31 Blu-ray Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Blu-ray released by Lionsgate
Written and directed by Rob Zombie
2016, 102 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on December 20th, 2016
Sheri Moon Zombie as Charly
Jeff Daniel Phillips as Roscoe Pepper
Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Panda Thomas
Meg Foster as Venus Virgo
Kevin Jackson as Levon Wally
Malcolm McDowell as Father Murder
Jane Carr as Sister Serpent
Judy Geeson as Sister Dragon
Richard Brake as Doom-Head
Pancho Moler as Sick-Head
David Ury as Schizo-Head
Lew Temple as Psycho-Head
Torsten Voges as Death-Head
Elizabeth Daily as Sex-Head
Michael 'Red Bone' Alcott as Fat Randy
I'm just going to put this out there before I get into this review: I'm an unapologetic Rob Zombie fan. I'm not a blind fan, mind you. I won't pretend that his Halloween films are any good (they aren't), but I hate them less than probably the majority of horror fans. It doesn't bother me that he uses pretty much the same cast in each movie, most notably his wife Sheri Moon Zombie (although I am in agreement that it's time to mix it up). And at the end of the day I'm okay with him using a cast generally found at the nearest horror convention - it pleases me that he respects these icons enough to keep them on the big screen; they deserve it. I just love the guy's work, be it music or movies. It doesn't matter how bad the film is (again, I point to the Halloween movies), I will find something to like about them. (I'm willing to bet that it's mainly because Zombie makes great grindhouse movies, and he knows that making a grindhouse movie entails a helluva lot more than scratching up the film.) All that said, it should come as no surprise that I didn't hate 31.
Yes, you're right, 31 is pointless and really, truly unoriginal. The movie follows a group of carnies, including Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips), Panda (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), Venus (Meg Foster), and Levon (Kevin Jackson), who are assumedly on their way to their next gig when they are captured by some men wearing old-timey prison uniforms (stripes and all) and forced to partake in a last-man-standing contest of sorts. Looks like once a year – on Halloween no less – Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell), Sister Serpent (Jane Carr), and Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson), kidnap a group of people, throw down some odds on their survival, then give them 24 hours to avoid their team of killers.
Like I said, 31 is bringing nothing new to the table. You've seen this film or a variation of it numerous times, and better. Battle Royale tells a similar story, but brings the novelty of kids to the mix. Surviving the Game (1994) is probably not nearly as good as I remember it, but I do remember its stellar cast that includes Rutger Hauer, Ice-T, Gary Busey, and Charles Dutton. That one has a bunch of rich folks hunting a homeless man (Ice-T). I could easily think of more, those two are just from the top of my head, but most of these "man-hunt-man" films can find their roots in Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game, a short story about a rich man who finds himself on an island owned by a big game hunter. As you probably already figured out, the wealthy man literally ends up on a run for his life.
Don't get me wrong, 31 has some cool killers going after the under-prepared carnies. There's a variety of baddies here, starting with Sick-Head (played hilariously evil by Pancho Moler) to the chainsaw-wielding team of Schizo-Head and Psycho-Head (David Ury and Lew Temple) to Death-Head and Sex-Head (while Torsten Voges and Elizabeth Daily are a lot of fun to watch here, it would have been amazing if this team had been played by Ninja and Yolandi Visser of Die Antwoord) to Doom-Head (Richard Brake) coming in for cleanup. I'd love to say these thugs bring something new, but I've even seen this before (bad guys dressing up in scary costumes to hunt the protagonists) in the low-budget film Slashers.
This script monotony is frustrating as a Zombie fan because I know he's capable of more. Hell, take House of 1,000 Corpses; The Texas Chain Saw Massacre influence is heavy in that movie, but at least there's enough variety there to be fresh. Not so much in 31.
There is some good to be found in 31; mostly in the performances. Meg Foster is the standout in the movie, easily taking on the mama bear role in 31, watching over the rest of the group as best she can. Don't cross her or her family, though. She'll cut you.
The other two players who bring it are Pancho Moler as Sick-Head and Richard Brake as Doom-Head. Moler is absolutely hilarious with his character's relentless mocking of his victims. Brake, on the other hand is night to Moler's day. He has no time for jokes when it's time to take care of business.
I didn't hate 31. I didn't...not like it. It's just so vanilla. Sure, the gorehounds are in for a treat, and I've always loved Zombie's films for their visual appeal and this is no different, but after watching it, you just kind of say to yourself, "Okay...so what was the point of that?"
This is fun to watch once for that check-your-brain-at-the-door type of entertainment, but nothing in it is going to stick with you for the long haul. I expect more from Rob Zombie.
Video and Audio:
Lionsgate Films delivers a fine presentation to 31's Blu-ray release. The majority of the film takes place in a dimly lit environment and I never had any issue with what was going on. Fine detail is exceptional at parts, most notably during Doom-Head's speech in the prologue and the final showdown at the end of the film.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA is just as good, putting to use the surrounds and subwoofer.
English and Spanish subtitles are offered.
- "In Hell Everyone Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31"
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie's commentary is hit and miss. There's equal mix of "so and so is great to work with" and interesting trivia. His commentary does flesh out 31 a little, but not enough to save it from mediocrity. I'll say this, though, it's worth a listen if only to hear where he got the idea for the gentlemen who capture the carnies.
If you are familiar with Rob Zombie's movies, you know he doesn't mess around with making-ofs, and you get another doozy here. In Hell Everyone Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31 clocks in at over two hours and is a mix of behind-the-scenes and interviews with cast and crew. Even if you don't like 31, this is well worth the watch if you dig watching how a film is made.