Tuesday, 20 September 2016


Rob Zombie is something of a cult character to genre fans.
Undoubtedly every bit as great at marketing his films as he is at actually creating them, shock-rocker Zombie has produced some of the most talked about horror movies of the last 15 years.
His work also proves to be somewhat polarising, a sure sign of an auteur in my opinion, and I've heard lengthy testimonials for, and denouncements of, the likes of House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects, Lords of Salem and his two Halloween remakes.
For the record, I dig his movies (and his comics – I own The Nail and Big Foot and think they're both great throwback, grindhouse fun), even though I can recognise some of the flaws in his work that critics are most vocal about.
Which brings us to 31, the latest sick exploitation flick from a man who has built his career on such movies, a tale of carnival workers hunted by killer clowns as part of a deadly game for the rich and privileged.
So, is this a game that you'll want to play?
Or are these clowns no fun at all?
Read on...

31 (2016)

Dir: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Kevin Jackson, Michael 'Redbone' Alcott, Malcolm McDowell, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson, Richard Brake, Pancho Moler, David Ury, Lew Temple, Torsten Voges, E.G. Daily

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

31 opens with a deeply unnerving scene in which an articulate but clearly insane man, Doom-Head (Brake) delivers a lengthy monologue to a captured, bound pastor before ruthlessly executing him with an axe.
From here we meet a group of travelling carnies as they drive along an American backroad back on Halloween 1976. Among their number are the show's owner Venus (Eighties icon Foster), dancer Charly (Moon Zombie), show manager Panda (Hilton-Jacobs), mechanic Roscoe (Phillips), experienced worker Levon (Jackson) and driver Fat Randy (Alcott). 
When the crude, free-spirited group stop for fuel, Roscoe meets a flirtatious pixie of a woman (Daily) who is cleverly able to ascertain that the group are unarmed.
Later that night Fat Randy comes across an eerie display of scarecrows obstructing the road, and as the group investigate they are jumped by a gang of ruthless, armed goons dressed in the black and white stripes of a Nineteenth Century prison inmate. After a brief but savage struggle, five of the carnies are subdued and taken to a mysterious building.
After being escorted to an opulent theatre, in which they meet the foppishly dressed, powdered and wigged 'organisers' of the game, led by Father Murder (Zombie's Halloween collaborator and national treasure McDowell), the group are told the rules of 31. They will be given 12 hours to survive while running through a bizarre maze, all while being pursued by experienced, deranged killers known as 'Heads'. The first to hunt the group is little person, Sick Head (Moler), a Spanish speaking, Nazi obsessive.
As the group are given a disheartening set of survival odds (including 500-1 for some members), they are presented with a number of crude weapons... and then the chase begins. 

BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): You all know what Rob Zombie does best: garish, eye-popping visuals, extreme violence and an effortless grindhouse aesthetic. So no points if you can guess what 31's strengths are.
However, that's only half of the story. Because, honestly, I think 31 might just be Zombie's best-looking film to date. It takes bizarre, fever-dream visuals and cranks them right up to 11. From the sumptuous set in which Father Murder, Sister Serpent and Sister Dragon watch the events of their sick game, to the nightmarish big top that acts as the main hunting ground for demented brothers Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head, it looks absolutely amazing.
That's before you get to the fantastic costumes: from the more outrageous, such as the aforementioned Father Murder's 'Louis XIV'-style attire and the absolutely astonishing 'mini-Hitler'-look of Sick-Head to the less obvious: I feel Charly's strappy, lioness-print top is destined to become a cult cos-play favourite.
It's not just the sets and outfits that look great (although they do), cinematographer David Daniel uses a beautiful, grainy film-stock look to encapsulate the time period during which the film is set, while Zombie himself shows off a number of cool film-making tricks throughout the movie. There are some excellent, comic-book style scene transitions, many of which make fantastic use of freeze frames (I think my personal favourite may be the transition that opens on a still of one of the leads puking his guts up).
That sentence probably tells you a lot about this film and it leads neatly to the next point — if you're a fan of Zombie's shocktastic, irreverent, 'Don't-give-a-fuck' mentality, this film gives you plenty of that. From disgusting jokes, plenty of gratuitous nudity and, most of all, blood, blood and even more blood, this isn't exactly The English Patient — this is Zombie firing on each and everyone of all of his most offensive cylinders. Like that other extreme clown hit, 'Bloody' Bill Pon's Circus of the Dead, this is as hard-hitting as it gets. It may not be to everybody's tastes (as some reviews from the movie's Sundance premiere have proven), but Zombie fans — of whom there are plenty — will dig the hell out of this.
But back to the blood. A lot of Zombie's fans enjoy the director's unflinching gore and sadism — rest assured, that hits just as hard here as ever before. From brutal eviscerations, bloody chainsaw wounds, gushing jugulars and spiked baseball bats to the skull, there's plenty of grue on display. That's before we get to the depraved acts of torture and cruelty that the various Heads are willing to inflict upon our characters. Be prepared for bad things to happen here... VERY bad things.
Of course, the violence only really matters is you care about the characters: those that inflict or fall victim to it. Zombie is aided in this area by the fact that he's assembled a pretty damn sterling cast. It could seem like stunt casting to bring in the wonderful Foster in this role, but she really is perfect for her part. She's a tough, experienced survivor and with her iconic cold eyes she's everything that Venus needs to be.
Elsewhere, Zombie's wife Sheri Moon Zombie does a pretty darn good job as Charly, showing a decent range as she goes from playfully flirtatious to helpless victim and then to battle-hardened warrior woman over the film's duration.
I was also a very big fan of both Jackson and Phillips. These are very talented guys and, while I was unfamiliar with their work before I saw 31, I shall definitely be looking out for them both in the future. Very impressive.
Speaking of impressive, needless to say the always fantastic McDowell delivers the goods, as do the other British vets Carr and Geeson. Their screentime is pretty limited, but they really do make it count. The same can be said of the charming and very watchable Daily. She may have made a living primarily from voice-work in recent years but that's a terrible waste of her good looks and expressive face. Here's hoping she'll be appearing on our screens all the more after this release.
However, as great as these cast members are, there's one man who absolutely runs away with the show — Richard Brake. At the risk of sounding like I'm overstating this, I really think Brake's work in this might just be the best performance I've seen in a horror film this year. He is, quite simply, absolutely astounding. Terrifying, cool, charismatic — Doom-Head comes across as a mix between David Carradine in the titular role of Kill Bill and Heath Ledger's seminal performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. He commands your full attention each and every time he appears onscreen. This is, quite simply, a genre acting masterclass. It says something when, in a story as packed full of originality as this, you are the one individual that stands out. Bravo, sir. Bravo.
Touching on that originality, it is the wonderful mix of fresh and familiar ideas that make Zombie's story so rich and rewarding. Obvious commentary aside (in the game of 31 the rich play with the lives of the impoverished beyond the reach of retribution or consequence), it is just an imaginative, entertaining splattershow, jam-packed with striking imagery and an awesome soundtrack. I'm loathe to spoil the ending here but **********SPOILERS FOLLOW********** the gloriously ambiguous climax to the film, accompanied to the classic rock strains of Aerosmith's Dream On is pitch perfect **********SPOILERS END **********

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Rob Zombie is an intelligent, creative guy, but he does have a tendency to wallow in the gutter. 31 is no different. Every other word is 'Fuck', every character thrusts their crotch towards the camera at least once, and most of them struggle from being deeply unlikeable.
In truth the gratuitous crudity grates, especially in that 15-20 minutes or so in which we're introduced to our 'heroes'. The 'Sucky Sucky' mantra is especially over-the-top and only serves to irritate rather than amuse, while the constant flow of swearing doesn't come across as edgy, more like a juvenile attempt to impress. 
This is often a problem with Zombie's work and here he is every bit as self-indulgent in his redneck vulgarity as anywhere else. Viewers who found themselves rolling their eyes at Michael Myers' backstory in Zombie's Halloween will be just as annoyed by the incessant wave of obscenity that 31's cast spew in scene after scene.
Another criticism often levelled at Zombie's films is that it is pretty clear that he cares far more about his interesting villains than the barely fleshed-out protagonists. Sadly, this is also apparent here. Sure, by the time we reach the end of the film we find ourselves caring about the few remaining survivors but, at the point that our heroes numbers are thinned early on by Father Murder's cool-looking henchmen we have very little reason to care about those whose guts and bodily fluids are spilled on the dusty road. Hell, after an hour there's only one or two who've made any kind of lasting impression, which definitely hurts the emotional investment of an audience. I'm sure nobody is watching this movie looking for a deep, complex character study, but a little more to care about would definitely have helped the film.
One criticism I've heard elsewhere that I don't agree with, is that of 'shaky-cam' action sequences that impair one's ability to truly work out what is happening during some of the more frenetic scenes. Sure, they are hyper-kinetic, but I was perfectly capable of ascertaining what was going on throughout the film and don't feel as if I missed any important details due to the camerawork. Perhaps it's a matter of taste, but I honestly felt that it utterly matched the balls-out, crazy as hell vibe of the rest of the picture.

THE VERDICT: 31 is an excellent piece of faux grindhouse, popcorn cinema. Sure, its crassness won't be for everybody, but I thoroughly recommend it for fans who want their horror to hit them in the face, kick them in the nuts and refuse to apologise. Visually stunning, edgy, imaginative and boasting a star-making performance by the superb Brake, this, behind The Devil's Rejects, is my second favourite Rob Zombie flick to date. Well worth your time and money.

31 will be appearing at select UK cinemas and video on demand from this Friday, 23 September. Until then, check out the film's official Facebook page here.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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