Rob Zombie’s 31: The MetalSucks Reviews


31 Movie Poster

Here at MetalSucks, we often disagree with one another as much as we disagree with you, the readers. Case in point: our resident horror fans, Emperor Rhombus and Axl Rosenberg, did not see eye to eye with regards to the quality of Rob Zombie’s latest directorial outing, 31. So we decided to run both of their reviews — Rhombus’ positive, Axl’s negative.

Check out the conflicting critiques below! 31 is available now on all the usual digital platforms.

Emperor Rhombus: 31 is Tons of Gory, Pervy, Psychotic Fun

Watching a Rob Zombie movie is like going to an Irish pub: you know what you’re here for, and if you went out tonight looking to wax poetic while broadening your palate, you’re in the wrong place. It’s not just about liking horror or gore, it’s about liking zany disgustorama horror with a weed buzz on it. So to a certain extent, you probably have a solid idea whether or not you’re interested in 31, Zombie’s partially-crowdfunded new feature film that pits carnies against psychotic clowns on Halloween. Sound like your bag? Try the Guinness, it tastes like Guinness.

The real question, then, is whether or not fans of Zombie’s past movies, and extreme horror in general, will enjoy 31. And the answer is, they will, quite a fucking bit. Though it has its flaws, 31 is a nonstop free-for-all of blood, sex, cruelty, and madness.

For those of you who don’t know, the basic premise of the movie is that a group of five carnies, among whose ranks are Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips, who played the main Caveman in those Geico commercials), and Virgo (Meg Foster of They Live and Masters of the Universe fame), are kidnapped on Halloween and forced to play a survival game in which they’re hunted through an industrial complex by a series of psychotic clowns called the Heads, including Nazi little person Sick-Head, chainsaw-wielding brothers Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head, life-size broken doll Sex-Head, and eventually the menacing Doom-Head. The carnies have twelve hours to survive the game, and, as you can imagine, not all of them do.

Though Zombie is not known for his nuance and atmosphere — the last time he tried that was The Lords of Salem, and that movie was a disaster — he weaves some throughout 31 with entertaining results. The opening monologue by Doom-Head (played by the incredible Richard Brake, most famous for his role as The Night King on Game of Thrones) is a terrifying mixture of eloquence and sociopathy; Doom-Head is easily the most memorable figure of this story, and will hopefully live on in later Zombie films. Meanwhile, Virgo and Roscoe are interestingly multi-faceted; while weathered carny assholes at the movie’s beginning, their humanity shines through once they’re forced into a situation as horrific as 31. Sheri Moon Zombie, for her part, does a solid job of not simply repeating her previous performances, making Charly a hardened heroine whose sexy shenanigans early in the film are just a front for a tough-as-nails carnival worker ready to defend her friends.

On top of all this, Zombie utilizes clowns with great skill, illustrated perfectly during a scene in which a carny begs Sick-Head to just kill him while Sick-Head repeats his pleas for death in an annoying baby-talk voice. It’s easy to fear a silent monolith like Michael Myers, but when your killer is making fun of you as they torture you, it’s not only menacing, it’s infuriating. In this way, 31 isn’t just about murder, it’s about torment.

The best moments, of course, are when Zombie moves without abandon. The jokes throughout the movie are hilariously vulgar in a way that tickles the teenager in us all; when an old man at a gas station is asked if he has any gas, he replies with a resplendent, “IT’S A COCKSUCKIN’ GAS STATION, AIN’T IT?” The sexual characters are especially titillating; specifically Sex-Head (played excellently by Elizabeth Daily, who you know as the voice of Tommy Pickles on Rugrats–there goes your childhood), whose desperate insanity makes one wonder what would’ve happened if Harley Quinn had been allowed to go full Joker. The violence, of course, is what we’re here for, and Zombie gives us all the brutal stabbings, vicious beatings, and full-on dismemberments you could ask for. If you watch one movie this year where a clown gets gutfucked by his own chainsaw…

In all fairness, 31 is far from perfect. Some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy; Sheri Moon Zombie doing a Rasta accent is hard to watch. Zombie also plagiarizes himself at various points of the movie, including when the carnies are waylaid by a line of scarecrows, or when Sex-Head prances about in doll make-up that smacks a little hard of Baby’s Betty Boop performance in House of 1,000 Corpses. Characters who seem nuanced are sometimes turned into Zombie caricatures, specifically Doom-Head, who sometimes goes too quickly from careful madman to just another gross murderous redneck. The ending is sadly anti-climactic, never giving us the final catharsis that we so desperately desire.

More than anything, though, the viewer leaves never fully understanding what we’ve just seen. Why this game? Why Halloween? Why a series of clowns, and why these clowns, these bizarre stylized killers? Do the Heads know each other? Do they hate each other? Why is Doom-Head so scary, even though he’s brought in as a ringer once everyone’s exhausted from blood loss? Obviously this leaves room for a sequel, but it also leaves the audience with some blue balls.

