There are thirty-one days in October.
Baskin-Robbins has thirty-one flavors and Rob Zombie probably knows at least
that many disembowelment techniques. Two of those will apply here. It is
Halloween 1976 and the sickos behind Murder World are holding their annual
survival game. The freaky faux-aristocrats will place their wagers, but it hard
to understand why, considering how thoroughly they have rigged the contest. Not
surprisingly, the bodies quickly pile up in Zombie’s 31, which
screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
At least the 1970’s setting gives Zombie
the opportunity to use some twangy, era-appropriate Southern Rock. Those are
exactly the sort of tunes a scuffling, fly-by-night carnival would listen to as
they drive through miles and miles of lonely highway. When they stop to clear a
Blair Witch-looking road block, we can tell it is a trap, but they blunder into
When the five survivors come to, there are
informed they are the contestants in this year’s game of 31. If they can survive
twelve hours in the post-industrial hunting ground than they win a year’s
supply of Rice-a-Roni and Turtle Wax. If not, they’ll be painfully dead. Their
first designated hunter will be Sick-Head, the diminutive National Socialist
psychopath. No sir, don’t you expect any subtlety here.
Frankly, 31 brings very little to distinguish it from the field of Most Dangerous Game exploitation knock-offs,
including so-so predecessors like Preservation,
Black Rock, Paintball, and Raze.
Heck, there is even the awkwardly similar Carnage
Park also playing in the midnight section this year. All of them are pretty
darn bleak, which makes Raimund Huber’s Kill ‘Em All such a breath of fresh air in comparison. In the Thai martial arts
beatdown, two contestants are actually vengeance-seekers who have knowingly
infiltrated the brutal game of attrition, giving us something 31 and its ilk never offer: hope for
Instead, Zombie just sets up his carny
characters like bowling pins, knocking them down one-by-one. Everything is very
methodical, with no reversals or detours permitted. It is certainly violent,
but the predictability gets perversely boring.
It is a shame, because the colorful
ensemble cast has plenty of genre potential. Meg Foster (They Live) is a wonderfully earthy presence as carnival owner Venus
Virgo and Sheri Moon Zombie has real action cred as their exotic dancer Charly.
Welcome Back Kotter’s Lawrence
Hilton-Jacobs adds 1970s authenticity as Panda Thomas, the carny manager.
Zombie also earns double genre points for casting Malcolm McDowell as the
powered wig-donning mastermind. Yet, none of them ever have a chance to
does have a distinctively grungy sweat-hog aesthetic, but it only gets us so
far. A little suspense would help considerably, but we know how this will end
right from the start. If gruesomely inventive deaths are enough for you, than
have at 31 when it screens this
Saturday (1/30) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Labels: Horror Movies, Rob Zombie, Sundance '16