Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Richard Brake, Lew Temple, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson & Malcom McDowell
Released by: Lionsgate
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
When a group of carnival workers are abducted on Halloween night, 31 finds them imprisoned in a deranged compound and forced to partake in a sadistic game. Tasked to stay alive for 12 hours against crazed clowns and other homicidal deviants, the unfortunate players must band together in hopes of seeing dawn.
Impressively funded by a successful fan backed campaign, 31 returns horror maestro Rob Zombie to the 70s-style foundation of his earliest films with a morbid depravity and artistic freedom not seen since 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. Following the rapid abduction of five traveling carnival workers, 31 finds the unsuspecting quintet at the mercy of three aristocratic lunatics. Forced to take part in their annual game at the labyrinth-esque compound known as Murderworld, the frightened friends must survive 12 grueling hours, relying only on their resourcefulness and willingness to live, to defend themselves against crazed Nazi midgets, chainsaw-wielding madmen and terrifying clowns determined to annihilate them before time’s up. Headed by Sheri Moon Zombie in her most tenacious role since Baby Firefly, the tightly-budgeted bloodbath welcomes newcomers Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs (Welcome Back, Kotter), Kevin Jackson (Rosewood) and Jane Carr (Dear John) to Zombie’s latest carnival of madness while, other such former collaborators including, Jeff Daniel Phillips (The Lords of Salem), Meg Foster (They Live), Malcolm McDowell (Halloween) among others beef out the impressive company of victims and slayers. While 31 arguably boasts Zombie’s goriest and most deranged set pieces to date, its screenplay, admittedly secondary to its onscreen carnage, suffers from unavoidably trashy stereotypes common to varying degrees in previous Zombie efforts. In addition, although the vast majority of 31’s characters fail to leave lasting impressions, the House of 1,000 Corpses helmer does succeed in bringing to life another worthy antagonist in Doom-Head whose performance by Richard Brake (Batman Begins), performed with perversion, eloquence and blood splattered clown makeup, single handily steals the show. Serving as horror’s unrestrained answer to The Running Man with a finale that excellently demonstrates Zombie’s melding of music selections to his imagery, 31 falls somewhere in between the best and more problematic of the fright maker’s modest filmography, valued best for its buckets of blood and live or die obstacles.
Lionsgate presents 31 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. With the exception of its sun-bleached daytime openings and closings, Zombie’s latest shrouds itself in overwhelming darkness and dimly lit sets in the various sections of Murderworld where black levels rank strongly. While occasionally murky levels and scant digital noise obstruct detail in skin tones, quality is overwhelmingly positive with the film’s few bolder colors seen in bright red blood, Sheri Moon Zombie’s yellow-blonde hair and Doom-Head’s smudged face paint noticeably standing out for the better. Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that projects dialogue clearly at all times, the track captures the echoey ambiance of Murderworld’s quieter nooks with swift precision while, screams, chainsaw clatter and suspenseful guitar riffs provide excellent oomph to the festivities. Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Rob Zombie and In Hell Everybody Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31 (2:11:27), a five-part and rewardingly in-depth documentary common to most of Zombie’s other features that explores the film’s journey from pre-production through its speedy 20 day film shoot. In addition, an Also from Lionsgate (9:27) section boasting trailers for Blair Witch, The Devil’s Rejects, Cell, Knock Knock and Cooties are included alongside a Digital HD Code. While supplemental volume may seem scant, the comprehensiveness of the offerings are made up for in their top-tier quality.
One strictly for the gorehounds, 31 does little to stretch the creative wings of Zombie but succeeds greatly in delivering a kill or be killed horror showdown, uncompromised by thoughtless executives or meddling studio brass. Simplistically plotted and brutally carried out, Zombie’s newest feature may not rank amongst his finest but has earned slightly more appreciation through additional viewings. Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s high-definition presentation is overwhelmingly solid while, the disc’s bonus offerings are exceptional crash courses in filmmaking with Zombie’s valued insight and fly on the wall footage of the film’s intense making guiding the way.