But perhaps that’s Zombie’s greatest triumph here: I’d watch a sequel (dude, Rob, put the Firefly Family in there, see what happens!). I intend to watch 31 again, if only because I had so much fun watching it the first time, and because there are moments I want to reconsider and dissect and laugh at while tipsy. While it may have its problems, 31 will have fans of Troma-esque overkill grinning with murderous glee.

Axl Rosenberg: 31 is Another Rob Zombie Cinematic Dud

Rob Zombie is to horror movies as Zack Snyder is to films based on graphic novels: it’s clear that he has great affection for the genre, and almost no understanding whatsoever of how or why the genre works.

Where Snyder endlessly recreates Frank Miller images despite apparently never having read the accompanying text, Zombie is clearly obsessed with only the most superficial elements of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Consider what makes Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece so great. Night Court’s John Larroquette, who provides some brief voiceover at the start of the film, is the only member of the cast who went on to be famous for any of his work outside of Chainsaw. The narrative structure is amorphous and the dialogue sounds improvisatory. The young teens traveling along unwittingly to their violent demises aren’t the most fleshed-out characters in the history of cinema, but they all basically feel authentic. They’re also all basically likable… with the except of Franklin (Paul A. Partain), which is a brilliant stroke in and of itself, because Franklin is confined to a wheel chair and in any other scary movie that would immediately make him the most sympathetic character. All of these elements work together to create a horror film that, to this day, feels as real as any ever made.

The only thing Zombie seems to have taken away from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is violence, the desert, and characters that are white trash.

Consequently, 31, which is basically a hybrid between The Running Man and Saw, is crippled by a substantial number of issues. Specifically:

  • Almost every role in 31 is filled by someone recognizable, either from other films or simply as a member of Zombie’s recurring company of actors. You will never mistake these characters for real people because on some level your brain will be perpetually aware that you’ve seen them in other things.
  • Very few of the characters in 31 feel authentic. A killer named Sex-Head (Elizabeth Daily), for example, appears to be the world’s only backroads psychopath redneck who was able to afford collagen injections. There’s no sense of reality.
  • There are constant stylistic flourishes which jolt you out of the story and remind you you’re watching a movie (Zombie has yet to meet a sudden freeze frame he doesn’t love). Again — there’s no sense of reality.
  • The structure is traditional.
  • Every one of the not-at-all-teens traveling along unwittingly to their violent demises borders on being despicable. Not only do you not care if any one of these people lives or dies, there’s virtually no contrast between them and their killers. You meet some of our “heroes” while they’re vigorously fucking in the back of a crappy RV; you meet one of the murderers while he’s vigorously fucking in a crappy apartment. In another world, these characters could be friends. In Chainsaw, the victims are basically clean cut college kids, and the murderers white trash; here, everyone is just white trash. With one exception, which is when…
  • Zombie occasionally and jarringly betrays his Hooper-esque tone and aesthetic for one that owes a massive debt to Stanley Kubrick… particularly Eyes Wide Shut and A Clockwork Orange, the latter of which’s star, Malcolm McDowell, is just one of the aforementioned distinguished faces in the cast. I promise I’m not giving anything away by telling you that McDowell and his compatriots are supposed to be the movie’s “true” villains, members of the monied class carelessly wagering on who will die first. Zombie never misses an opportunity to beat you over the head with this allegedly-lofty concept — I mean, McDowell and the other rich characters are dressed in Victorian wigs, for crying out loud. We still discuss and debate Kubrick’s films to this day because their precise meanings are often ambiguous despite their overtly operatic nature. But Zombie gives ambiguity a pair of cement shoes and drops it to the bottom of a river. (Sex-Head and her partner in crime, Death-Head, wear costumes that say ‘Sex’ and ‘Death.’ Swear on my life.)

These are all variations of the same mistakes Zombie has made as a filmmaker again and again and again. They’re the reason why his first two films, House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, remain his best: in the former, it doesn’t matter that the characters are unlikable and the style is over the top because it’s all basically played for laughs (ostensibly the same reason the Friday the 13th movies work), and in the latter, it doesn’t matter because the killers are the protagonists of the story, so we don’t need to like them, we just need to find them interesting. But 31, like both of Zombie’s Halloween movies and the somnambulistic Lords of Salem, is humorless as well as feeling synthetic while being absent of interesting or sympathetic characters.

You can’t even get a kinetic kick out of the violence, because Zombie is one of those directors who seems to think the best way to provide the audience with a visually stimulating experience is to induce a seizure in his cinematographer right before calling “action.” It’s roughly as effective as a radio play. There’s a scene early on where the “good” characters are attacked and several are killed… but I couldn’t tell who lived and who died until like three scenes later.

In other words, Zombie never provides any compelling reason to sit through his movie other than that it’s his movie. If you really love the guy that much, by all means, piss away 102 minutes of your life. Personally, I’d rather just listen to Hellbilly Deluxe again.

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