Over the course of his movie-making career, Rob Zombie has made a gory astonishing name for himself. I think "House of 1000 Corpses" and "Devil's Rejects" have some good content in them, but the ultimately fail as horror movies. I thought his "Halloween" movies were completely forgettable, I saw each of them once and I have no desire to ever revisit them. I figured Zombie would always be a one-trick pony as a horror director. Then he made "Lords of Salem," an anomaly in his greater filmography, a movie that really distanced the rest of his style. From this point, I thought Zombie was really coming into his own as a mature filmmaker, and I thought he would be getting a style change.
Don't count on it now after "31," his new horror movie. Zombie has reverted back to his old ways. While "31" has some genuine style, wickedly funny situations, and plenty of blood and gore for the torture porn fans, its ultimately boring and unscary. Its both solemn and uneventful. Zombie's early work always had a stench that he was trying to hard as a writer and director, and once again that stench fills your nostrils as you watch "31." I was hoping with how experimental "Lords of Salem" was, Zombie was turning a new leave, but nope. Not anymore.
What makes the classic horror films scary isn't the blood or the gore. Movies like "The Exorcist," "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Shining" are so scary because the worlds they take place in are scary. You definitely got that vibe as you watched "Lords of Salem." It was filled to the brim with horrifying atmosphere and mood. I was hoping that "31" was going to be more than just the cheap thrills, but its all cheap thrills. Its build-up with no payoff. It features an ending that I believe will force entire audience to roll their eyes in unison. It feels like the Rob Zombie who made "Lords of Salem" was a fake Zombie, and the real Zombie has returned.
"31" follows a group of circus performers driving around on Halloween night in 1976. There is Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips), Panda (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), Levon (Kevin Jackson) and Venus (Meg Foster). Suddenly, they are caught in a trap by a group of sadistic clowns. The group is taken to Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder, played by the ledgendary Malcolm McDowell. McDowell was famous for playing Alexander DeLarge in "A Clockwork Orange" back in the early 1970's. Had Alex grown up and gone to join the circus, he'd become Napoleon Murder. Napoleon runs a cabal of gamblers and forces the circus group to partake in a game called 31. In the game, the group has to survive 12 hours in a maze-like compound, while being hunted by killers. The gamblers put wagers on who they believe will die first in each heat of the game.
If gore is your thing, there is plenty to be had. But that's vintage Zombie for you. I just wish there was reason more to care about these people, but Zombie makes everybody a one-dimensional character. The only actor who really puts forth some kind of effort is Richard Blake, who plays one of the killers named Doom-head. He breathes life into his character, even though the script gives him very little to work with. He makes himself menacing and vile. Its some of Blake's very best work to date, and he's very good about making Zombie's tedious dialogue actually sound good. The rest of the cast do what they can, but there isn't much of substance to work with.
If you were lucky enough to see "Lords of Salem" don't expect a resurrgence of new Rob Zombie. Zombie still has the same bag of tricks. its too bad because there is some clear skill in some of his work. I just wish he could channel like he did a mere few years ago.
FINAL GRADE: C+