Redbox Horror Theater: Rob Zombie's 31 as gross and greasy as ever.
Let's play a game of "who wrote it". Here's the line:
Life is nothing but a stinky and filthy boneyard of death and rotten tramps.
You might be forgiven for thinking its 19th century poet Charles Baudelaire, of the Decadent movement. But it's not. Its late 20th and early 21st century poet Rob Zombie, of the "try not to puke" movement, culled from an uncommonly philosophical moment in his latest film, 31.
Unlike many of the entries in Redbox, therefore, 31 is the work of an auteur. To call Zombie anything less would be unfair. Because love or hate him, you've got to admit that the man has something almost like an artistic vision, even if that vision is to apotheosize white trash, gore, and profanity. All of his movies have roughly the same aesthetic.
First, every line of dialogue contains at least two and maybe three uses of "fuck". Whether the characters are good or bad, young or old, in danger or in safety, they all hold forth with an effusion of salty language for its own sake. I'm not saying this is bad, necessarily. But making a drinking game out of it would be a good way to get your stomach pumped.
Second, all of the characters have to be a little gross. It's not enough that they be mere teenagers, tourists or other horror movie victims. They have to be covered in a sheen of thick grease (later obscured by blood) or Zombie thinks you haven't gotten your money's worth. They're greasy gas station attendants, or greasy serial killers, or greasy radio DJs, or greasy carnies. Zombie has not, of yet, made any movies where the characters work at non-profits, or are Michelin- starred chefs, but if he did you could be sure those characters would have long, stringy hair, and thick coats of grease.
In 31, our protagonists are sideshow performers in a troupe apparently called Venus Virgo's Happy Time Fun Show. They stop on a dusty road to get gas (in horror-film-world, no one should ever get gas; if the victims rode bicycles they'd presumably be fine, arriving at their destinations with all their flesh intact and killer quads to boot). At the creepy gas station, complete with unexplained creepy puppet show, they are sized up by some of their eventual harassers. By the end of the night they have been kidnapped, tied up and subjected to a sadistic game called 31 by the colorfully named Father Napoleon Horatio Silas Murder (Malcolm McDowell). Did Mr. Murder legally change his name, or is his real name something mundane like Pete? You'll probably have to wait for the sequel, presumably to be called 62, to find out.
The title, 31, refers to the date on which our protagonists are captured, which is Halloween. We only know this because there are some Halloween decorations up at the gas station. Father N. H. S. Murder never says why they play 31 on Halloween, except that its creepy. Maybe it is the only time that he is able to clear his schedule because the rest of the time he is too buys working as a Michelin-rated chef at a non-profit for it to work out.
Father Murder is joined by a handful of very Rob Zombie-esque killers, including Psycho-Head, Schizo-Head, Doom-Head, and, with a Freudian flourish, the loving couple comprised of Sex-Head and Death-Head, who like to sing together in German. And let me not move on without mentioning Sick-Head. Sick-Head is a little person who likes to dress as Adolf Hitler and has a big black swastika painted on his chest. If it is too politically incorrect to call the little fellow a Nazi, I think we can be safe saying that he is a member of the "alt-right". This should provide a clue to the degree of nuance Zombie brings to 31.
Our protagonists are given 12 hours to survive the game after having their odds of doing so calculated by Father N. H. S. Murder. None of their odds are particularly good; they are variously stabbed, chainsawed, cannibalized and stabbed again until only one of them is left. I'll leave it to you to guess who survives, but I'll remind you that Sheri Moon Zombie, Mr. Zombie's wife, recieves top billing. One way or the other, this is Zombie's take on The Running Man but filtered, as always for Zombie, through Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
It's hard not to write about the film with a degree of sarcasm, so let me just come out and say it. At times I really did enjoy it. For one thing, Zombie really is a compelling visual filmmaker. Though some shots seem hurried, others are lavished with attention and border on the disgustingly beautiful. Harsh sunlight pours through the slats of a dusty shack. Red illuminates the baroque highlights of Father Murder's mansion (or wherever it is he enjoys the game at, because the movie never explains how he is able to follow the events considering they never show him or his friends watching video monitors). A grungy door leads to a makeshift shrine to Hitler complete with Christmas lights and velvet. Like his previous effort, Lords of Salem, Zombie has managed, at least at times, to make a quite interesting looking film. At other times, mere ugliness holds sway.
Rob Zombie has always felt like Quentin Tarantino's bratty younger brother. He too affectionately rehashes the exploitation films of yesteryear while giving them his own not-quite-unique stamp. But unlike Tarantino, Zombie does not seem to labor under the delusion that his films mean anything. He is simply making what he likes. If he has never had any real mainstream success it is because his vision is too outre and, well, greasy to appeal to the average person. But the clarity of his vision also ensures that he will always have an audience in those who share his bizarre preoccupations. And, God help me, I might be one of them. His dreadful (and most mainstream films) Halloween and Halloween II aside, his body of work has made me cringe and laugh with their sheer audacity for more than a decade, and though 31 is mostly middling, its few moments of true creativity make up for the occasional sense that Zombie has done all this before with the same ingredients.
Not only is it the very definition of a guilty pleasure, its also a greasy pleasure.
And so, this reviewer, your humble correspondent, gives this film THREE CORNDOGS, and a TALLBOY of BUDWEISER CLAMATO CHELADA.