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ROB ZOMBIE’S 31 (2016)

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With The Lords Of Salem, Rob Zombie delivered his best film and one where he showed a lot of growth as a filmmaker. He also showed he was capable of writing outside his grind house influences and even some maturity in the writing of his characters. With 31 Zombie unfortunately takes quite a few steps back with this dull, vulgar flick that is simply a series of brutal vignettes where a group of uninteresting characters are beset upon by a group of equally mundane villains. Story takes place on Halloween in 1976 where five carnival workers (Kevin Jackson, Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Sheri Moon Zombie) are kidnaped by a group of rich weirdos (Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson and Jane Carr) who force them to play a sick game called “31”. The rules are simple…the five have twelve hours to survive against a group of hired killer clowns, Sick-Head (Pancho Moler), Psycho-Head (Lew Temple), Schizo-Head (David Ury), Sex-Head (E.G. Daily), Death-Head (Torsten Voges) and the worst of them all, Doom-Head (Richard Brake). Locked in an abandoned factory, they must kill or be killed as their aristocratic hosts watch and wager on their survival.

If it sounds interesting, it isn’t. It’s basically yet another version of The Most Dangerous Game with innocents being hunted by killers while the haves cheer the deaths of the have-nots. Zombie directs from his own script and it’s one of his more uninspired stories, that lacks even the fun, homage heavy atmosphere of his first flick, House of 1,000 CorpsesSalem showed a lot of progress in his dialog and characters and with this mundane flick we’re back to obscenity spouting, two-dimensional characters that aren’t endearing or particularly likable…and those are the good guys. We just don’t care what happens to this bunch. The only person that earns our sympathy is Daniel Roebuck’s pre-credits scene preacher. The villains are all bland and generic loonies with only Brake’s Doom-Head projecting any menace, because he is the only one who doesn’t go over-the-top turning his killer-for-hire into a cartoon character that loses their threat factor. Zombie does still have a good visual eye and gives us interesting things to look at, despite the simple setting and crowd-funded budget. The violence once again returns to that of his earlier films and once again we are bludgeoned with so much brutality, that we become numb to it long before the film’s 102 minutes are over. The movie does have a few moments, such as when our protagonists decide to go on the offensive against Psycho-Head and his brother Schizo-Head, but the overall effect is that the heroes become as vicious as the killers and it becomes hard to side with them as they match brutality with brutality. After a few more bloody battles, the film just ends suddenly with a sort of “That’s it, thanks for coming”. On a production level it is well made for a low budget flick and Zombie does pepper the soundtrack with some great tunes, like he always does. It’s just a sad disappointment that the maturing filmmaker that made the intriguing Lords Of Salem turned back into a horny 13 year-old who thinks endless vulgarity and gallons of spurting blood is all you need to be entertaining. Even his first feature, House of 1,000 Corpses was more interesting and a more solid movie.

The cast also seems to have regressed. Both Phillips and Zombie’s wife Sheri Moon were really good in Salem and here they are given very little to work with and don’t seem to really be into this flick. Their characters are bland, lifeless and have nothing all that interesting to say between curse words, sexual banter and violent death. We never really get to know them enough to care. Veteran Foster gives her Venus some gusto when under attack and Brake does give Doom-Head some real menace, but the rest of the cast seem to be operating on a paycheck level, not that they have much to work with from what might be Zombie’s weakest script.

In conclusion, this film was a major disappointment from a filmmaker who has been progressing from film to film. Even his much maligned Halloween II had some brilliant imagery and had the guts to do it’s own thing with a classic character and franchise. 31 has a minimal plot, that pits a group of cardboard good guys against some generic, vulgar and violent villains for another group of sadistic aristocrats. Nothing we haven’t seen often before. All the vulgarity and violence would be fine if there was some genuine wit, intensity or suspense here, but there isn’t…it’s just a series of increasingly violent interludes. It’s a dull and brutal movie that wears out it’s welcome long before the first hour is up and shows you all it has to offer in even less time. Would much rather have seen Zombie make his canceled Broad Street Bullies hockey flick than this dull regression.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 very disappointing butcher knives.

final exam rating






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American International Pictures was a studio renown for it’s horror and exploitation films, but in 1975 produced this poignant look at the life of a group of young African-American students at an inner city high school in Chicago. Written by Eric Monte and based on his real life experiences growing up in that city, the film chronicles the lives of a group of friends at Edwin G. Cooley High School in 1964. While the film has it’s share of humorous moments, it is also a heartfelt look at the struggles and hardships of life in big city ghettos that many do not see or do not want to see. The film also inspired one of the 70s most popular sitcoms, What’s Happening.

