DIRECTOR: Rob Zombie
WRITER: Rob Zombie
CAST: Sheri moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Philips, Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake, Meg Foster, Ginger Lynn, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs
I figured I would get around to watching the new Rob Zombie film 31 sooner or later. I will admit that I went into it with low expectations and maybe that helped me to enjoy the movie more than I thought I was going to. Not as bad as I expected it to be. I think Zombie has some talent behind a camera, but I am not really into his hickploitation laden homages to retro-horror of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre school. It is as if they could almost work at some level but they never do. I did enjoy House of 1000 Corpses overall. But nothing since then, including everyone's darling The Devil’s Rejects. With 31 he returns to the realm of hillbilly-psycho horror after taking a break and doing the Satan/witch debacle Lords of Salem, which I reviewed here. In the end this is what Zombie does the best, and that ain’t much really, and it is what he seems to enjoy doing.
A group of smelly looking and foul mouthed carnies are traveling by RV between shows back in about 1976 when, after stopping for an obvious trap in the road, they are either promptly killed or captured and then taken to play the game of 31, on the night of Halloween. Get it? November 31st. Seems the game has been going on for many years and may it explain the ongoing disappearance of local people on Halloween night. The game is overseen by Malcolm McDowell and a couple women all dressed up as if they were members of a decadent French king's court. Winning the game consists simply surviving for twelve hours pitted against a collection of murderous killer clowns basically, all with names ending in " head". The most viscous of the bunch is Doom-Head, played effectively by Richard Brake. The oddest is a Nazi dwarf called Sick-Head. Luckily he is killed off early on. The sooner you kill off dwarves the better as far as I am concerned. While the game goes on for twelve hours not much actually happens. Only four conflicts occur, meaning one every three hours. All the while the game is being bet on by McDowell and the others, with each of the protagonists getting different odds as far as their chances of survival goes.
Taken at this level the film has potential in a real b-movie sense. It could have been a decent little horror film. But there are a few problems. One is Zombie himself. He wrote the script and it is just too full of low level attempts at filthy redneck humor. There is a joke about a pregnant woman and her unborn baby that is simply stupid and in bad taste and it is told in a such a way that it drags on way too long. The over all dialog is just not that good. Simply vile in some places when there is no reason for it to be other than Zombie is trying to shock us out of our puritanical value system and elicit a predictable reaction. Another problem is that the camera work is too jerky. I hate shaky cam work and I expected some here, but it goes overboard in most scenes. The editing is choppy and too quick and sometimes during fight sequences you do not know what you are looking at, like during the duel chainsaw fights. The editing goes back and forth between the two fights in a way that is distracting. Some scenes have annoying overuse of gimmicks like strobe lights to create a sense of disorientation or anxiety, but it creates more a sense of vertigo.
And like I said in my review of Lords of Salem a big problem I have with this film is with goddamned Sheri Moon Zombie in the lead role. She has been in every film the man has ever made. I guess you save money in the casting department this way. She has really not been in anything else. She played a minor role in Tobe Hooper's remake of The Toolbox Murders ( reviewed here) and I think that is all she has ever done. Why do other other directors not ring her up? She has played the lead in like half a dozen of her husband's films, right? Because she cannot act and she is just revolting. I think here we see her closer to her true self than her previous roles when she is grabbing her crotch and talking dirt to a horny old gas station attendant (played by Tracey Walter).
Rob Zombie is an interesting guy and I like his music and his music videos. I thought he would make some interesting horror films when he started all of this and to some degree he has. But to a larger degree he has delivered nothing special. I remember reading he was going to do a remake of The Blob and that sounded interesting, but it never happened. I can appreciate what he seems to be trying to do with some parts of his films, returning to old slasher/psycho/weirdo movie themes from the 70's and80's. But he seems to have a pissy-ass attitude towards life in a lot of interviews I have seen of him, dissing his old band mates and ranting on about the dreary, godless nature of the universe and how we will all be nothing but worm food one day. His humorless nihilism comes through in his work and while it works for his music it is hard to deal with for the length of a movie. I really would like to see that Blob remake and I would like to not see his trailer park trophy wife in it.