In “31,” Rob Zombie’s latest sojourn into the world of horror, we follow a group of down and out carnies in 1976 who get kidnapped on Halloween and are forced to play a violent game called “3” where captives fight for survival against waves of psychotic killers while a group of period piece costume-wearing elites watch on closed caption TV as they place bets on who will survive.
Written and Directed by Rob Zombie, “31” brings many of his signature themes like Redneck outcasts, shocking violence and gore, a southern fried soundtrack of seventies hits, Sherri Moon Zombie as eye candy, and of course a virtual parade of murderous clowns hell bent on carnage. Yes we’ve seen Zombie travel down this road before but that doesn’t mean the roadside attractions haven’t lost their appeal. In fact, hard fans will no doubt find a certain degree of comfort in the whole pastiche. The film riffs on many of the cultural issues that we are facing today with its “ordinary people” at the mercies of some shadowy group of elites conducting their own version of Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” Throw in a dash of “The Running Man,” “The Purge,” and Zombie’s “The Devil’s Rejects” and you have a splatter-fest that runs close to two hours.
Sherri Moon Zombie does an adequate job as the heroine, and it was nice to see Meg Foster and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs back on the big screen, but quite frankly they weren’t given much to work with character-wise. Malcolm McDowell eats up an
impressive amount of scenery as the ring master to this circus of mayhem. The real stars of the film are the various killers. With names like “Doom Head” and “Sick Head,” they are let loose to hunt down and kill the contestants. The whole evil clown motif might be a bit stale for some but Zombie fans will no doubt find the insane bozo posse fun. After all, when was the last time you saw a Spanish-speaking midget dressed as Hitler kill a man with a pair of switch blades? I think it’s safe to say that Zombie knows exactly what his audience wants and tries his very best to give it to them.
“31” is a blood-soaked carnival ride that starts out a bit slow but quickly gains speed once the premise is established. Like many of Zombie’s films, the characters are a bit difficult to care about and once they find themselves in the game it become pretty obvious that many of their character arcs will be defined by their gory demise. Sure the film is visually challenging but the dialogue in places fails to rise above the Midnight Movies it seeks to pay homage to. That being said, if you’re a fan of Zombie’s previous films then no doubt you will want to add this to your collection.
“31” will be in theatres on a limited release on October 21, 2016. It’s already available on DVD and some streaming platforms.