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John’s Horror Corner: 31 (2016), Rob Zombie’s least impressive film, but that Nazi dwarf was great!

March 4, 2019

MY CALL: If a gun was to Rob Zombie’s head and he had to make a Grindhouse film in under a month, this is LESS than I’d expect from him. It’s his only film that I specifically dislike, and as a big fan of his, I didn’t enjoy writing this review. MORE MOVIES LIKE 31The Devil’s Rejects (2005) and House of 1000 Corpses (2003) fall right in line with 31. Lords of Salem (2013) for a major change in pace and artistic approach. Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009) for more of his brutal filmmaking.

During a 1970s nostalgically scored road trip montage, we meet Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie; House of 1000 Corpses, Lords of Salem, Halloween), Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips; Freaks of Nature, Halloween II), Panda (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs; The Annihilators, Alien Nation), Venus (Meg Foster; Jeepers Creepers III, They Live, Leviathan, Stepfather II, Lords of Salem) and Levon (Kevin Jackson; 3 From Hell). Uplifting music and imagery embracing close friendships reveal the care Rob Zombie took in introducing us to these victims. Unfortunately, our care of the characters basically stops there.

The five of them are kidnapped and face the Victorian theatrics Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell; Halloween I-II, Antiviral), who explains the rules of his homicidal game of survival “31.” If they can survive 12 hours, they are free. But trying to kill them are a sassy Nazi dwarf (Pancho Moler; American Horror Story, 3 From Hell), a laughable pair of chainsaw clowns and other white-faced killers, all introduced to us in similar over-the-top fashion as hunters of The Running Man (1987). The game’s playing field is a huge factory rigged with locked gates and electric barriers to herd and control their movement in favor of the killers.

This film is a lot of things, none of which include a conquest in acting or writing. And whereas I rather enjoyed Zombie’s approach to Halloween I-II (2007, 2009), 31 feels more like a movie that was made for the sake of making a modern grindhouse flick in a short period of time on a drunk dare.

In reference to this shallow filmmaking, fellow MFF writer and Rotten Tomatoes writer Mark Hofmeyer wrote “31 is Rob Zombie going full “Rob Zombie” and turning everything to 11. He came up with the idea in a few seconds and the 20-day production schedule felt rushed and unnecessary. Nothing is fleshed out (except the exploding flesh) and it feels like a study in style over substance.” To read Mark’s full review, CLICK HERE.

The strongest elements of the film would be the set design and the evil Nazi dwarf character (easily the best and most “appropriately” over-the-top performance of the film), who had the best line delivery and acting by far. That murderous little man chewed the scenery and I want to see more of that actor. My greatest disappointment was how flat the brutality was delivered. Zombie has a natural gift for pushing his audiences with cruel brutality, but here I somehow just never cared (about the victims or the killers or the dire circumstances). Sure, the chainsaw clown fight had good energy. But the killers were so dumb, ill-written and uninspired I was just waiting for them to be dead and done.

In summary, and as a Rob Zombie Rob Zombie (Lords of Salem, House of 1000 Corpses, Halloween I-II) film fan, this is the first of Zombie’s films I can say I didn’t enjoy. It’s not simply my least favorite, it’s just not good and it even failed to scratch my itch for mean gory death scenes since I was never invested. I have trouble believing Zombie himself was invested—there was no heart in this (or, to be fair to Zombie, I just didn’t feel it). Were it not for Pancho Moler, this would have been a complete waste of time for me.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2019 9:39 am

    I usually love Rob Zombie films, especially The Devil’s Rejects. But I hated 31. Huge waste of potentially iconic (or at least interesting) villains.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 4, 2019 10:06 am

      Yes to everything you just said! Like the tall tutu German and his Harley Quinnesque sidekick… wasted! And how do you make a chainsaw fight boring???

  2. March 4, 2019 6:03 pm

    Nice post. I actually enjoyed the devil’s rejects. Will look for the one you recommend.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 4, 2019 8:17 pm

      I haven’t seen Rejects since it was new. But boy do I enjoy 1000 Corpses. It’s not great per se, but it’s eventful and scratches the zany gore itch (like TCM II, but not as good IMO).


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