Rob Zombie is back in a big way with 31. 31 is RZ’s first crowd funded film. It has long been a point of speculation and controversy. With the film hitting the public on September 16th, I decided to catch a special sneak preview screening. On September 1st, I hunkered down in the theater amongst other local goths and ghouls. Over the course of the film’s one hour and forty two minute duration, I experienced a non stop ride full of all Zombie’s tricks and treats.
31 follows a group of traveling carnies who migrate from town to town to perform their show and possibly engage in some prostitution. The band of shady characters enjoy vulgar jokes, free love, and the open road. Life is good until they encounter some odd looking scarecrows placed in the middle of the road on Halloween night. When they get out to move the creepy forms, they’re ambushed.
They awaken to see Malcolm McDowell and two of his female cohorts (Judy Geeson and Jane Carr) who look like they’ve stepped straight out of a Rococo painting, powdered wigs and all. McDowell informs them that they’re going to play a game. The group will be given the duration of the night to fight off a whole variety of attackers.
The purpose of this whole game is for McDowell and his lady friends to place bets on who will survive. Over the course of the night the likeable group of rednecks are pitted against all sort of psychopaths, including a Nazi dwarf (Pancho Moler), a pair of sex crazed clown brothers (David Ury and Lew Temple), and the aptly named Sex-Head (Elizabeth Daily) and Death-Head (Torsten Voges). The biggest and baddest of the group is Doom-Head, played by Richard Brake. Doom-Head comes off as a combination of a long rambling Western villain with the the style of Count Orlok. Brake’s performance is chilling, and I wish his character had been given more screen time.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Rob Zombie film without his muse/wife Sheri Moon Zombie front and center. In 31, Moon plays Charly, the smoking hot sassy final girl of the film. She is basically the “nice” version of Baby. While I enjoyed Moon’s more vulnerable side in Lords of Salem, I’d say she’s more suited to this type of role.
While Moon gives a kick ass performance, the standout in the group of carnies is Venus played by Meg Foster. Foster brings dimension to what could’ve easily been a one note character. She’s the oldest of the gang, and she seems like she’s seen some shit in her day. While she’s tough as balls, she cares for her friends, and even strangers. When the group finds a bloodied girl tied to a mattress, it’s Venus who instantly wants to help her. She suffers pushback from her friends, but stands her ground. In a a film full of wacky antagonists, Foster is able to make her role as a plain old good guy stand out.
In terms of cinematography, there’s a lot to look at. I’ve always had a deep admiration for RZ’s use of color. His preferred palette of vivid circus style lighting has never been more appropriate. The building the film takes place in appears to be some sort of wearhouse. Most would’ve opted for a darker, grungier look, but but Zombie’s approach adds an extra layer of visual intrigue without losing the sickly textures the space possesses.
If there’s one thing I don’t like about the film is how much the camera shakes. There’s a real lack of restraint when it comes to camera movement. I imagine RZ wanted the film to feel like a roller coaster, but the thing is, no one would want to be on an hour and a half coaster ride. There were times where I was starting to feel dizzy and nauseous. I’m a fan of found footage films too, so it’s not like I have a low tolerance for this sort of thing. It’s just that sometimes what the camera was doing overshadowed the story.
I wouldn’t call 31 Rob Zombie’s best film. I’d say Zombie is consistently good so determining his “best”, all boils down to opinion. However, 31 is the one that best represents him as a director. I have a friend who declared 31 the “Zombiest of Rob Zombie films”. In 31, his love of the 70s, white trash characters, carnival-esque lighting, and Halloween blend seamlessly creating a standout slasher extravaganza.
I have to agree with others, his crowd funding stunt comes off as a little bizarre. The man isn’t hurting for money, so it seems like he should be using the finances from his own bank account, if he doesn’t want to go the studio route. However, I don’t really have a problem with him crowd funding as long as investors are being offered incentives like autographs, memorabilia, etc . At the end of the day, an individual has the right to spend their money as they please. Plus, I don’t think backers will be disappointed with the results. Those who’ve never liked RZ, probably won’t be converted by 31. On the other hand, Zombie’s large fan base and enthusiasts of extreme horror will be jumping for joy.