Review: "31" (A film by Rob Zombie)
I'm going to lead this one off by saying I am huge mark for Rob Zombie. I believe in total disclosure. I am also a big fan of horror that makes absolutely no fucking apologies- I mean NONE. If it makes you uncomfortable (by you I mean the "average" person) then I'm interested. If it makes me uncomfortable? You've got a winner. Horror was not meant to be a safe place. Go big or go home.
With that being said, Mr. Zombie's track record is pretty solid in my book. "House of 1000 Corpses" was a Zombie music video come to life with its chains removed, reminding us of how amazing Bill "Chop Top" Moseley could be. "The Devil's Rejects" is on my personal Top 10; it's gritty and ugly and unapologetic and unholy and fucking beautiful. "Ilsa-She Wolf of the SS" (fake trailer) on Tarantino and Rodriguez's "Grindhouse" is the very definition of sleazy grindhouse fare (we're still waiting, Rob). "Halloween" was deemed an unnecessary remake, and it was- but it was sick as hell and served as the polar opposite of the bloodless classic original. "Halloween 2" was his weakest outing- a jumbled mess of ideas that worked visually but felt very off. "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto" was one that I don't admittedly remember all that well....honest confession. "The Lords of Salem" was a near-criminally underrated little gold nugget. It was subtle and atmospheric and felt like a bastardized American giallo. All of that nastiness brings us to "31".
As always, the centerpiece of "31" is Zombie's wife and siren, Sherri Moon Zombie. She does what she always does; namely draw in your eye like one of those hidden picture deals you used to see at the mall back in high school. She is at the center of your typical Zombie-style eclectic group on the titular road trip; carnival workers on their way to the next prospective gig. The group is supported by Jeff Daniel Phillips ("Lords of Salem, "Halloween 2"), Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs ("Cooley High"), & genre legend Meg Foster ("They Live", "Lords of Salem", "Masters of the Universe"). You've got to give it to Zombie. He knows how to put together a group of talent and keep them coming back for more of his movies- that says something about his abilities as a director.
If I have to tell you that they are beset upon by stark-raving lunatics and taken prisoner then you really shouldn't be reading this review. It's standard fare. What isn't yet (but is becoming) standard fare is Zombie's breakneck style. All of his usual calling cards are on display here. You've got a kickass 70's soundtrack, grainy camerawork (when necessary), freeze-frames of the recently deceased going into dissolve, & shaky high def at the moments of the highest nastiness. That snapshot montage at the beginning of the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is imprinted on his brain, and you can tell (that's not a knock, by the way).
The group awaken to find themselves shackled up in an unknown location which looks like an opera house being addressed by old freaks in 17th century powdered wigs and makeup, informing them that they are to play a game called 31. The object is to survive for 12 hours under, shall we say, extreme duress. The setup is basically "The Running Man" directed by Rob Zombie (also not a knock).
It's what you'd expect from the usual high standards of Rob Zombie. It's filthy, violent, gory, sleazy, visually unique, & outlandish. Richard Brake (as Doom Head) absolutely steals the show. He is calm, collected and veteran as a hired killer with a Southern charm that makes you want to believe him. I feel like Zombie envisioned Moseley in this role and then said "No, that'd be too over the top. Let's pimp this out." He really is that good. E.G. Daily (you know, the cute little thing from "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" and about a million cartoons with the squeaky voice) was so hot as Sex Head that I had to change my boxers. Malcom McDowell is a god and needs no introduction, playing Father Murder. For Christ's sake, there is a Nazi midget (complete with a swastika on his chest) who speaks Spanish. IS THAT NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU?
Is this a perfect movie? No. The pacing is a little too quick. In a horror film I don't necessarily need to have a cubic fuckton of character development so that their deaths mean something, but this one went crazy fast (a'la "House of 1000 Corpses"). If it weren't for the sheer magnetic pull of Sherri Moon Zombie the protagonist group would have been even more throwaway. It's the definition of a movie where you really have to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the ride.
For better or worse this has always been the knock on Zombie. He has a signature that's all it's own. He wears his black little heart on his sleeve when it comes to his love of all things horror and grindhouse. He IS banking on the marks like me to get sucked into his signature murder ride. Sure, it's as far-fetched and nutso as you could possibly imagine.
But, goddammit it's fun. So much soulless fun.