Oh Rob Zombie, how I want to love all your films. Zombie may well be one of the most ardent horror movie fans, which means he knows what we like and he has great sensibilities. In fact, it is this love of horror that I think produces some of the best parts of his films and there are always great parts. But making a entire film that horror fans can love is another beast entirely. Here is where an homage to a film or a great movie moment is insufficient. The whole damn movie needs to be great, at least decent, and you don’t get to skimp on dialogue or any other part. And he knows this and has accomplished this before.
It’s the day before Halloween and a motley crew of carnies stumble upon an abandoned amusement park. Before long they are captured by the heads (sick-head, sex-head, doom-head, etc.) led by Father Murder (McDowell) and forced to play a game of survival. If they get through 12 hours they win. Of course, no one has ever won before.
It’s gory and brutal but 31 is just not that good. The characters we should be rooting for are not that likable, the dialogue is poor, the premise is tired, a sort of hunting humans is the most dangerous sport kind of bullshit and a lot of talent and potential is wasted. Basically it has lots of great elements that don’t hardly matter because of bad writing. Unfortunately, awesome actors and cool gimmicks can’t make up for that. Dwelling on what is wrong, however, won’t do much good and would take too long anyway. Plus, I actually like Zombie and other films of his and don’t want to just put him down. So here are things I liked about 31.
The actors: I like how Rob casts. Any performance from Malcolm McDowell is an entertaining, yet sinister, one. I also really like Sheri Moon, while not a great actress, she always brings an element of fun and likability and is a stronger performer with each film. And Richard Brake as Doom-Head is phenomenal, not one lick of likability, not one! and he scares you witless. Meg Foster: I have to take a moment to comment on how amazing this woman is, and here is one area where I feel much talent is wasted. Foster is an excellent actor. Moreover, this woman is gorgeous; while everyone else is jacking up their faces to the point of being unrecognizable, not just as themselves but as a human, Foster is a what you would expect an aged, lovely face to look like. It’s refreshing and powerful as a female viewer and I love that Zombie is no ageist. He appears to truly value what varied types can bring to the table. And he regards older women as sexy and functional, older men too for that matter, and in today’s Hollywood this is daring, and an excellent reminder of the leeway the horror genre has to do its own thing and defy conventions. Last, but not least (this is a great cast), Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, yes that’s right, Freddie Boom Boom Washington. I’m glad to see him, he was pretty fun here, but there was no need for the terrible island accent, no need whatsoever.
That groovy 70s vibe: Not a lot to explain here, I just love the rhythm and the vibe of the 70s and how well its captured in many of his flicks. Yet it always makes me wonder, how the hell can James Gang be so damned good when the fucking Eagles are so damn bad?!
The homage: Throughout this film and all of Zombie’s other films are evidence of his fan-hood, like Nosferatu playing on a TV in the background, these are fun to find and reflect his love and passion for the genre.
The final scene: It’s pretty clear early on that Sheri Moon is slated to be our Final Girl, so I expected some ending with her getting away. But this was a superb last moment. As she stumbles into the light and away from the horror, Doom-Head drives up behind her. She slowly continues forward until she realizes it’s time to turn around. At the moment of confrontation, the film ends.