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REVIEW: Rob Zombie’s 31

Coming out swinging like a prize fighter, Rob Zombie’s 31 is not only his best film, but one of the best horror films of the year. It’s an experience that as a viewer, you’ll find impossible to forget, a blood soaked, horrifyingly vicious tale of a group of down and out carnie’s being abducted and thrust into a game aptly titled “31”, in which a series of VERY memorable villains are set loose on them, making the kidnapped group have to literally fight for their lives.

What makes 31 so enjoyable and later on terrifying, is the fact that we’re given such a great setup with its characters. When we see the opening scene of Richard Brake’s “Doom Head” character giving a monologue to a soon to be victim, we know that this guy will later be a force of nature that the group will have to face. Following that introduction, we’re given quite a few scenes of the carnies (played excellently by Sherri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and a couple of others) being normal people, arguing, laughing and just living life as they do day to day. It’s not a film where character development is bypassed in favor of all style and no substance, which is refreshing, as many naysayers tend to accuse Zombie of doing just that. With 31, he’s proving every one of those people wrong, providing a great setup, leading to the abduction of the group and having them placed in an aristocratic game of death and survival. Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson and Jane Carr play three done up aristocrat gamblers, orchestrating the vicious game, and narrating/explaining the game to the players as the time ticks away and the blood begins to appear.

It’s a game of consecutive evil, with a small nazi-obsessed and completely insane clown named “Sick Head” (played by Pancho Moler) going first, stabbing and chasing the group. We’re then given a game featuring the duo of Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head, two chainsaw wielding brothers who are quite possibly the sleaziest and most sexually perverse characters Zombie has conceived to date. It’s an absolute blast to watch Lew Temple and David Ury have so much fun playing the sex-obsessed, murderous duo and their fight against the carnies is a real turning point in the film, showing how vicious our protagonists can get, even beating the villains in absolute slaughtering. It’s at this point that we as viewers see that this film is absolutely no joke and with how beautiful the cinematography and scenery is, when the blood flows and violence begins, it’s a tension-filled pressure cooker of horror and insanity, with the fights causing you to grip your chair and jump right in.

As the film goes on, the group encounters another duo, (Death Head and Sex Head, Torsten Voges and E.G. Daily), who are a lot of fun and a big challenge for the remaining members of the group, but where the film shines brighter than any other genre film this year, is when Richard Brake’s Doom Head shows up. The guy steals every single scene he’s in, playing one of the most violently insane and creepy villains committed to film. His presence is scary, his monologues are full of bite and taunting and his fearless performances shows just how amazing of a character actor Brake is. When the group faces Doom Head, you know things are about to get really messed up and well, they do. He’s unrelentless, something that Zombie is as well, directing the hell out of the film and really showing fans and even non fans how much of a visionary he is as a storyteller.

What set the film apart from his previous work is how utterly original 31 is. It doesn’t feel like any other film, and though some have compared it to THE RUNNING MAN, this writer couldn’t disagree more. 31 is a showcase of great storytelling, violence that you’re so shocked by that you can’t turn away and an example of what true horror cinema has the potential to be. If people hold THE DEVIL’S REJECTS as Zombie’s best movie, well it’s about time to rethink that, because 31 is by far Zombie’s most daring and absolutely terrifying film yet.

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  • Brian VonDerahe

    Did the over-editing, in particular during the Chainsaw fight, not bother you at all? I was most impressed with how beautiful this movie looks on such a small budget. Each shot has great detail: the fog during the abduction, the hand painted/stained signs, the well-placed lense flares, etc. Rob has an incredible eye for how things should look.