Uploaded to MoviePilot on 27th July
This is in a style I attempted for MoviePilot briefly when I thought I could put reviews on there… they weren’t a review place, this was me being dumb. Also, this style isn’t one I like, but I’m keeping this for reference purposes.
Rob Zombie has something of a reputation in the horror genre. Some love him, some hate him, some change their opinion about him from film to film. I’ve personally always been relatively indifferent to his work. I found House Of 1000 Corpses to be an interesting throwback picture and thought Devils Rejects was really good for the majority of the runtime, but everything else he’s made hasn’t really sat well with me. Especially his remakes of Halloween which, in my humble opinion, are possibly some of the worst of the horror remakes. So I had some trepidation going into his 2016 movie 31, a movie that he made using funding from his fans because it was apparently too extreme for the studios.
Let’s see if he used his chance to break free from the studio system to his advantage.
The plot of 31 is actually relatively simple. A group of carnies are travelling towards a new town when along the way they get kidnapped and are forced to take part in a brutal game of 31. The rules of this game are simple, they are to escape the maze they’ve been taken to without being killed by one of the many clowns that roam the place. As a concept it’s really clever, it gives the carnie characters a chance to work together however they choose and gives the clowns a lot of chances to be as strange and creepy as possible. Its concept is very similar to that of The Running Man, except we don’t have an iconic Schwarzenegger performance to carry this one.
The big problem that I have with the plot, and specifically how it’s delivered, is the opening scene, which is shot in black and white with its dialogue aimed at the audience. It’s a strange way to open the movie. It just seems out of place when compared to what follows and doesn’t really mesh that well with the rest of the film, which is saying a lot since the film goes through about 12 stylistic choices in its 102-minute runtime. Speaking of that…
The plot is reminiscent of old exploitation movies from the 70s and I have a feeling that they were trying to recreate at least some of that specific visual style but they just didn’t go all the way with it. There are some visual choices that look gorgeous, the gore effects are shown beautifully with the choice of angles and framing of certain shots. It’s just a little too clean for the kind of film that it’s clearly trying to be. If they had maybe put a little more grain into the image, they could’ve really given it that proper exploitation feeling that they were going for.
This kind of image just belongs in an old exploitation flick, if only I could see the dirt on the film
There’s also times when they will just have random freeze frames, followed by a very strange transition where the image will slowly slide off the screen with the new scene slowly taking its place. It’s not done with any real sense of timing or reason. It’s not to show a passage of time, it’s not to show a change of location, it’s just done for fun and ends up being a distracting choice
Rob Zombie really isn’t great with dialogue. I know this is a shock to anyone who has heard his characters say “I will skullfuck the shit out of you”, but this film has pretty much nothing but clunker lines that don’t really work. Maybe the opening monologue is relatively interesting based purely on the performance of the actor delivering it but other than that, every line is either too bland to be interesting or too cheesy to be believable.
His ability to tell a story is also questionable at best. He has a good basic concept to work with but he has so many problems with understanding how to execute it, leaving the story feeling haphazard and unfinished. Story ideas will be thrown out or implied but never expanded on. The three Victorian looking elders who are running the whole show never seem to have a real motivation.
This table looks cool right? That pentagram is completely pointless, this plot goes nowhere
Scenes just end with no real conclusion or transition into the next setpiece. Characters are told “We’re playing a game” without being told why they’re playing it or even who’s making them play it. Then, to cap it off, the second they’re told they’re playing we smash cut to them in hoods in random spots in the maze. It’s annoying how suddenly people will change locations with no explanation about how they got there.
Characters also behave in ways that actual humans don’t. To give one example, literally minutes after the group sees one of their own murdered by a Nazi Midget Clown (Yes, that’s a thing), they stop to eat at a table that was set up by the people who kidnapped them. I may be alone in this but if I’m being kidnapped and chased by Nazi Midget Clown’s, I’m not about to stop for a light snack that’s literally being referred to as my “Last Supper” by the people who kidnapped me. The key point, Rob is not great at depicting how actual people work.
For the most part, the acting is decent. Malcolm McDowell is pretty fun while he hams everything up in his overly fancy outfit looking like a reject from Marie Antoinette’s court. Sheri Moon Zombie really sells her character, going from a stoner to a pretty badass heroine who kicks ass when she has too. Easily the star of the entire picture is Richard Brake as Doom-Head. He only get’s a few brief scenes but uses them well to create an effective villain who can go from genuinely terrifying to hilarious with a single look. He actually lights up the screen every single time he turns up.
He is an absolute delight
Everyone else is pretty much just coasting along and filling up the roles of “Guy who calls someone a whore” and “Person who laughs when called a whore” relatively nicely. I could’ve done without the other clowns though, the only one who really makes a real impact is Doom-Head, who probably should’ve just been the only clown in the entire movie.
There are a few moments in this film that I need to comment on that I can’t put into the other categories, so putting them here.
- The dream sequence in this is entirely pointless and just feels like padding. It has no relevance to the plot and it’s not even a good fake out, it just reeks of desperation for a scare.
- There’s a moment where Doom-Head basically reveals that the killing is being done for hire, that he’s literally being paid by the three elderly characters running the show. I just think it’s funny to think that the three elderly people who set this up paid a bunch of crazy people to be killers for a night, I wish we’d gotten to see them negotiating payment plans with everyone.
- The film isn’t that gory to be honest, it’s no more gory or weird than any of Zombie’s other work. I expected something truly disgusting, something he would have never gotten funding for but honestly, this feels like a slightly more silly version of Devil’s Rejects in many aspects.
- Once again, a Rob Zombie movie featuring rednecks who swear a lot. I’m shocked… you know it’s become a trope for Zombie to just create completely wretched characters that I don’t even blink at the Nazi Midget Clown.
The film is one brimming with potential, it has an interesting concept and some great set pieces. It could’ve been genuinely great but the film is pulled down by Zombie’s inability to write dialogue or a cohesive narrative. It’s hard to take a film seriously when it feels like it’s just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. It needed a new editor to get rid of the stupid transitions that a film student uses when he discovers a tutorial on Premiere. It needed a better scriptwriter to hammer out some of the issues with the structure and dialogue. It really needed to push the insanity a lot further to justify being ‘outside the studio system’. In general, it just needed to be better. About 31 times better.
Have You Seen 31? What Did You Think Of It?