Written and Directed by: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Richard Brake, E.G. Daily, Pancho Moler, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson, David Ury, Torsten Voges, Lew Temple, and Malcolm McDowell
In 2003, musician Rob Zombie made his feature film directorial debut with House of 1000 Corpses. A macabre tale about four people trapped in a virtual house of horrors inhabited by a bizarre family of murderers while researching a local legend, Doctor Satan. It was a nightmare come to life, visually appealing, with a colorful cast of characters, and a strange enthralling story.
For his first feature film, Zombie showed he had just as much talent creating a movie as he had for creating music. After the release of House of 1000 Corpses, it became evident that more films would eventually follow. And follow they did in the forms of The Devil’s Rejects (2005), Halloween (2007), Halloween 2 (2009), and The Lords of Salem (2012). As in many things in life, improvement comes through repetition, and with more experience under his belt behind the camera, his skill level as a filmmaker could only get better.
In 2016 Rob Zombie presented us with 31, his sixth feature film. A strange violent tale that’s covered in grease paint and drenched in blood.
31 is about a group of carnival workers who, while on a road trip to the next town they’ll be working, get ambushed and kidnapped by a group of masked assailants, and forced to take part in a brutal game, 31. A deadly game of cat and mouse, that has yet to see a winner. The rules are simple, stay alive for twelve hours, that’s it. Oh, and there’ll be deranged homicidal clowns unleashed that will be stalking you at every turn who want to see what your insides look like. Did I forget to mention that? My bad.
This movie takes you on a strange journey. It’s essentially a survival horror video game come to life. One of those that’s locked behind the glass case you ask the dude with the keys to get for you. 31 is bloody, its brutal, and its quite enjoyable (if you’re into that sort of thing.)
The best way to describe 31 to someone is to say it’s House of 1000 Corpses meets The Running Man (the movie, not the old school dance.) A deadly competition where the only winners are those that don’t have to participate in it. A spectator sport of blood and guts.
There is no shortage of colorfully sadistic characters in 31. There are the three mysterious game hosts with powdered up faces wearing powdered wigs with names like Father Murder, Sister Dragon, and Sister Serpent, who watch the deadly competition go down and gamble on the competitors’ chances. Not much is known about these three, but you get the feeling they’ve been doing this for quite some time. It’s a morbid tradition.
Then you have the killer clowns themselves, the game’s gladiators of gruesome and gore. There’s Sick-Head, the Latin nazi dwarf. The chainsaw wielding brothers, Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head. The killer couple of Sex-Head and Death-Head. And last, but certainly not least, Doom-Head.
We’re headed into spoiler territory now, so be warned.
If there is one character that stands out beyond all others in 31, it’s the lead antagonist, Doom-Head (played by Richard Brake). In Doom-Head, Rob Zombie gives us one of his most charismatic and lethal creations. A darker version of Captain Spaulding, one couldn’t help but think.
Doom-Head is the most fascinating of all these murdering characters because he’s clearly no fool. A sadistic killer is bad enough, but a sadistic killer who quotes Che Guevara (DH is an educated fellow), covers his face in grease paint (don’t call him a clown), is simply in it for the money to be made and takes pleasure in his work, is a killer on a whole other level. Plus the fact that he up and leaves his house to go bash some heads right when he was in the middle of fucking Ginger Lynn (as Cherry Bomb) while watching Nosferatu, is clear indication the dude is not well. Who does that? Seriously? It’s Ginger Lynn in your bed and horror on the television. Clearly Netflix and Chill is of no interest to DH when there’s blood to be spilled and money to be made.
It is in Doom-Head that 31 shines brightest, he has the best character driven scenes. He is more than your average homicidal maniac. He’s got some layers to him, like a blood drenched onion. But he’s never truly explained, but what is presented and you do get to know about him lets you know he’s the one to look out for the most. He’s the games most dangerous killer.
31 does contain its share of plot holes. For movies like this, that don’t try to take themselves too seriously, suspension of disbelief is not only recommended, but required. Still, like a bloody severed limb, 31 leaves a few questions hanging.
For example, one character gets killed and is prepared to eat unknowingly by the survivors quite quickly. Not even time for seasoning? Those sick sons of bitches!
