It’s amazing how a man like Rob Zombie who fancies himself a hardcore horror fan has done little to evolve since his first film “House of 1,000 Corpses.” Every film he’s made since that initial movie has repeated the same beats over and over, just re-arranged in various ways to look new and original. He fills the screen with genre veterans again. He inexplicably sets his movie in a mid-seventies gritty trailer park landscape. The opening of his film is directed by a goofy music video, padding the run time, and he even includes something of a montage with our characters, set to classic rock music as we saw in the finale of “The Devil’s Rejects.” Worst of all, he writes some of the clunkiest dialogue I’ve ever heard, and he is still dead set on placing wife Sheri Moon Zombie front and center.
Why? I can only think of two reasons. The obvious: She’s his wife. The less discussed: Maybe he can’t find an actress who wants to star in his movies? In either case, the fetishized model is pretty much the heroine who doesn’t display much dimension beyond what we’ve already seen from her in previous films. She’s once again a slender blonde woman who everyone lusts after; even our central villain, the psychotic sadist Doom-head. And she can’t competently deliver a scene to save her life. A rip off of “Slashers” and a loose adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game,” a group of carnies are kidnapped by a group of circus folk on the side of a road on Halloween night. Locked in an underground labyrinth, the group of hostages is forced to fight for survival against a myriad sadistic and psychotic clowns, all of whom have their own gimmicks involving sharp and blunt objects.
Along the way there is Nazi paraphernalia, aristocrats in powdered wigs, red neck maniacs, and yes, even an inverted pentagram. Edgy! Controversial! Subversive! More clowns! Along the way, Zombie pumps the film with a ton of his favorite classic rock tracks, all the while splattering the screen with as much blood and sex as he possibly can. Hell, there’s even a pair of German speaking psychos named “Death” and “Sex.” What saves “31” though are the supporting players, most of whom commit to the stale material. EG Daly is great as “Sex,” while Jeff Daniel Phillip is delightfully sympathetic as an SOB who slowly redeems himself over the course of the fight for survival. The best performance comes from Richard Brake though, who steals the entire movie as the sadistic and skilled Doom-Head. Whenever he’s on-screen he’s terrifying, and in a competent movie he might have actually risen up as a modern horror icon very quickly.
Of course, Zombie has no idea how to offer up anything new or remotely fresh, so from beginning to end, “31” is just refried and repurposed Tobe Hooper, and HG Lewis, with none of the cheap exploitative thrills, or social commentary. It’s just one big unpleasant exercise in repetition that stopped being charming once “The Devil’s Rejects” drew to a close.