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)!
So 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 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.
Luckily 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.
Another 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.
I 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!