Ok, I’m going to say it. Rob Zombie’s films seem to be mostly just for his die hard fans. I don’t know, after his fist couple films, this one doesn’t seem like he’s straying from his main bread and butter. I admit, I haven’t seen his two Halloween remakes, but I have to say, 31 doesn’t exactly expand or grow much beyond his usual formula. At least Zombie’s last film, Lords of Salem, tried to be different through some cool homages and had more fleshed out character. It wasn’t great either, but I felt like there was something to build on. I think the general consensus with Lords of Salem was that fans didn’t like it as much because it wasn’t a gory horror film, it was more atmospheric. 31 feels like Zombie went back to what the fans want more of.
A group of carnival workers on Halloween 1976 are traveling through the west from town to town, and one night they get ambushed and taken to a big factory like place. They wake up to a voice welcoming them to the game “31”. If they can survive being hunted down by a succession of weapon-wielding maniacs in the next 12 hours, they win their freedom.
There are some things to like about the film, 31, but unfortunately those things are all pretty superficial in the grand scheme of film making. I like Rob Zombie’s production design. He has a way of making everything look dirty, grungy- like you don’t want to touch anything. He makes his horror locations already uncomfortable just by looking at them. And there’s a lot of detail. Zombie says he adds things you may not notice while watching it, but if they weren’t there, THEN you’d notice they aren’t there. Well put.
He also has a way of casting great actors from old movies or TV shows. 31 has people like Malcolm McDowell, Jane Carr, Elizabeth Daily (E.G.Daily), Meg Foster, Ginger Lynn Allen, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (“Hey, Mr. Kot-tare!”)… Welcome Back, Kotter. Look it up.
Zombie also films with pretty high energy, keeping things moving right along. Generally speaking, he has a visual style that sets him apart.
Unfortunately, with all these interesting actor choices, the material just isn’t all that deep. Sherri Moon Zombie, Rob’s wife, is in all of his films, and really isn’t all that great an actress. And Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, bless him, does a weird sort of Rasta Jamaican accent here that isn’t all that believable. And there just isn’t enough depth to any of these people to really care about them. I figure if you want me to be emotionally torn up about their deaths, you need to make me know and like them first. I didn’t.
There is one stand out here, though. One of the hired psychos – the guy that you call when all else fails, is Doom-Head, played by Richard Brake. Now this guy commands some attention. He looks creepy, with his white make-up making his eyes seem more hollowed out than they are, piercing through you while he pontificates about your upcoming demise. I might even want to see a film about just this character.
But, the rest of 31 is just a group of people being brutally killed. Ok, there’s some well shot scenes with just enough gore to make Rob Zombie fans happy, but it’s all empty and meaningless.
I can’t thoroughly recommend 31, unless you are a devoted Rob Zombie fan and just love everything he does no matter what. I’m giving it two and a half kittenhands. And to be clear, I AM a Rob Zombie fan. I happen to think the guy is bright, has a passion for the horror genre, and film in general, and he’s an articulate, interesting guy. He just doesn’t seem to be living up to the potential he showed earlier in his film career.
~ Neil T Weakley, your average movie-goer, wishing I could buy a few of the great shorts from Shriekfest last week. Most of those were more inspired than this.