Movie Review: Rob Zombie's 31

"The day before Halloween, five carnival employees are kidnapped & held hostage in an isolated compound known as 'Murderworld'.  On Halloween, they are thrown into a sadistic game called '31' where they must survive 12 hours against a gang of maniacs dressed like clowns.  However, the clowns aren't the only ones they need to worry about - a grand scheme of satanic rituals and a much more sadistic plot awakens.  It's time to play 31".

Yesterday, I had the chance to see a one-night special of Rob Zombie's latest film 31 put on by Fathom Events.  As I piled into a fairly packed theater with my group of attendees, aka my friends, I felt the anxiety start to kick in.  I have always been a fan of Rob Zombie, from his music to his movies, his creative artistic vision has never let me down.  The reason I was feeling a bit nervous while I waited was due to the fact that the trailer for 31 had left me feeling a bit underwhelmed.  Regardless, I knew I was in for a visually stimulating and brutal treat, especially since the movie is based around October 31st, the most important day of all days to me and probably to most of you reading this.  Since this was a Fathom Event screening, there were no trailers; instead we were shown two Rob Zombie music videos which I really appreciated.  I mean, what kind of trailers could they really play to match the level of intensity that a Rob Zombie film creates? 

The film begins with what I can only describe as an incredibly insane individual in grease makeup.  This man, as he later explains, is Doom Head, and you would never want to encounter him since he is incredibly good at what he does.  The whole scene, shot in black and white, was incredibly powerful and you could hear throughout the theater people making positive and negative comments.  After the brutal introduction, we begin our journey by meeting our primary characters: Sheri Moon Zombie, who plays a primary character in Mr. Zombies films (and for a damn good reason).  She always fits the part no matter what movie it is and I personally thought she did a spectacular job in LORDS OF SALEM, which seems to be the most unpopular Rob Zombie movie.  She plays the character Charly, who appears to be the typical "hot mama".  In their traveling "Carni Van" we also meet Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Philips, also in LORDS OF SALEM), Panda (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), Venus Virgo (Meg Foster) and Levon (Kevin Jackson).

The movie is based in 1976 and it's apparent by the costume design.  As with most Rob Zombie films, the soundtrack is also spectacular and indicates the era in which the movie is based.  Not only is their a great selection of "70s jams "but there is an excellent theatrical score, and though it does give away scares at times, it also creates an anticipatory build up to something not scary, which is pretty comparable to James Wan's style of directing. This whole scene was very reminiscent of previous Rob Zombie films (HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS) as well as Eli Roth's CABIN FEVER and Wes Craven's THE HILLS HAVE EYES.  As the film continues on, we see our characters stop for gas and as this point the film sets us up with some assumptions as to what will happen next and what characters will eventually become.  At this point we also meet a woman (played by Elizabeth Daily, the voice behind Tommy Pickles from Nickelodeon's "Rugrats")   that appears to be some type of lot lizard as she flirts with Roscoe and gives off this sexy and really creepy vibe and it's very noticeable that she is not all there.  As our "heroes" continue their journey they encounter a rather eerie road block which appears to be a Halloween prank.  This is when the movie really gets the ball rolling towards the actual plot.  After disposing of a few unimportant individuals, we really gain our core character set. 

At this point we step into the thick of things when introduced to Father Napoleon-Horatio Silas Murder (Malcolm McDowell, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN 2), who appears to be dressed in Victorian-era garb.  Standing beside Father Murder, dressed as though they were Marie Antoinette, were Sister Serpent (Jane Carr) and Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson, LORDS OF SALEM).  Father Murder informs our group of survivors they have been brought to this freaking compound to play their game, 31.  At this point is when we meet our first "clown" and a character that I really enjoyed, "Sick Head" (PANCHO MOLER).  He's a little person dressed in a Nazi sympathizer type outfit and speaks primarily Spanish, which at times were confusing yet entertaining. One scene in particular that I really enjoyed was between Sick Head and Charly which involved a sequence of back and forth taunting in Spanish that the whole audience seemed to enjoy. As we move into level two of our "heroes" 12 hours of terror, we are introduced to the two highly entertaining, chainsaw wielding brothers "Schizo Head" and "Psycho Head", who are responsible for some of the funniest joke and crude remarks throughout the entire film.  There is a really excellent scene during the beginning of "Level 2" that is very reminiscent of ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and if you have seen that cult classic then you will know EXACTLY what I am talking about.  These were probably two of my favorite characters, although most characters throughout this movie are fairly short-lived.  I do not want to spoil the movie for anyone so you'll notice I'm making an effort to not explain who does and who doesn't die, but you must realize, this is a Rob Zombie film and there will be enough death and blood to fill Blizzard Beach in Walt Disney World! 

"Level 2" has some really excellent prop and set detail that I just couldn't stop gawking over. You can really tell when and where there was more effort put in to certain scenes to really help create the images in which our heroes are surrounded.  Zombie also really sells sex throughout the film but he really kills (in a positive way) the set design for one particular scene involving our hilarious clown brothers; trust me, you'll understand why sex and design came together for this scene.  As our heroes move into the next sequence I began to notice a bit of role reversal. Our girls, Charly and Venus, seem to have become warrior women and killing is no longer a bother to them.  What really interested me about this was it felt like this was meant to flip you around and confuse you while questioning whether the bad guys are really bad guys.   As the movie continues on, we are introduced to a few more character, but it's not until the end that we meet the badass of all badasses, Doom-Head (Richard Brake).  When he is officially brought into the film he reminded me of Billy Bob Thorton in BAD SANTA.  I know that sounds weird but that is the most accurate way for me to describe this character, pre-31 at least.  

When it comes to technical aspects of the film, it was shot in this really strange reoccuring pattern where it zoomed in on each character's dead facial expression and freeze framed on it while then going into a slow scene transition.  Needless to say, the cinematography is absolutely superior and the makeup department did a brilliant job making the characters look incredibly dirty and grungy, especially with intricate camera movements.  I really liked how the camera would slowly pan onto the character's faces, displaying close ups of great paint covering pores on top of layers of caked blood.  And there was a lot of blood!  Personally, I think the film did a great job of portraying Doom-Head as the baddest of all the clowns and Richard Brake did an absolutely breathtaking job at portraying a complete mad man.  His kills are totally brutal and his weapons of choice were not at all what I was anticipating especially since we saw what he used at the beginning of the film.  

As the film begins to come to an end, I began to feel that it could have been longer and a bit more in-depth on the character's backstories.  Even though I wanted more, I was not expecting the ending to go the way it went, and I really truly love it for that.  When the film ended, there was a Q&A video with Rob Zombie where he talked about the making of 31.  I really wish I could elaborate more on the film, but if I did then there would really be no point for you to go see it.  If you are a fan of Grindhouse, gore, or honestly, just a solid movie, go and see this.  It was not really scary in my opinion but that did not make me love it any less. Overall, I really loved 31, I thought the story-line was great, the actors were excellent and I left not feeling disappointed.  I have been waiting for this movie to release for over a year and like I had previously said, the trailer left me underwhelmed where the movie did not.  The trailer doesn't do the movie justice and it definitely doesn't even give you a decent glimpse of Richard Brake's genius within his character Doom-Head.  With all that said, I want to thank Rob Zombie for continuing to never let me down! 

Signing off, this is Devin!  Stay creepy all you wide eyed weirdo's and late night lurkers.

31 will be released theatrically September 16