31 Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Bow and Arrow Entertainment
Written and directed by Rob Zombie
2016, 102 minutes, Not yet rated
Frightfest UK premiere on 28th August 2016
Sheri Moon Zombie as Charly
Meg Foster as Venus Virgo
Malcolm McDowell as Father Murder
Richard Brake as Doom-Head
On the eve of Halloween, five grubby carnival workers are kidnapped by monstrous masked figures and dumped unceremoniously in a rusty dripping industrial health and safety nightmare, forced to fight for their lives against a gang of murderous psychopaths. The theme: clowns. It’s The Running Man meets House of 1000 Corpses.
This is a return to the gritty, Hillbilly infused roots of Rob Zombie’s earlier movies, following his more experimental, mood-driven (and brilliant) Lords of Salem – the Devils Rejects sequel we never got. With its many clowns, pontificating mass murderers, 1970s setting, American rock, Malcolm McDowell supporting role and hick heroes, it’s the most Rob Zombie movie ever made. Mouthy axe clown Doom-Head channels his best Otis Driftwood, making one wonder why Zombie didn’t just go the whole hog and cast Bill Moseley in the first place. And, of course, wife and muse Sheri Moon Zombie takes the lead, as the plucky Final Girl Charly.
While there are less big name cameos than some of his previous works, the film is otherwise cast exactly how one expects a Rob Zombie film to be. No movie star looks, instead going for a crusty, realistic aesthetic that’s backed up by a lot of (semi) affectionate swearing and arguing before the big kidnap. Kevin Jackson and Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs are the closest to likeable as the two best friends Levon and Panda, while Meg Foster gives a strong performance as underdog Venus Virgo (carnies, remember). As toothy, sideburn wearing Roscoe, Jeff Daniel Phillips has an easy charm, making the five a strong prospect to root for. They’re certainly a more interesting lot than the usual line-up of slasher movie drones and pretty young things, even if most of them do look like they could do with a good shower and a shave.
More importantly – the clowns. With names like Doom-Head, Sex-Head and Psycho-Head (you get the idea), they’re a nicely assorted bunch of carnival freaks, psychopaths and monsters, wielding such varied weapons as flick-knives, chainsaws, axes and chains. Anyone who has ever played the controversial videogame Manhunt will recognise the aesthetic and heavy violence, like a Saw sequel crossed with Battle Royale. ‘Clowns’ might be pushing it a little, though – all but those with the strongest fear of clowns shouldn’t be too troubled by this lot, who barely seem to have used a full tub of greasepaint between them. There is a dwarf dressed like Hitler, a giant in a tutu and a fantastic Harley Quinn rip-off though, so at least there’s plenty of variety.
A game of death, murderous clowns and Malcom McDowell dressed up as an Edwardian toff. On paper, this all sounds like great fun. However, somehow, it all adds up to considerably less than the sum of its parts. The writing is mostly atrocious, from lead clown Doom-Head’s self-consciously ‘cool’ speeches to the unimaginative swear based arguing of the heroes. Whenever the film slows pace and gives its characters room to breathe it becomes almost unbearable, particularly during its dinner table and chainsaw room scenes. Thankfully, you’re never far away from a gory action sequence…
…Which, sadly, are also somewhat lacking. 31 is shockingly edited, with characters constantly disappearing, or separated from the rest, almost entirely without context. During one big set piece, the action is so frantic that I could have sworn the guys were fighting two people at once, instead of the one guy we actually get. It’s not enough to ruin the film, but given that this is Zombie’s action horror movie, one might expect the actual action to be more competently directed and depicted.
31 is by no means a bad film, but it is a very disappointing one, given its calibre of director – a literal horror rock star in a day and age when true auteurs are few and far between. This is Rob Zombie at full Rob Zombie, leaning heavily into the mood and aesthetic which (for better or worse) typify his earlier movies. It’s certainly no Halloween II, but it’s not up to the standard of his Lords of Salem either. It’s just a version of The Devil’s Rejects in which you’re not supposed to be rooting for the clown. Sometimes you still do, though.