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 Corpses. Salem 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.
2 very disappointing butcher knives.