Rob Zombie’s latest movie has been one of the most hotly-anticipated horrors of the year, and now it’s finally upon us. Following his stories of the Firefly family in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, his reimagining of Michael Myers in Halloween and Halloween II, his fun animated comedy horror The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, and playing a different tune with the eerie The Lords of Salem, this time out Zombie has decided to tackle a topic that’s a fear-inducer for many: crazed, freaky clowns with a penchant for carnage!
To shed some light on the plot of 31, the movie centres on a group of five carnival workers (Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) who end up kidnapped and thrown into the ominously-titled Murder World. In this twisted, torturous compound, the wicked game of “31” takes place; a game where our five have to survive increasingly-violent “levels” or “stages” that involve them being hunted down by bizarre, brutal costumed freaks at the behest of some form of hierarchy led by Father Murder (Malcom McDowell). With nowhere left to run, our protagonists only hope of survival is to either kill or be killed, or pray that they can make it through the night until this twisted game’s timer runs out.
What we have here is something akin to an extremely violent, relentless, remorseless, gore-soaked version of The Running Man, with Zombie’s core victims running from one threat to another, hopping out of the frying pan and into the fire. At each passing turn, and with each passing “victory”, lurks a new Head – the names given to the outfitted horrors, such as Schizo-Head or Death-Head, who have death and destruction on their mind. And even though you might be expecting merely crazed clowns, there’s actually a little more variety to the nasties of this particular picture, ranging from chainsaw-wielding rednecks, to kinky Harley Quinn-esque femme fatales, to a Spanish midget decked out in full-on Nazi Hitler attire. But standing at the top of the tree is Doom-Head (Richard Brake), the absolute master of murder and mayhem.
In some quarters, 31 has been described as Rob Zombie’s most Rob Zombie movie yet, and to an extent that’s correct. There’s certainly the usual dialogue associated with a Zombie movie, and some of the kills are right up there as the goriest seen in a Zombie flick to date, although some of the other brutality seems a little watered down at times for a Zombie film in terms of what actually gets shown. Then again, there’s reports out there that the film had to be submitted three or four times before finally being passed as suitable by the MPAA, with an uncut version seemingly in the pipeline when the film gets a full home release. Added to that, we don’t really get to see enough of our protagonists before Murder World to really care all that much about what happens to them when the terror unfolds. At times, the movie also seems to stagger along at a slightly repetitive, lagging pace, with the 102-minute run time feeling like it could’ve done with losing 15 minutes, plus the very plot itself is a little paint-by-numbers in how formulaic and predictable it is.
Don’t get us wrong, though, for 31 isn’t an awful film. A couple of the kills here will make even the most ardent of horror hounds get a little twitchy, and the closing moments are really well handled, but the biggest thing you’ll take away from 31 is the performance of Richard Brake. To many, Brake may simply be best known as Batman Begins’ Joe Chill, the man who kills Thomas and Martha Wayne. His performance here, though, is absolutely mesmerising and truly terrifying. From watching Brake here, you can’t help but instantly think he’d make a phenomenal Dracula or even The Joker if allowed the opportunity. His Doom-Head is cold, clinical, and takes great pride in being the very best in the business when it comes to doing what he does, and this character and performance is something that will stay with you long after you’re done with 31.
All in all, 31 ultimately falls a little short when it comes to matching up with some of Zombie’s other features, but there’s still plenty of deranged desperation and death here for horror fans to devour.
31 / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ROB ZOMBIE / STARRING: SHERI MOON ZOMBIE, JEFF DANIEL PHILLIPS, MEG FOSTER, KEVIN JACKSON, LAWRENCE HILTON-JACOBS, MALCOM MCDOWELL, RICHARD BRAKE / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 23RD (SELECTED CINEMAS, VOD)
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10