Review: 31

Score: B

Director: Rob Zombie

Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake, Meg Foster

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rated: R

“I ain’t no fuckin clown.”

You can often measure the success of a horror film based on the ultimate body count and the opening death sequence.  Luckily for fans, Rob Zombie blows both out of the water as his brutal 31 bears a rather impressive death count and bolsters one of the most haunting openings of recent memory.

Setting the scene from the onset, Zombie utilizes his most intimidating character, staging Doom-Head front and center as he delivers a monologue that is as clever as it is bone chilling.  Dead eyed and deliberately memorable, actor Richard Brake fully embodies the moment, giving horror fans a reason to squirm nervously in their seat.  And while the audience is still working to put together the details (as well as the overall premise), there is no denying the callous and barbarous events that lie ahead.  The only question is the journey we will take to get there.

Taking place on Halloween day in 1976, 31 centers around a band of carnies as they travel between shows, enjoying the good times (and good weed) that come with a life on the road.  But darkness lies just up the way when the group hits a roadblock that ultimately evolves into a kidnap that plants them in the midst of an underground world, moments away from being let loose by a trio of psychotic fascists who have challenged them to a disheveled game of survival.

The rule is simple: survive at any cost for twelve hours.  The prize?  Life.

Though the main premise doesn’t offer much depth, Zombie’s careful calculations with his supporting players allows the film to flourish during its second and third acts.  From a midget Hitler covered in swastikas to duo Sex & Death, the onslaught of villains who are set free within the confines of Murderworld are unforgettable.  The over-the-top antics aren’t necessarily ideal; however, the absurdity adds a layer of chaos to the already riotous situation.

As you work to understand the maze that holds the game’s chess pieces in check, you find yourself lost in the details of the game’s make-up, anxious for what lies on the other side of the door as the forthcoming victims get lost amongst long-abandoned restrooms and isolated warehouse offices.  There is always a fear that something sits just around the corner, and the confidence with which the killers enter the game is both alarming and enthralling, setting off a weird run of emotions for those that watch on.

For all the vicious cruelty and violence that will surely have diehard horror fans standing up in applause, 31 is not without flaws.  From bland characters to flat dialogue, the film fails to give audiences anyone to root for.  Instead of being emotionally involved, we sit on the sidelines, witnessing the spectacle without much interest in the final outcome.  Which resonates loud and clear during the last fifteen minutes as Zombie gives us a conclusion that feels neither forced nor rushed - it just works.

The film, at its core, is a homage to the genre films that have come before it.  Playing like a highlight reel to some degree, 31’s biggest misstep is not separating itself enough to be seen as its own entity.  Luckily genre fans will appreciate the director’s respect to those that brought influence - that and a downright sinister performance by Richard Brake.  He alone will give you nightmares.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.

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