Dir. Rob Zombie
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
Rob Zombie has split audiences ever since his directorial debut in 2003. Some consider him the a fresh face in a sea of conventional horror, others see nothing more than a nasty imitator of older classics. To be clear, Zombie's fan base is as strong today as it was when he began his career as a musician in the early 80's and as both careers are still flourishing and his relevance still high, is an achievement on his part.
The much talked about 31, (the film was crowd funded as Zombie himself admitted he wanted no studio intrusion for complete creativity - a relief for those who weren't a fan of his revision of Michael Myers or artistic THE LORDS OF SALEM) features an alumni of previous Zombie cast members and takes a brutal Halloween road movie on a journey of murder, mayhem and survival.
On Halloween night in 1976, a band of carnies are kidnapped and forced to survive the night in a twisted game of survival where the victims are forced to survive against a horde of sadistic murderers as the hosts lay bets to who will win.
31 feels from the outset as an extension of his earlier films than the mainstream conformist his later movies fell under. The early scenes of the carny on a bus could easily have been a scene from THE DEVIL'S REJECTS and the script feels more of a foul and distasteful as Zombie's early work. Gone are the artistic vibes from THE LORDS OF SALEM and once again, the theme of family is strong as the band of victims fight for their lives.
Some will find the casting of Sheri Moon Zombie in the lead role inevitable but Mrs Zombie holds film together much akin to Baby from the Firefly family, an over sexualized but head strong character that the films 70's background works well with. What is interesting with 31 is the unconventional family become the victims to a more sinister clan and it works well against the usual stereotype for carnival units, especially in the horror genre.
Along with Sheri Moon, Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips and Michael Alcott are all relatable and when the events take a sinister turn in the back roads of America, their fight becomes an emotional roller coaster as the game plays victim to its guests. And while there is a likable cast on the players side of the game, the perpetrators, led by a magnificently sinister Malcolm McDowell, are possible Rob Zombie's most disturbed set of villains yet.
Clowns, a Nazi midget and a pair of sadists under the name of Death and Sex-Head all take their shots but the most intriguing slot goes to Richard Brake's Doom-Head. The top dog in the murder business his presence is always intimidating, from his preparation of the role to his confrontation with his victims, Doom-Head is one of Zombie's greatest creations.
Dark, nasty and by Zombie's own words, his "most brutal" film to date (although the cuts do tone down some of the most sickening scenes to off camera sound cuts and we'd argue whether it is a patch on the more twisted moments of THE DEVIL'S REJECTS), 31 is a cult classic and a film the horror genre needs. It won't win over any new fans but with a fan base as big as Zombie's who needs more?