Nobody makes movies like Rob Zombie. By extension, nobody divides an audience like Rob Zombie either. Since his debut film House of 1000 Corpses back in 2003, Zombie has had a love/hate relationship with filmgoers. His sixth film, 31, a grindhouse Running Man-inspired splatterfest, is sure to continue the trend.
Set on Halloween night, 1976, 31 is the story of a group of carnival workers who, while travelling to their next gig, are attacked, captured and trapped in an abandoned, maze-like building where three aristocrats (Malcolm McDowell, Judy Gleeson and Jane Carr) force the survivors to fight for their lives over the course of twelve hours against an increasingly twisted group of murderous psychos. Chief amongst them is a clown makeup wearing madman known only as Doom-Head (Richard Brake). Brake is the film’s not so secret weapon. Zombie clearly has written this character to be a new genre anti-hero, and the actor delivers in spades. Doom-Head’s opening monologue is spewed with thrilling, scenery-chewing ability and verve, and is arguably the greatest piece of dialogue Zombie has ever crafted.
Where Zombie previous film, 2012’s The Lords of Salem found the director working in a more atmospheric, refined tone, with echoes of David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, 31’s focus on uber-violence places him firmly back in the down and dirty cinematic territory he first mined with 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects (there’s also the ubiquitous presence of Zombie’s wife and muse, Sherri Moon Zombie as the female lead of the film). Therein lies 31’s biggest flaw – for the first time in a directorial career that’s thrived on not doing the same thing twice, 31 feels like it’s taking cue from Zombie’s previous work rather than standing solely on its own merits. If you’re a fan, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for the naysayers out there, 31 won’t be the film to turn them into Rob Zombie acolytes.