The film focuses on two best friends, star athlete ‘Cochise’ (Welcome Back Kotter’s Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) and wannabe screen writer ‘Preach’ (Glynn Turman from J.D.’s Revenge). Like most high school boys, they and their friends have big dreams, but also fill their current lives with cutting class, clowning around, girls and partying. But as Cochise and Preach dream of a better life outside of their rundown neighborhood, they also also fall prey to some of the negative aspects of urban life, as a harmless joyride in what is revealed to be a stolen car leads to consequences that may jeopardize their dreams, their future and maybe even their lives.

Cooley High is very well directed by Michael Shultz and it is the director’s restraint in not going overboard with the sentimentality, or the comedy, that creates a very natural, slice of life atmosphere and makes this film all the more charming and effective. Monte’s script has everything the film needs to get it’s point across and Shultz wisely lets his characters and the situations they get in tell the story without over-stylizing or over-dramatizing. The film’s events come across as real human drama…or comedy…and one can get the flavor of what life was like at that time and place, for better or for worse. The comedy and drama are perfectly mixed and one never overpowers the other and the film’s messages about the hardships of urban life are effectively understated. The characters, for the most part, come across as real people not stereotypes, although delinquent’s Robert (Norman Gibson) and Stone (Sherman Smith) come close in their representation of the type of youths Cochise and Preach should avoid, not fraternize with. The film is also given added atmosphere from an incredible soundtrack of original music by Freddie Perren and a slew of Motown classics which really give the film the ambiance of the time period it takes place. The music is perfectly utilized throughout and almost serves as another character.

And as for the characters, Shultz has a good cast. Jacobs and Turman create very realistic youths whose activities and dreams are not unlike any youth coming of age. Hilton-Jacobs gives us a colorful, confident jock and Lothario who at heart cares about his friends, while Turman gives us the more sensitive poet and dreamer who is Preach. A dreamer who is sometimes too distracted by hi-jinx with his friends to concentrate on his future. SNL legend Garrett Morris gives a nice dramatic turn as Mr. Mason, a teacher who works hard to prepare his students for a chance at a better life. Cynthis Davis is pretty, book-loving Brenda who captures Preach’s heart. She is a kind and sweet young woman and Davis gives her a nice strength, too, that would come from a harder life. We also have Corin Rogers and Joseph Carter Wilson giving realistic performances as Pooter and Tyrone, respectively, two good friends of Cochise and Preach. And as the local thugs, Gibson and Smith seem to try to give Robert and Stone a little personality with their limited screen time and more stereotypical roles, a rarity in Monte’s script.

Overall, this film is a classic, though one that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves. It portrays an honest view of a slice of life at a time when far less attention was given it. It has a down to earth style of telling it’s story and a cast that really help to make it’s characters seem like real people and not movie characters. It’s a fun movie and at times a sobering and sad movie, but most of all it’s a damn good movie. Add to that a great, though hard to find, soundtrack of Motown hits and you have an underrated gem.

A classic 4 friends.

Cooley High rating


Cooley High soundtrack

  1. Baby Love – Diana Ross & The Supremes
  2. Fingertips – Stevie Wonder
  3. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) – Four Tops
  4. Stop! In The Name Of Love – Diana Ross & The Supremes
  5. Luther’s Blues – Luther Allison
  6. Dancing In The Street – Martha & The Vandellas
  7. Beechwood 45789 – The Marvelettes
  8. OOO Baby Baby – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  9. (You Can) Depend On Me – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  10. Cleo’s Mood – Jr. Walker & The All Stars
  11. Money (That’s What I Want) – Barrett Strong
  12. You Beat Me To The Punch – Mary Wells
  13. 2 Pigs And A Hog – Freddie Perren
  14. My Girl – The Temptations
  15. Sweet First Love – Freddie Perren
  16. Three AM…I Love You Mama – Freddie Perren
  17. (I’m A) Road Runner – Jr. Walker & The All Stars
  18. Mickey’s Monkey – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  19. Haulin’ – Freddie Perren
  20. Cold Blooded – Freddie Perren
  21. It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday – G.C. Cameron
  22. Reach Out I’ll Be There – Four Tops