2016
09.04

Muertos At the Movies: Playing Rob Zombie’s ‘31′

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Okay, so by now you should know that what makes Rob Zombie movies bad is the very thing that makes them good. 31 is the filmmaker’s sixth frightener and it centers on a group of carnival performers abducted on Halloween and made to play a twisted game of survival for the entertainment of eccentric old rich people.

The abducted are an ethnically mixed bunch, but share one trait… they’re not likable. They say funny shit at times and have an undeniably tight bond, but to an outsider watching them on the movie screen the idea of hanging out with these folks would be like visiting with meth heads … while sober.

Watching these peeps die won’t bring a tear to your eye so if there’s anything worthwhile about their ordeals and death it would have to be based on the creativity of the kills. Unfortunately, the editing on 31 blows donkey dicks. It’s choppy and disorienting to the point you have no idea what’s happening and to whom.

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We’re sure the dizzying editing was necessary to suggest ultra-violence but maintain a safe R rating, but it’s a scene killer. 31 is the kind of flick that would benefit tremendously from visibly creative death scenes. And, regardless of one’s opinion of Zombie’s movies, the man has a sharp eye for beautiful and frightening imagery, and you see it in everyone of his films, including quieter moments in 31.

But, enough griping. 31 is still a fun ride because what makes a Zombie movie bad is exactly what makes it good. The very traits that make his protagonists unlikable and expendable make for frightening and memorable villains. Why? Because people like that do exist. Zombie didn’t make them up, he just celebrates them. We’ve all seen them at Walmart, the DMV, during an ER visit, even at the Rob Zombie rock show.

We hate them because they’re obnoxious and don’t give a fuck about imposing on your comfort levels. We’re scared of them because there’s no reasoning with a vile bug. The threats they spit are menacing and real. They want to fight. They’re on drugs and, if not, well, that’s even scarier. Now, imagine them with hatchets, guns, and chainsaws.

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Richard Brake as Doomhead is the standout here, an angry and sadistic piece of shit with a grin so evil and frightening it will take days to shake it out of mind (we’re still tormented). No offense to Brake, who we’re sure is a sweetheart, but his mouth and teeth are horrific here and when he bares his toothy grin it’s far scarier than the Xenomorph in Alien!

Brake’s got swagger too and with his clown makeup caked on his performance calls to mind Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight and makes us wonder what he’d achieve in that iconic role. We’re so blown away by Brake, we’ve looked at his past roles and discovered he’s played the original (and best) Night King on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and murdered little Bruce Wayne’s parents in Batman Begins.

Brake does get a run for his money from Chilean actor Pancho Moler, portraying pint-sized Argentinian Nazi enthusiast Sickhead. Moler is a find and a total scene stealer. Watching him torment Sheri Moon Zombie’s Charly is the kind of fun one feels guilty about. He’s what PC folks call a “little person,” but really he’s just a murderous midget prick with a fanciful Hitler mustache.

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Doomhead and Sickhead are just two of the homicidal clowns featured in 31. There are other colorful killers, each sent in alone or in pairs to hunt and slaughter the abductees inside a cavernous factory. The game lasts 12 hours. Anyone left alive when time is up wins! There’s no history or explanation for the game, allowing viewers to make up their own if need be.

31 plays like a mashup of films – The Purge, The Running Man, SAW, The Most Dangerous Game, Texas Chainsaw Massacre – but it’s worth a watch and ranks pretty high among Zombie’s movies, trailing behind the excellent Devil’s Rejects and his visual masterpiece Lords of Salem.

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  1. I would love to see the history of how 31 was created. I do have ideas of how each character came into existence. For instance, Father Murder was a former gangster living off ill gotten gains from his criminal past and Doom Head as a Vietnam vet who became bitter and pissed off that he almost died at the hands of the Viet Cong for his country only to be spat on by grateful war protesters. And now he sees the five carnival workers as the same stock who looked down on war veterans. Father Murder was one of the first people he met after the war who even gave him a chance to be someone. It was either work for Father Murder or be homeless, institutionalized or a drug addict.