I am here to officially pour the first shovelful of dirt into the grave of Rob Zombie’s career as a film director.
Now, before any of you decide that I have it in for the guy, allow me to say that it gives me no joy to say what I just did. Why? Because I’m a big fan of the man, his music and (most of) his films. I thought House Of 1000 Corpses (2003) was familiar but entertaining and garishly gruesome. The Devil’s Rejects (2005) is one of the best horror films released in the 00’s, period. I thought The Lords Of Salem was one of the best films of 2012. I even have a soft spot for 2009’s The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto (even though it kind of stinks). Sadly, I’m not a fan of either of his Halloween films, which just take the entire Micheal Myers mythos and tosses it into a trashcan. But I was really curious to see how he’d follow up Lords Of Salem, and while the premise of 31 didn’t exact knock my socks off when I first heard about it, I was still excited to find out what the man had up his sleeve this time around.
Travelling carnies Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Roscoe (Jeff Daniels Phillips), Panda (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), Levon (Kevin Jackson) and Venus (Meg Foster) are kidnapped and forced to play a game called 31, in which they have 12 hours to fight for their lives against a group of heavily made up killers in a hellish compound. If they survive for 12 hours, they win the game and can leave with their lives. The game is run by Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell), a foppish man with an English accent, wearing a dusty powdered wig. He’s assisted by Sister Serpent (Jane Carr), and Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson), two more foppish individuals, wearing pancake makeup and speaking with English accents. The killers assigned to murder the unwilling contestants are a motley crew with names like Sick-Head (Pancho Moler), Schizo-Head (David Ury), Sex-Head (E.G. Daily), Death-Head (Torsten Voges), Psycho-Head (Lew Temple), & Doom-Head (Richard Brake). All of them wear garish clown makeup and wear silly outfits (for instance, Death-Head sings German songs, and wears a filthy white tutu). Aside from Doom-Head, the killers are basically personality-free, and interchangeable. Except that all of them promise to insert various items (including themselves) into various body orifices – that they all have that in common.
And that’s about it. What 31 looks/feels like is a mashup of The Running Man (1987) and House Of 1000 Corpses, but it has none of the charms of either of those films (Yeah, I just called House Of 1000 Corpses charming. So sue me). What it does is rehash themes that Zombie seems to fall back on repeatedly, and quite frankly, I’m tired of this shit. Performances in films like this one are hard to gauge because they consist mainly of people cursing & screaming hysterically at each other. I get that here in my mausoleum every night, so why should I have to watch it in a movie? Meg Foster lends an air of credibility to her character, as does Hilton-Jacobs (who literally hasn’t aged at all). Phillips basically whines throughout the film, Jackson isn’t in it long enough to get a read on his performance, and Sheri Moon Zombie (aka Rob’s muse) vacillates between victim and heroine too much to give either side much credence. McDowell, Carr and Geeson seem to be enjoying themselves as they pontificate, but truthfully, I found their characters to be too damned silly to be frightened of. By far the best performance in the film belongs to Richard Brake as Doom-Head. He’s genuinely scary, and all too believable to boot. The film’s opening scene is the best scene in the film, as Brake introduces himself to someone he’s about to kill. It’s sinister, eerie and promised a much better film than the one I got. If not for Brake’s performance, 31 would be a total waste of time.
None of this nonsense is explained in Zombie’s script, so we have to just accept that there’s a group of psychos living somewhere out there who’ve been slaughtering people for god knows how long, with nary a rhyme nor a reason for doing it – it’s just stupid. And it’s territory that Zombie knows all too well, which is why making this movie (Especially after the near experimental Lords Of Salem), feels like a case of a film-maker who’s just bored. The themes visited in 31, are ones that we’re all too familiar with, and Zombie has already created two films with similar themes – why go back to the well a third time if you don’t have anything new to say?
So yes, I’m tossing the first shovelful of dirt into the grave of Rob Zombie’s career. But it’s only the first scoop, it takes more than a few shovelfuls of dirt to fill that hole, and I’m hoping that maybe Zombie can redeem himself next time around with his next film. Maybe he can revisit that purported BLOB remake that he was rumored to be doing a few years back? Or maybe something written by someone else next time around might reinvigorate his creative juices? I surely hope so, because as it stands right now, 31 is just a case of a film-maker spinning his wheels, doing the same thing over and over because he has no idea how to do anything else. And if this is true, then it’s truly a sad thing, because I truly believe he’s a talented film-maker, with a singularly unique take on the genre.
Rob Zombie’s 31 (1.5 / 5)