Released by: Lionsgate Films
Released on: December 20th, 2016.
Director: Rob Zombie
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Meg Foster, Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Richard Brake
Year: 2016 Purchase From Amazon
Set in 1976, Rob Zombie’s 31 introduces us to five carnival workers on their way to their latest job: Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Venus (Meg Foster), Panda (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), Levon (Kevin Jackson), and Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips). As day turns to night and they find themselves out in the desert, they’re attacked and brought in front of a trifecta of pompous ninnies: Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson), Sister Serpent (Jane Carr) and leader Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder (Malcolm McDowell). These three, dressed in Victorian era attire, tell the five that they’re going to play a game called 31 in which they’ll be unleashed into a maze of sorts and have twelve hours to survive being hunted down by a group of killer clowns called The Heads. At least to start with, The Heads are made up of Sick-Head (Pancho Moler), Psycho-Head (Lew Temple), Schizo-Head (David Ury), Death-Head (Torsten Voges), and Sex-Head (E.G. Daily).
As the game begins, the five carnies make their way through the maze and manage to hold their own against their assailants, at least to start with. Sick-Head, a midget decked out in Nazi regalia, is the first to make his presence known and then the others follow suit. Once it looks like The Heads might lose, Father calls in the best of the former heads, twisted psychopath named Doom-Head (Richard Brake). When he’s offered twice what he was paid last year, he leaves the women he’s been fooling around in bed with and enters the maze to get to work…
Kind of like The Most Dangerous Game albeit filtered through Zombie’s foul mouthed white trash aesthetic, 31 is an absolute chore to get through, and that’s a shame. There are interesting ideas at work here. The murder maze could have been a fun location for something like this to play out in had it been more than just a series of dark, dimly lit corridors. The Heads are interesting to start with and it’s interesting to see people like Temple and Daily cast in these rolls, but they don’t wind up being all that memorable once the chaos starts. Like a lot of Zombie’s movies, there’s a reliance on trash talking and trailer park style over the top theatrics. It starts to get grating early in the film, making the rest of the picture an endurance test.
To be fair, some of the performances are okay. McDowell, Geeson and Carr are goofy in their roles all dolled up like they just walked off the set of Amadeus but Meg Foster and Jeff Daniel Phillips are fine as two of the carnies. The one performance that rises above all of this, however, is Brake as Doom-Head. He introduces the film with a soliloquy of sorts (he’s actually talking to a priest he has tied to a chair) that sets the tone for what’s to come and he’s creepy and effective in the part with his smeared clown makeup all over his face. He plays the psychopath well and when he’s onscreen, the movie is watchable enough thanks only to his efforts in front of the camera.
Zombie isn’t even trying to do anything new here. The crowd funded film deals in a lot of the same tropes as his earlier pictures and at this point, it feels stale. The hour and forty-minutes that make up the running time of this picture start to crawl by the time you hit the fifteen minute mark. 31 isn’t scary, it isn’t original and it isn’t very fun. 31 is worse than that - 31 is boring.
31 arrives on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in 2.40.1 widescreen and it looks like you assume it is supposed to. Shot digitally there’s no print damage here at all while detail is frequently outstanding (the opening shot with Doom-Head staring straight into the camera is a great example of this). However, the movie has been tinkered with in post to give it a burnt out, faded sort of look. Additionally, a lot of the scenes that take place in the dark as murky and over lit, resulting in some weir looking contrast and sketchy shadow detail. But again, this would all seem to be intentional. When the movie is supposed to look rich with detail, depth and texture it most definitely does. The wonky colors and lighting are clearly part of Zombie’s intended look for the movie.
The Englsih language DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track sounds great. Optional subtitles are provided in English and Spanish with SDH offered up in English only. This mix is very aggressive and it makes great use of all five channels and the subwoofer throughout the movie. Dialogue stays clean, clear and easily discernable and the levels are nicely balanced. The film’s use of music – lots of seventies rock here (Aerosmith’s Dream On is used well in the end of the film) sounds impressive and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion.
Rob Zombie provides a commentary where he covers pretty much everything that you’d want to know about the movie. He talks about how and why he approached the project the way that he did, what he was going for with 31, casting the film and his thoughts on various performances, budgetary issues, music, effects and loads more.
Additionally, the disc includes a featurette entitled Everybody In Hell Likes Popcorn which runs well past the two hour mark. This is a ridiculously in-depth feature that does a good job of showing what it was like on set, what Zombie was dealing with behind the camera during the shoot and prepping for the film, some of the effects work featured in the movie, the sets and locations and more. This is all done ‘fly on the wall’ style so it very much puts you there on set with the cast and crew as they work to get the project finished.
Aside from that we get previews for a few other Lionsgate horror releases but no trailer for the feature itself, menus and chapter selection. The Blu-ray case contains an insert inside with a download for a digital copy of the film. That case also fits inside a cardboard slipcover.
Worth noting is that the movie was infamously subjected to the MPAA twice before it was trimmed down enough to get an R-rating. None of that trimmed footage has been included on this release. This is the R-rated cut of the movie.
The Final Word:
Nazi midgets, gore, nudity and Malcolm McDowell should all add up to a fun watch, but 31 commits the ultimate cinematic sin – it’s boring. Richard Brake is really the film’s only redeeming quality. He’s fantastic in his role: creepy, sadistic, darkly humorous and perfect in the part. Everything else… it’s a waste. Zombie is going through the motions with this one, his weakest film to date. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release does look and sound very good and the extras are actually interesting but the film itself? Nah.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!