“31 is war, and war is HELL!”
Rob Zombie has certainly lived quite the life. As a child, he was “raised by carnival workers and witnessed a man’s face get bashed in by a hammer as a young boy”. As a man, he was a production assistant on ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse’ before he became a rock legend as the lead singer of White Zombie. Now he is one of the most recognizable names in the horror industry, a name synonymous with the kind of horror films that push every limit and break every boundary set forth by the filmmakers and audiences that preceded him.
Audiences have to expect things to get a little funky when Zombie releases a new entry from his catalog and 31 is no different. In a Terror Time exclusive, team contributors Amy Humphries and Justin Hamelin had the opportunity to review the film well before its theatrical release and what follows is a unique conversation on Zombie’s latest, from the perspective of both horror loving genders. Mad genius or just plain mad, we debate the execution of Rob Zombie’s latest horror film, 31.
Amy Humphries: When you look at Zombie’s bio and couple that with Rob’s birthday and science proving that the human brain begins to activate its “thinking brain” around the ages of eleven and twelve, suddenly the seventies being Rob’s time frame element of choice for his movies makes a lot of sense.
Justin Hamelin: Zombie’s catalog definitely divides people and is a great topic of discussion among horror fans, but one thing I don’t think anyone can argue is that his films are always a fun nod back to the good ol’ days of great rock n roll music and that gritty TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE feel. The soundtrack in this film is one of the highlights of the film, which is usually the case with a Zombie production.
Amy Humphries: The cryptic opening makes you think you’re going in one direction but immediately you are presented gritty 35mm snapshots and kick ass music.
Justin Hamelin: We are introduced to the main baddie in this film almost instantly and he’s quite the showman.
Amy Humphries: 31 is a true-to-form Zombie flick. It tells the story of a standard core of characters, a group of travelers on the open road doing drugs, having sex and exchanging profanity-laced dialogue. I got nervous I was witnessing a retelling of one of his previous films but no one wrangles “mommy and daddy” issues like Zombie so I stayed glued and just like that, his fiction gets fucking fantastic.
Justin Hamelin: I really dug the idea of this group of traveling circus carnies getting stuck in this nightmare world and being forced to basically live through the same crazy world they celebrate as their career. The group is ambushed late one night on a deserted road that Zombie uses to perfection in most of his films. Bound and gagged, our protagonists quickly realize they are in a twisted game, where the winner lives and the losers, well, die.
The game is controlled by a trio of mysterious wealthy folks, led by a wig-rocking Malcolm McDowell. The rich creeps place bets on which one of the carnie folks they think will survive the twelve-hour marathon game known as 31. Of course, in the game of 31, the clowns carry knives and baseball bats studded with nails – and they’re trying to kill you.
Amy Humphries: Yes, this film has THE DEVIL’S REJECTS’ “oh shit” moments but with a nice twist. I didn’t expect to like this film. Zombie is unique in that he strips you of comfort and provokes the appreciation of artistic freedom in its rawest form. If you don’t get it, he doesn’t care. Personally, I don’t buy that he doesn’t care. A person doesn’t work on a stage or silver screen as charity work. Let’s lay some ground rules when it comes to a Zombie film – one, we are talking about fiction so pump the brakes on debating if it was “realistic” enough. “MacZombre” horror will snatch away your social comforts and play on every sensory you have.
Justin Hamelin: I’ve always struggled with the vulgar language, that sort of “white trash dialogue”, in Zombie’s films. It’s here in all its glory, including the sort of misogynist insults that simply aren’t entertaining or funny at all, to me. There’s a lot of aspects of Zombie’s directorial perspective that I enjoy but usually the dialogue of his characters is atop the list of things I really despise – and not just in his films, but in society in general. Granted, it’s a time piece from the 70s but I just don’t think we need to be reminded of how misogynist things were back then in the lower classes. Some of the quotes from this film, in particular, literally made me cringe.
Amy Humphries: Our characters are instantly thrown into a HUNGER GAMES of Hell, breaking every political, religious and sexual content rule in its entirety. It’s beautifully absurd.
Justin Hamelin: I think the premise of 31 would make for a hell of a haunted house attraction but I wasn’t sure how it would translate into a feature-length film. Think SAW meets FUNNY GAMES. There definitely wasn’t a lull in the action at any point! (laughs) You get a short person who speaks Spanish dressed as Hitler, a couple of chainsaw-wielding clown brothers and a fun contrast representing Sex and Death as death sentences for our carnie friends.
Amy Humphries: Zombie is a roller coaster ride. You have the choice to get off and stay off or get back on for another turn at imagery adrenaline. If a horror dream was translated to a film, this would be it. He elevated his game with this one, in my opinion.
Justin Hamelin: Zombie is an encyclopedia of horror, both past and current. He’s most definitely a guy I’d love to sit down with and just pick his brain – because there is a beautiful genius at work back there but I feel like sometimes his directorial vision gets bleached out by the punk rock imagery that works well in his music videos but doesn’t really translate onto the silver screen all that well. Just my opinion, but I really wanted more of a horror story and less of an expletive-laced highlight reel in this one.
Amy Humphries: I was surprisingly emotionally involved with the characters, diversity in the multiple environments – each set was visually amazing – and the uniqueness of the protagonists.
Justin Hamelin: I wasn’t able to really connect with any of the characters in the film. I enjoyed the acting performances of the likes of Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeffrey Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Kevin Jackson, in particular. But none of the characters had enough, pardon the pun, flesh on their bones to really make me root for any of them. In fact, at one point, I was kind of looking forward to a few of them getting offed. (laughs)
As the film progressed, though, Zombie and Meg Foster’s characters, in particular, really took shape as some strong female characters. Phillips’ role as Roscoe was one I really didn’t like at first but ended up rooting for him to beat the odds of the game. Zombie created probably the most iconic horror family in cinema history with the Firefly clan and I thoroughly enjoyed LORDS OF SALEM. The hot pink dildos threw me off in that one, but still. I really thought Rob had done something extremely well and the minimalist approach he took on that one played to his strong hand quite well. I was hoping for more of that trailblazing vision of Rob’s to show up in this one. My biggest problem with the film is that I feel audiences lose their trust in the filmmaker when really the only rule of the film is broken at the very end.
Amy Humphries: 31 just feels like the absolute right “next” film I wanted to see from him. He let us know nothing was off limits in his introduction to us, with HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. Then he made us aware he isn’t afraid to give his take on a classic (HALLOWEEN) and now he combines all of the above and gives us a real horror signature escape. You can overthink it or just watch the film for the blood, tits and random vaginas but everybody will get a little something out of this one!
Justin Hamelin: This is definitely a haunted house come to life and besides the soundtrack, the acting, the awesome set designs and the aesthetically pleasing use of light and shade throughout the film, Zombie also demonstrates that he hasn’t lost his edge when it comes to shocking and shaking up the status quo of cinema with 31. Personally, all of the misogyny and crude dialogue just ain’t my thang.
Amy Humphries: Zombie’s artistry is the horror genre’s Bigfoot. From the audience members who like him out of ‘peer pressure’ because their buddies do all the way to those who find security in not understanding his work so they simply give it up. Then there are those of us who believe his brilliance does exist, and we keep coming back to spot it when it presents itself. 31 proves his cinematic seduction and elusiveness.
Amy’s rating: 4.5/5 Good Guys
Justin’s rating: 2.5/5 Good Guys