This one hurts. It could have been great. It should have been great.
It’s like a horror version of The Running Man, masterminded by Malcom McDowell and Judy Geeson. A group of hypersexual carnies, including Sheri Moon Zombie and the insanely fit Meg Foster (two years shy of 70, by the way), are taken hostage and forced to play the twisted game. Remember the video game Manhunt? It’s a lot like that. Director Rob Zombie concocts one great villain after another to torment his leads, but unlike The Running Man, 31 has nothing to say.
The most frustrating thing about Zombie is he’s almost there. He’s uncompromising, unapologetic, doesn’t pull any punches, and makes old fashioned horror without a lick of unnecessary CGI. Best of all, he populates his films with veteran B actors and actresses who might otherwise be pushing autographs for five bucks a pop. Unfortunately, his characters are often too dumb to fulfill the all-important role of becoming a surrogate for the viewer. You need characters you can relate to so you can begin to think: What would I do in this situation? Here, the leads are so thin, you can’t wait for them to die so the movie will just end. And believe me, this one drags like a slug in the mud.
If Zombie put one-tenth of the effort into his good guys that he puts into villains like Doomhead (Richard Brake, who’s fantastic here), we’d have a serviceable film. This is probably why The Devil’s Rejects is his most watchable project to date: everybody in that movie is a villain. If he made a movie like that with Doomhead in the lead, I’d be there in a heartbeat.
The most cringe-inducing part of Zombie’s movies is the dialogue. Why do the talent seem to be delivering their lines in a vacuum? Why do I have such a hard time following the conversations even though I can plainly hear what they’re saying? Why does he shoehorn so many street jokes in?
Meanwhile, the movie looks as if it were edited with a paper shredder. Editing is supposed to establish things like geography, a sense of time, and most of all coherency. For long stretches at a time, 31 accomplishes none of that. At one point the group of characters are split up by a trap door, but for most of the scene I thought they were all on the same side. In another scene, the characters watch one of their own die and seemingly discover his body in the very next room.
What sucks about all this is I’m really pulling for Zombie to make something great because I think he’s got it in him, but he keeps proving me wrong. The joke’s on me, though, because I paid ten bucks to see the damn thing. I haven’t been more disappointed in a movie all year.
Speaking of 31: 31 Days of Gore begins in a week. I hope you’re pumped because I am.