As one of the 15 people that saw House of 1,000 Corpses on its original theatrical run, I’m proud to call myself a Rob Zombie fan. It’s not difficult for me to fall in love with his movies, because everything Rob seems to enjoy, I enjoy too.
Trash, sleaze and gore movies. Exploitation, sexploitation and blaxploitation cinema. 1970s hard-rock, folk and country. Gritty, grainy hand-held 16mm photography. Weird 70s stylistic tics, like freeze frames and zooms.
All of which are present as usual for his latest film, the crowd-funded and totally ungoogleable 31. But this time, there’s something missing.
A group of carnival workers are kidnapped by some rich weirdos and hunted and killed for sadistic sport. It’s meant to be a take on The Most Dangerous Game, but it’s pretty much House of 1,000 Corpses, with rich weirdos instead of poor weirdos.
Even the scene where they get snatched is identical to House, taking place as it does in front of enormous scarecrows. A deliberate callback? Or running out of ideas? After the risky Lords of Salem, Zombie spoke about being finished with horror, and tried to get movies made about ice hockey, biker gangs and Groucho Marx. None of them happened, and so he understandably returns to the genre that made his career, with a new brand new story.
Except…we’ve been here before. It feels, for all the world, like part 3 of the 1,000 Corpses/Devil’s Rejects saga. The problem is, the Firefly clan from those films were well written, a truly wonderful combination of likeable and frightening. See, Rob Zombie writes great villains. Terrific villains. Devil’s Rejects arguably featured only villains. It’s okay if you don’t like them, at least they’re interesting to watch.
But in 31, the villains are sidelined, and in their place is a pretty bland group of heroes. I could talk about them, but there’s little to say. Instead, I wanna talk about Doom Head, played by Richard Brake.
Because this guy makes the film. Now, I don’t really care about acting. As long as its not catastrophically awful, its not going to ruin any films for me. I hate when people say ‘Oh you have to see The Revenant, Leo is so good in it’ or something like that. I don’t care! I love cinema, not acting. It’s just a tiny part of what makes a film great.
But Richard Brake, man. Try to keep your eyes off him. It’s tough. The entire first 5 minutes of the film are a close up of his face, for goodness’ sake! He spends the latter half of the movie stalking around in a tight fitting Nosferatu coat, leering and smiling and stabbing people, and I could watch him do that for hours.
But when he’s offscreen, the whole thing just feels…kinda perfunctory, like Zombie is going through the motions. Luckily, even a less interested Zombie is still better than most horror being made today. 31 looks great, even though the lower budget means a lot more interior shooting. It moves along briskly, and is punctuated frequently with the kind of savage violence we’ve come to expect from the man.
There’s also the music, which variously recalls the scores for Suspiria, The Fog and even Halloween. It’s effective, but makes the film feel like less of a movie and more of a glorified homage to low budget 80s horror/action cinema.
Actually, that pretty much hits the nail on the head. It is a glorified homage, to the films he loves, but also to Zombie himself and most importantly, his fans. I think this is the first film he’s made that’s not for himself. His other movies felt personal, important to him. This feels like Rob letting off some steam, making the kind of movie he thinks his fans will enjoy. Well, I did enjoy it Rob, but I’d prefer to see you follow your own path. I wonder if his fans would be willing to crowdfund that Groucho Marx movie? I know I would…
Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to mention Malcolm McDowell in a powdered wig surrounded by naked ladies, placing bets on a neon pentagram. If that doesn’t make you want to see 31, then I guess nothing will.
OVERALL: 4 paws out of 5 It would have been a 3, but the last 5 minutes added an extra paw for being mind blowingly awesome.
WHAT BORIS THOUGHT: Boris preferred Lords of Salem, as seen here.