31 (2016) Saban Films/Horror-Thriller RT: 102 minutes Rated R (strong bloody horror violence, pervasive language, sexual content, drug use) Director: Rob Zombie Screenplay: Rob Zombie Music: John 5 Cinematography: David Daniel Release date: September 16, 2016 (US, VOD) Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson, Jane Carr, Richard Brake, Pancho Moler, Lew Temple, David Ury, E.G. Daily, Torsten Voges, Ginger Lynn, Tracey Walter, Daniel Roebuck, Michael “Red Bone” Alcott, Andrea Dora, Esperanza America.
Can I just say that Rob Zombie’s latest 31 is some f---ed up s—t? I feel comfortable using that kind of language in this review because it pales in comparison to the dialogue in this geek show of a movie. I also don’t know how else to describe it. It’s the second horror movie in as many weeks that left me speechless (the first was last week’s Antibirth). By that I mean it’s not like the standard horror fare that plays at the local multiplex. For example, the abominable Blair Witch sequel that opened this past Friday. What a piece of crap! I’m still considering suing the producers for the 90 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. 31, on the other hand, is something else. Some have described it (and Zombie’s other movies) as “vile sadistic garbage”. Others call it brilliant. I’m inclined to call it both. It’s the kind of vile sadistic garbage that can only be dreamt up by a brilliant madman.
Let me start by saying that 31 contains everything you’ve come to expect from this guy’s movies- sadism, torture, gore, badly written and profane dialogue, evil clowns, his wife Sheri Moon in a lead role despite not having much in the way of talent and characters that can divided into two groups: degenerates and psychos (three if you count those that are both). Like most of his stories, it’s set in the 70s which is perfect since his body of work is basically a homage to 70s grindhouse flicks. 31 takes place on Halloween 1976. A group of carnies in a RV run into real trouble when they’re attacked by creeps disguised as scarecrows and taken to an underground maze-like dungeon (“Murderworld”) where they’re forced to participate in a sick game run by rich sickos dressed like 18th century aristocrats (powdered wigs and all!). Naturally, they were travelling through a rural middle-of-nowhere area when this occurs. Isn’t that where all the bad s—t a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre happens?
The players are Charly (Sheri Moon), Roscoe (Phillips, one of the GEICO cavemen), Panda (Jacobs, Welcome Back, Kotter), Venus (Foster, They Live) and Levon (Jackson). The object of the game is simple. They must survive 12 hours against psycho killers in clown makeup with names like Sick-Head (Moler), Schizo-Head (Ury, Breaking Bad), Psycho-Head (Temple, The Devil’s Rejects), Death-Head (Voges, The Big Lebowski) and Sex-Head (Daily, Bad Dreams). The worst of them is a guy named Doom-Head (Brake, Game of Thrones). In the movie’s first scene, we see him taunt a minister (Roebuck, River’s Edge) before dispatching him with an axe. The funny thing is the game operators, whose leader is played with devilish glee by Malcolm McDowell (Halloween I & II), don’t know what to do if somebody makes it to the end because nobody’s ever survived. That could all change tonight.
What Zombie lacks in ability he more than makes up for in pure moxie. There’s no act of violence too gory for him to show. There’s no depth of human degradation he won’t sink to. This guy has guts. All those viewing better have strong stomachs. In the course of 102 wild and crazy minutes, throats are slashed, heads are smashed in and people are stabbed, tortured, mutilated and cut up by chainsaws. There’s also a scene of cannibalism. 31 is up to its neck in gore and sadism. It almost got a NC-17 rating. This is one sick-minded movie.
What can I say about the acting? Not much I’m afraid. At 45, Sheri still looks damn good but she can’t act. Nepotism is as prevalent in Hollywood as lying is in Washington D.C. I typically like Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs. Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington is my favorite character on Welcome Back, Kotter. I liked him a lot in the grade-Z 1985 vigilante flick The Annihilators. It’s always a pleasure seeing him, but what’s with the bad reggae accent here? As for Meg Foster, she has NOT aged well at all. She looks as scary as the evil clowns sent to kill the carnies. McDowell’s performance is campy as hell. He’s enjoying himself immensely. Also, it’s cool seeing E.G. Daily back in action. I’ll say this for Zombie, he knows how to assemble cool casts. The only thing missing from 31 is Sid Haig. Surely he could have found something for the star of House of 1000 Corpses and Devil’s Rejects to do. He could have reprised his Captain Spaulding character. At least we get Tracey Walter (Repo Man) as a perverted gas station attendant.
Sitting through a Rob Zombie is an ordeal. He’s not that strong a filmmaker. He can’t write dialogue to save his life. Most of the time, you watch his movies in a state of shock, disgust and awe. They’re like extended music videos for his music (he’s the lead singer for White Zombie) if he actually used his own songs in his movies. He typically uses period songs like “California Dreaming” (The Mamas & The Papas), “Dream On” (Steven Tyler) and “Walk Away” (The James Gang). Zombie makes great use of the first song especially. 31 has a sufficiently sleazy atmosphere. You’ll feel the need for a hot shower after watching it. It’s a bad movie on many levels but it’s so cool at the same time. The professional film critic in me detests it. My inner gorehound loves it. It’s a real conflict. Do I recommend it and risk losing credibility or condemn it and risk alienating my fellow horror fiends? Okay, how about this? If you like Zombie’s other movies, see it. If you like 70s grindhouse flicks, see it. All other, STAY THE HELL AWAY! You won’t get it and you’ll end up getting sick anyway.