flicks and will fall under those who hate it and those who like it or think its not bad at least. Suffice to say I kind of fall under the latter camp as It is entertaining enough, fast paced, relentlessly nasty to hold your attention and blessed with some excellent production and character design and on top of that he has also arranged another excellent soundtrack to accompany the action.

But like much of Zombie’s films there are flaws that can be ironed out and parts which can be taken out and a certain sense of over indulgence in some of the early scenes. Though its fair to say that he has managed to make a straightforward and simple fight to the death story that is very much his version of THE RUNNING MAN and sometimes a film does what it does well by keeping it simple.

6.5/10

31 Days of Horror: #30 – Hocus Pocus

31 Days of Horror: #30 – Hocus Pocus

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

HPHocus Pocus (1993)

Directed by Kenny Ortega
Written by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert, story by Mick Garris & David Kirschner

Starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy

There simply cannot be a Halloween discussion without mentioning the one, the only, Hocus Pocus. Full disclosure – this film must be watched, in its entirety, each and every time it’s broadcast on television (which is a lot), regardless of what time of year it is. But, on Halloween night, it’s particularly special. Long the chosen flick for exhausted trick ‘r’ treaters, intent on getting through their sacks of sweets before the night was out, Hocus Pocus takes on a special quality in adulthood. The tale of three, ancient witches, brought back to life in the modern day by some unsuspecting teenagers is somehow even more magical the older one gets.

Hocus Pocus is like a big, warm blanket we can wrap around ourselves when we’re sick, tired or just fed up with being adults. But, on Halloween, it becomes something more. On Halloween, the magic of Hocus Pocus is undeniable. A film that, much like its three villains/antiheroes, does not age, Hocus Pocus is best watched with young children who, for some terrible reason, are unaware of its existence. Educate them on its brilliance before next year and watch it instantly become their favourite holiday flick.

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