I have been a fan of Rob Zombie’s films ever since House of 1000 Corpses. In fact, I have seen every one of his films on opening night, even driving hours to see The Lords of Salem. I enjoyed Halloween II for the brutality of the film and I liked The Lords of Salem because I read the book and appreciated that he was trying something different. I have defended his films for over a decade, even when my opinion caught me a lot of grief. Does this mean I don’t understand that he is fallible? No. I am fully aware of that fact and can admit that his films are fallible as well. 31 is no exception.
It was two years ago that fans were given the opportunity to financially back Rob Zombie’s new project, 31. We were presented with a simple poster of a clown face on a black background and given the premise of the film: Five people would be kidnapped and put inside a game where they had to survive for 12 hours. The poster alone was scary enough to ensure that the film would be 100% funded as it led us to believe that the film would be about clowns. The poster was deceiving.
If you can imagine that Banjo and Sullivan from The Devils Rejects had never gone to the Kahiki Palms Motel, but instead were kidnapped and thrown into The Running Man, that was 31. Now, in the Q&A session after the film, Zombie specifically said that this film was NOT The Running Man, but any way you spin it, that’s what it was.
31 starts out with a group of carnies in a van, much like Spaulding, Baby and Otis in Rejects. They are traveling to their next show on Halloween when they are stopped by scarecrows in the middle of the road and, when they try to move them, they are attacked and kidnapped by men in masks. This was very much like the scene in House of 1000 Corpses when Otis and Tiny attack the car and kidnap the group of friends. Then they are chained up inside a factory and told about the game 31 by Malcolm McDowell who plays a rich psychopath who makes bets with Judy Geeson and Jane Carr on who will survive the night. Each person is given a number and odds of survival. They are then introduced to their first assassin, a little person dressed like Adolph Hitler named Sick Head (Pancho Moler). They wake up, spread out through the facility, with weapons to defend themselves. As each assassin is killed, another is introduced and the odds are recalculated.
If that isn’t The Running Man, I don’t know what is.
If you are wondering how clowns play into this film, they don’t really. Tossing on a little grease paint and a wig doesn’t make you a clown, it makes you a guy in grease paint and a wig. The “clowns” were missing the personality, the costume, the setting, really just kind of everything that makes a clown a clown. I would say EG Daily was as close as it got. The lack of the clown feel just left me a bit disappointed after the hype the poster built up.
There were some bloody moments but not as many as I would’ve expected from a movie with a premise on surviving 12 hours against assassins in a closed in space. This is the film I would’ve expected to be the most brutal of them all but it just sort of paled in comparison. That being said, Zombie only had twenty days to film, so he probably accomplished as much as he possibly could in that time frame. For that, I appreciate what we were given in terms of brutality.
Now look, I am not, in any way, saying that 31 was a bad film. A lot of fans were saying the film was “amazing.” I cannot agree there, but some people also told me they thought it was “awful.” With that, I really cannot agree. I only say a film is awful if I didn’t like anything about it. That isn’t the case with 31.
I loved the casting. A lot of people complain about Sherri Moon Zombie being in every Zombie film, but a Zombie film without Sherri is like Tarantino without Samuel L Jackson. It would just feel like something was missing. I was happy to see the return of Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips and EG Daily. I have been a fan of the two women since childhood and Phillips was great in both Halloween II and The Lords of Salem, so seeing them was anything but a disappointment. In terms of casting, the film was excellent.
Visually, the film was pleasing. It had the grainy quality we have come to expect from Zombie, giving it that 1970’s feel. That is something I have always loved about his movies. The music, once again, was amazing. I was more than happy to hear The Mamas and The Papas blast over the loudspeaker in the factory. It always seemed strange to me that he never used them, so it was a nice surprise.
Doom Head (Richard Brake) was a pretty cool villain. Again, he wasn’t very clownish, but he was obviously very psychotic and enjoyed killing more than any of the other assassins. The film begins and ends with him, which is appropriate really but I wish he would’ve stayed with an axe as his weapon of choice throughout the film. The switchblades seemed a little weak for a character of his psychotic caliber.
I loved the ending. I wont spoil anything by telling you what happens but I feel that it ended exactly as it should have.
Overall, it wasn’t my favorite of all of Zombie’s films but it wasn’t my least favorite either. I think this one is going to be a slow burner for me. The more I think about it, the more I think I will like it. I slept on it last night and already feel better about it than when I first saw it. Tomorrow, I will probably like it more.
Do I think you should go see it? I honestly think that seeing it in the theater on the big screen with the surround sound will be a better experience than just watching it at home for the first time. If you’re one of those people who watches Zombie films just to talk junk about them on social media, just pick it up at Redbox because you’re not going to like it anyway.
Rating: 6 out of 10
31 comes out in theaters near you on September 16