As the credits rolled at the end of Rob Zombie’s latest film, 31, I sat back and watched with a furrowed brow. After waiting years (literally years) for this film, I was legitimately disappointed. Throughout Zombie’s career, I have supported his movies in full, regardless of how low many other film lovers regard them. I have defended them and had been outspoken in the areas in which I thought Zombie excelled as a filmmaker. But for some reason, this time, I felt like I had betrayed the filmmaker by not enjoying one of his films.
In 31, a group of wild carnies is abducted on Halloween by a group of aristocrats and forced to play a game called 31. They are given twelve hours to survive while being hunted down by a group of sadistic clowns. Among the carnies are Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips), Panda (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), Venus (Meg Foster), and Levon (Kevin Jackson). I cared about none of them. Not one of these characters had anything going for them. They all seemed like throwaway characters from other films that Zombie had made, but with none of the character quirks that they usually have.
Sheri Moon Zombie feels, for once, out of place in the film. While she’s usually the main draw for me (with her character of Baby Firefly being the standout), her character seemed uninspired and like she was put in the film just for her to have something to do. Jeff Daniel Phillips appeared as a character with genuine empathy in 2012’s The Lords of Salem; here, he is whiny. With every word I write further about this film, I feel like I am betraying Zombie even more.
So, yes, you could call me a fanboy. And you could say that I am being sympathetic towards this director whom I admire so much. Still, I can’t help but be honest about the problems within 31.
I’m a big advocate of early grindhouse horror films, and to be honest, a violent grindhouse film doesn’t need any character development. I don’t think anyone ever saw I Drink Your Blood and was disappointed in the lack of backstory. You can have paper-thin characters in a grindhouse flick and have it be successful, but there’s got to be something that you can take away from the film. Something memorable. Maybe just one kill that pushes the envelope and takes it too far. Maybe it’s a certain character. Here, the closest we have to anything memorable is Richard Drake’s character, Doom-Head.
Doom-Head is one of the “Heads” that chase the carnies around and assault them. It’s never made clear why exactly they’re called heads, but that’s not really something that matters, anyway. As I said: this is intended to be a modern grindhouse film. Doom-Head is the closest we get to a character worth coming back for, but I’m not sure the character is strong enough that I will remember him too far from now. Check back with me in a month. His portrayal is awesome; he speaks in an exceptionally creepy “I’m trying so damn hard to control my insatiable rage” manner, and the overall look of Doom-Head is great as well. The problem is that Doom-Head never gets farther than that. He looks sufficiently scary, but nothing that will give you nightmares.
Additionally, there’s a midget Hitler wannabe clown who speaks Spanish. I surmise that the character is intended to disturb the viewer, but I have a feeling I’m not the first person to laugh at him instead. He’s just a funny character, unable to be taken seriously.
I’d like to think that I have a good grasp as to what Rob Zombie is going for with his films. I’d also like to point out that I have been a huge fan of every single one of his features thus far, with the exception of this one. The concept for 31 had a lot going for it. The soundtrack, as always, was excellent. The setting is like a more grandiose Saw and most of the Heads were cool. The problem lies in poor execution and characters that are just not that much fun to watch. It’s a shame, really. It’s not horrendous, it’s just not very good.
As disappointed as I am, I believe that a misstep or two is forgivable. I do not think that Rob Zombie has lost his touch. The profanity and the violence contained within his films makes for a wildly uncomfortable and disturbing experience most of the time. I do believe that he can come back from this – he’s just got to flesh out his ideas a little more on the next film. Still, if you and a couple of friends would like to split the $9.99 VOD rental cost, it’s worth checking out, if only to listen to John 5’s excellent score and watch Richard Drake be a lunatic.
The Geeked Gods Score: 2/5.