The one question that got to me the most, not that it even mattered really, but it kept popping into my head was this one. The game of 31 begins with just one killer clown on the loose. Are the additional killers always put in the game as it progresses and the clock counts down the hours, or are they only included if one of the killers gets killed? Because if it’s only when one of the would be killers gets killed, then it wouldn’t make much sense that Doom-Head be in the opening scene of the movie, because that suggests that the previous year’s participants (the opening scene takes place in the previous game’s final moments) got the best of the killers, and so Doom-Head is called in to take them all out. He’s essentially the clean up guy.
Shit, I just made myself dizzy with that one. I need to lie down for a bit.
Okay, I’m good now.
Regardless of any plot holes, and as much as we’d like to know more about the game, it’s hosts, and it’s killers. Leaving the audience wanting more is a good thing. I’d like to think this was intentional, but with time, budget, and such I’m thinking that was not the case. And in the end, the mystery of the unanswered works in the film’s favor.
Rob Zombie has definitely come into his own as a filmmaker. This movie looks amazing, the visuals are vibrant and the set designs were disgusting in all the best ways. Not to mention the stylistic techniques and transitions from one scene to the next (very reminiscent of Creepshow.) It totally has this otherworldly feel to it, and that was the goal one would think. There’s unease and terror in the unfamiliar, and that’s what the central characters are faced with. Having to battle it out in this strange world that Rob Zombie has created. It’s truly stunning work. And with Wayne Toth’s gruesome practical effects, it’s a bloody good time, quite literally.
It’s apparent in 31 that Rob Zombie knows his loyal fan base would head out to see his latest work. And so he throws in some familiar lines and scenes reminiscent of some of his past films. Not to mention nods to other horror classics that many genre fans know and love. For example, the way Charly and Panda are seated up front talking with Fat Randy as he drives the van is very reminiscent of the tutti fucking fruitti scene in The Devil’s Rejects. Charly responds to another character with a line straight out of House of 1000 Corpses. Panda on the toilet at the gas station is reminiscent of Rob Zombie’s Halloween scene with Ken Foree.
(Rob likes his black actors to have at least one shit scene, apparently.) The dinner scene is reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show scene. Charly’s tormented weakened shout scene sounds and looks like Sally’s escape scene in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Just to name a few.
Some amusing nods many fans of the horror genre will appreciate. And fun for the viewer is the name of the game in 31. Not to be taken seriously.
The final confrontation between Charly and Doom-Head is some tense stuff. Had the film ended on this note it would have been good, but not entirely satisfying, given the hellish hour and a half of violence and bloodshed we are presented with prior. But surprise, Zombie gives us a final scene just when you think it’s all over, and it’s one of the best. And it only makes sense knowing what we come to know about the character of Doom-Head. He would want to truly see who the real winner of the game is.
Some will complain, some will enjoy. Don’t want to give everything away here, so I’ll just say the final scene before the end credits is masterfully done, and displays the effectiveness of music in film to make a memorable tension filled movie scene.
Is 31 Rob Zombie’s best work? I can’t necessarily say that. For me, The Lords of Salem holds that distinction of being his best from start to finish, as it’s his most psychologically haunting and visually spellbinding film to date. 31 is enjoyable, yes, it definitely held my interest with its insane characters. Especially Richard Brake’s performance as Doom-Head (Doom-Head alone is worth the price of admission.) But at the end of the day, it isn’t as deep as his other works story wise. This one goes strictly for the jugular and makes no excuses, and it succeeds in that respect.
The bottom line is this. If you’re a fan of Rob Zombie’s previous films, you will get some enjoyment out of 31. However, if you’re not into Rob Zombie’s films, or if this is your first watch in the films of Mr. Zombie, you most likely won’t connect with his vision or vibe with the strange world he creates. It’s a hell of an introduction.
This one was made specifically for the fans, and partially by the fans too (lest we forget, crowdfunding helped get it made.) A passion project where the fans and the filmmaker came together to make 31 a reality. And the outcome is blood filled fun watch.
If you’re down with homicidal clowns covered in blood, step right up and enjoy yourself a game of 31.