Director: Rob Zombie
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Malcolm McDowell, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: R21 (Violence and Gore)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 1 June 2017
Synopsis: 31 tells the story of five carnies in 1976 kidnapped on the morning of Halloween and held hostage in a remote industrial Hell. While trapped, they are forced to play a violent game called 31. The mission is to survive 12 hours against an endless gang of grease-painted maniacs.
Rob Zombie was never a filmmaker whose aesthetics appealed to the mainstream. Even when he was rebooting the classic ‘Halloween’ franchise, Zombie’s penchant for grisly imagery and scuzzy atmosphere meant that his two most mainstream films were still necessarily niche in their audience appeal. And yet, there is no denying that Zombie has assembled a cult-like following for his brand of grindhouse horror through highlights such as ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ and ‘The Lords of Salem’, which probably explains why he was able to mount this latest through largely crowdfunding. It is also therefore understandable that ‘31’ plays squarely to the sensibilities of his fans, trafficking in excesses of gore and violence in addition to Zombie’s other signatures of lowlife characters, wanton vulgarities and a soundtrack comprised of classic rock and country tunes.
In fact, ‘31’ could be the writer-director’s most straightforward work to date, pitting five road-tripping carnival workers (otherwise referred to as ‘carnies’) against a bunch of clown-faced psychopaths in a deadly 12-hour game of survival on the night of Halloween (hence the title). Zombie gives each of these victims just enough distinction for us to recognise one from the other, but let that not be mistaken for any form of character depth or development. In fact, more effort is spent distinguishing the various deplorables that these carnies will meet over the course of the night, who are dressed and made up to look the names of the parts they are given, such as Sick-Head, Psycho-Head, Schizo-Head, Death-Head, and Sex-Head. And to top it off, it turns out that the game is intended for the entertainment of a bunch of aristocratically-dressed sado-masochists, who weigh their victims’ odds of survival at the start of each round and take bets for or against them.
Among the weapons of choice are chainsaws, nail-spiked baseball bats and machetes, such that one of the Heads will die at the blade of his own chainsaw slicing through his torso, another will be decapitated and yet another will have his head bashed in. The ‘carnies’ don’t have it any prettier or cheerier: one will be gutted from her belly to her chest; another will be carved up and served as dinner for the others; and another will be bound by spiked wires around her wrists and die by severance. Zombie makes no apologies for the carnage – like his previous movies, you’ll just have to accept that there is evil out there, and bad things will happen to good people; nor for that matter does he linger on the sufferings of his victims, knowing just when to pull away without ever stepping into exploitation territory.
Even so, ‘31’ is pretty gruesome from start to finish, and like we said at the beginning, is made squarely for the fans who made this movie possible. If you’re among the converted, you’ll probably also be delighted to see his regular ensemble, including his wife Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips and Malcolm McDowell. You’ll probably also revel in the sheer gonzo performance of Richard Brake as the most memorable ‘Head’ of them all named Doom-Head, who first appears at the start of the movie with face covered in white paint and blood to deliver a chilling monologue and then re-appears towards the end to finish the job after the other ‘Heads’ prove incompetent. Oh yes, if you’re a fan of Zombie’s films so far, then ‘31’ is just comfort food; if you’re not, this is not about to change your mind.
(Comfort food for ‘Zombies’ – meaning fans of writer-director Rob Zombie – this latest crowd-funded effort that boasts his signature bawdy, bloody aesthetic and excesses of gore and violence plays squarely to his crowd)
Review by Gabriel Chong