Good news, Rob Zombie fans! Rob Zombie is back with another Rob Zombie movie that features all of Rob Zombie’s obsessions. It’s another 70’s tale of dirtbag serial killers who enjoy a good, swear-laden monologue almost as much as they enjoy doling out graphic dismemberment. Is it a masterpiece? Nope. In fact, this crowdfunded schlock shocker is likely one of his weakest efforts, serving as pretty much just a greatest hits reel of previous Rob Zombie flicks. However, if you enjoy his particular brand of self-conscious greaseball retro horror entertainment, 31 delivers the goods. It’s an amusingly nasty timewaster that does the job just fine.
The movie kicks off by introducing Sheri Moon Zombie (starring in one of her husband’s horror yarns for a change) and her gang of fairly interchangeable hillbilly buddies in a camper van. They are traveling around the desert, working as carnival folk and getting up to a variety of grimy activities to kill time. Then, rather unexpectedly, the whole gang is kidnapped by a group of killer clowns and wake up in an abandoned factory of some sort. Turns out they’ve been chosen to play a little game. Every Halloween, Malcolm McDowell and his absurd aristocratic buddies play 31, which involves them kidnapping random folks and forcing them to face off against a gang of serial killers, Running Man-style. This is all for the purposes of good old-fashioned gambling. That’s the set-up. From there, Sheri and her buddies must fight off such colourful characters as a Nazi dwarf who speaks Spanish and a pair of chainsaw wielding clown brothers. Plus there’s Richard Blake as Doom-Head, a sort of last boss figure who is particularly good at monologue-ing and killing. Obviously he’s the best to be saved for last, but there will be plenty of blood spilled before then.
So, following an offbeat attempt at esoteric art horror with Lords Of Salem, Rob Zombie is back to getting down n’ dirty again. Aside from some mild The Purge-esque class warfare stuff, there’s not really any subtext here. It’s just an excuse for Zombie to dive into all of his dark cinematic obsessions and deliver a wild ride of dirty entertainment. It’s the kind of thing that you’d expect for a guy who also designs haunted houses based on his movies in his spare time. Just like how most of Zombie’s albums all sound the same, if you like the sound, you’ll love hearing more of it. 31 is the type of horror movie that makes you feel like you need a shower when it’s done, yet it’s also a work of pure entertainment designed to give the audience a jolt. This is a prime cut of American sleaze made by a man who is a student of that particular national pastime and who knows exactly what he’s doing.
There are some laughs to be found here, mostly of the “I can’t believe they said that variety.” There are some scares too, mostly of the “I can’t believe they did that” variety. It’s not a movie designed to win over anyone who has criticized Rob Zombie movies in the past. If anything, 31 was designed to irritate his critics. Did you think The Devil’s Rejects was too harsh for mainstream entertainment? Just wait until you see what the rapist chainsaw clowns get up to. Do you find his swear-y dialogue irritating? Good news, the movie opens with an indulgent monologue before getting into the bloodshed. Tired of all the 70s movie aesthetics that Zombie revives for style and atmosphere? Good luck stomaching the split frame opening credits. Do you find his rapid-fire music video editing annoying? Well, this story is pretty much told through hyper-stylized montages, so rest up your eyes. The thing is that for folks who enjoy Rob Zombie’s undeniably unique cinematic vision, all those annoyances are the reason to buy a ticket. So if you’re on his page, you’ll get what you pay for.
It’s tough to describe 31 as high art, but then that was never the intent. Nope, this movie is just balls-to-the-wall sleazy entertainment. It’s an exploitation flick pulled from the past, completely unsanitized for 21
century sensitivities. As a partially crowdfunded production, this is a Rob Zombie film made quite literally for his fans and no one else is invited. 31 isn’t his best movie. It feels more like an excuse to blow off steam between some failed projects and dabble in all of the filmmaker’s favourite obsessions and guilty pleasures. Given how fun the results are, that’ll do just fine for now.
Hopefully, though, Zombie will get a little more ambitious again with his next project. He’s a more talented director than most give him credit for. Even if 31 certainly won’t do anything to win over sceptics, the guy has it in him to crossover if he really wants to. Given that he has a hungry audience who would be happy to gobble up a 31 sequel instead, he doesn’t have to shoot any higher than this. Yet, I still hope he will one day. It would be nice to see folks who dismiss this sort of cheap thrill bend over backwards when they realize there was genuine talent behind the trash art all along.