I’ll begin this review by saying that I am very familiar with Rob Zombie’s work. I was a fan of White Zombie and some of Rob’s solo stuff. I enjoyed The Devil’s Rejects quite a bit, and thought that House of 1000 Corpses was a fun, though flawed, homage to horror. The Halloween films left much to be desired but I didn’t “hate” them like many people did. Lords of Salem had some impressive cinematography which I spoke about in a review you can find on this very site, and I enjoyed that for what it was. I’m not someone who majorly anticipates Zombies’ films with baited breath, but I do look forward to seeing what wink-and-nod to horror he pulls off next, and so I was excited to get a look at 31, his newest flick.
The cast is what we’ve come to expect from Rob Zombie. His wife, Sherri Moon Zombie, is pretty much the main character here, and we have a mixture of older talent who have fallen off the Hollywood radar and indie actors who we’ve seen in a few things in lesser roles. Malcolm McDowell plays the villain of the piece in many ways, and is perhaps the name-value of the feature. Meg Foster (They Live, Masters of the Universe) is here too. It seems Rob likes her as he also cast her in Lords of Salem back in 2011.
The story of 31 is very hillbilly-horror 101. A big bulbous nod at exploitation and grindhouse cinema, it’s got Rob Zombie written, spat and kicked all over it. The whole set-up of this movie felt incredibly similar to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (2003). A group of carnies are on the road and find themselves kidnapped and taken to an enclosed compound. Here they meet Father Murder (McDowell) who informs them that they are part of an annual game in which they must survive twelve hours in this “Hell” against a selection of psychotic killers. The group try to find a way to survive while Father Murder and a couple of other weird overlord-types take bets on who will be killed next.
It feels immediately like a Rob Zombie movie. If you liked the grit and southern-rot of Rejects and Corpses then you should find plenty to enjoy here. It’s back to basics in many ways for Zombie and I feel like that is a good thing. There are people who dislike Zombies’ style of filmmaking but he isn’t making 31 for those people, this is a film for the people who DO enjoy his brand of horror, plain and simple. The dialogue, while at times pretty corny, works for the type of movie that this is, and the underground compound is dark and maze-like, giving the impression that a knife-wielding maniac could be coming around a corner at any second.
Stealing the show, performance-wise, are carnie Roscoe played by Jeff Daniel Phillips (Lords of Salem, Westworld) and the murderous Doom-Head played by Richard Brake (Hannibal Rising, Batman Begins). These two, for me, were the best part of 31, and provided the best scenes of the film. Sherri Moon Zombie did an okay job in the lead role though I found her to be a little unbelievable at times and her dialogue was often spoken like she couldn’t really be bothered. I liked her performance as “Baby Firefly” in the Rejects flick but was disappointed with her work here. Still, with Foster and the two actors I previously named, there are some decent acting moments to be found amidst the blood, puncture wounds, chainsaws and knives that saturate a good portion of 31.
There are horror films that take hours to pick apart or delve into. There are horror films that have deep meaning and psychological ideas that can be discussed at length over and over again. There are horror films that have plots so intricate that all you can do is watch it again just to get a grip on what actually happened. 31 isn’t one of these types of horror films. 31 doesn’t have much of a plot, the characters don’t get a backstory to make us give much of a damn about them, and the violence and gore is pretty much there for the sake of giving us violence and gore. Some viewers will dislike the things that make this film what it is, and others will love it. I didn’t love it or hate it, I just had fun with it and accepted that not all horror flicks need to be the same.
Enjoyable, bloody and fun, though not necessarily one that would require many revisits. 31 is not the greatest cinematic achievement of its director, but it is far from the worst. It sits in the middle, and that’s okay. Give it a go, you might disagree.
3 out of 5