Thirty One | 2016 | rated R | starring Richard Brake, Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips and Malcolm McDowell | written & directed by Rob Zombie | 1 hr 46 mins |
A look at Rob Zombie’s last film before his next, 3 from Hell, this year.
You either love or hate Rob Zombie’s shtick. He makes trashy, vulgar, hillbilly horror films that look grimy and revel in misery porn – and I generally like them. I even like his batty Halloween 2. In a time when only the French were making horror movies this miserable and unflinching, Zombie makes stylish horror shows that exude a love of 70s horror. 31 is the kind of movie I imagine everyone that hates Zombie sees in all of his movies. It’s got all of the same hallmarks: it’s gruesome, indulgent, looks terrible, is full of vulgar hillbillies and attempts to make a star out of his wife. This time Zombie is playing them all out of tune. It’s a slapdash, hollow effort made on a dime-store budget and even less creativity. It feels like Zombie trying to chase contemporary trends instead of harkening back to his classic impulses.
This time Sheri Moon Zombie is part of a band of carnies who travel the country in an RV with an unseen carnival who are abducted by some sort of mysterious organization that traps them in a non-descript warehouse and wages on their survival against a group of murderers who themselves look like clowns and carnival workers – and are also Nazis. Or something. It’s a muddled mess of mixed up ideas and shaky camera. Rob Zombie’s Saw mixed with Rob Zombie’s The Purge and Rob Zombie’s Hostel, Part 2.
As if knowing he’s working with a recycled premise here, Zombie goes overboard trying to inject some wackiness into the soundtrack of screams. Nazi midgets, chainsaw wielding clowns, cannibal buffets and the whole affair overseen by Malcolm McDowell and a secret group of the wealthy who dress like powdered-wig French aristocrats for the most heavy-handed take on class-warfare commentary you’ll find outside of a Vanity Fair article. What is this group? Who are these members? Why do they play this game? All questions that a creative answer too may have opened the movie up to some new ideas.
The ace in Zombie’s deck here is Richard Brake – and he knows it too. Brake, a reliable character actor from everything from Halloween 2 to Kingsman commands the movie and is given Tarantino-esquec chatty hitman philosophizing dialog to chew the scenery with. His assassin, named Doom-Head, opens the movie with a monologue and is called back by McDowell to… save the day(?) based on how Zombie builds him up. Doom-Head seems to get off on watching Nosferatu, shows up and tells everyone else to go home and puts on clown makeup and punches himself in the face like an actor preparing for his debut in a Joan Crawford film. Zombie is completely in love with the character. He struts around the warehouse like a master assassin delivering speeches. His only weakness? His insistence on giving speeches long enough that let all of his victims get away. It’s both completely insane and the most riveting thing in the movie.
Without Brake this movie would be a complete waste of time. With him it’s a trashy tease, babbling out Zombie’s various purely theatrical serial killer musings. If Zombie put as much effort into the rest of the film as Doom-Head’s speeches we’d really have something. 31 is by far the worst movie of Rob Zombie’s career to date.