“31” is a stylized mess of greasepaint and clowns, with pretty much every Rob Zombie trademark showing up at some point in the rather short and confused journey. You know by now if a Rob Zombie helmed movie is something you’ll enjoy, so carry on if his aesthetic is your thing. If not, you won’t be finding anything new here to change your opinion about his work so you might as well sit this one out. Let’s just say it right out of the gate that the story that moves the slaughter along in “31” isn’t exactly something you can get lost in. In fact, it’s a pretty shallow pool all things considered and it’s bare-bones simple, even by Mr Zombies standards. Thankfully, “31” is kind of fun at times in that slumming it, don’t tell anyone we’re doing this, trash cinema sorta way. From what I could piece together out of the predictably profane dialogue, Mrs Zombie and crew are some sort of travelling freak show/oddities/circus group that tours the USA circa 1970-something in a winnebago. The only thing to really indicate that they are some sort of circus act and not just a bunch of random folks is the tricked out winnebago (it DOES have a pretty dope Satan spare wheel cover!) and the fact that they have a psychic with them. Or should I say, they have Meg Foster and she’s playing cards in the back and has some hippy dippy name so I assume she’s a psychic. The rest of the crew seem to be general entertainers and carnies, at least based on their conversation about tilt-a-whirls and ape costumes. Outside of this van, we don’t see anything or anyone else circus related so if these people are part of an actual circus it’s never clearly indicated. Not much related to to the story is clearly indicated, but by the 25 minute mark (if you’re the kind of person who will make it that far in this movie) you probably won’t care because by then then the absurdidty and violence have started.
Shortly after our introduction to them the group is captured by a bunch of makeup wearing killers, apparently lead by a troupe of fops and other powdered wig types. I’m really not sure what the fuck was going on with them, aside from the fact they need to exist if any shred of plot is to be had, but they’re here. Malcolm Mcdowell is their leader so if that isn’t a barometer of how well things are going for him right now, I don’t know what else is. PS his character’s name is “Father Murder” so that’s a clear indicator of how deep this movie gets. From what i can piece together, the fops employ this group of psycho “heads” every year, on Halloween, to capture and kill a group of unsuspecting victims for their amusement. Like I said before, this movie isn’t deep; you should be shutting your brain off and just watching the visual spectacle – it’s what Zombie has always excelled at.
There’s a lot of elements i really enjoy about “31” as it’s essentially his White Zombie liner note drawings given life. The imagery here is as dirty and grimy as anything Zombie has put on the screen before, and in this it’s an effective movie. The group of killers in “31”, a bunch of psycho’s who all have nicknames ending in “Head” are the stars of the show here – the album art brought to life. They wield chainsaws, wear wigs, dress like dictators and provide anything and everything that will stick with you (see: strange visuals and coulrophobia) after the movie stops playing. Not much else will, but things like the image of two chainsaw wielding, Bozo the clown types taunting their prey certainly will. The Hitler midget does as well, but more because it sticks out as a blatant attempt to offend someone, anyone, with its edginess.
One thing Zombies movie’s seem to do almost constantly (Lords of Salem the somewhat exception) is straddle the line between dark disturbing violence and just plain edgy. “31” steps over the line into edgelord territory more than a few times, its sexual violence the main proponent of that. Not saying don’t use it – sex is one of the most powerful experiences in the human condition and can make for some truly harrowing movie experiences – but don’t use it like you’re some 15 year old in Tripp pants trying to out edge the other kids on /b/. Moral of the story: don’t be an edgelord.
People seem to want to compare Zombie to the greats that he name drops as influences and I think that’s part of the problem. No one is complaining that Jim Wynorski made some pretty non-sensical trash movies back in the day (“Chopping Mall” and the little island adventure that jumpstarted his career, “The Lost Empire”) because no one was expecting gold. So maybe we should stop expecting Zombie to shit some genre masterpiece, because I don’t think he will. Maybe one day it might happen by accident, but let’s make safe bets and keep our expectations low right? What I think he has (and will likely continue to) produced is some pretty grimy, blood filled pictures – movies best enjoyed after midnight with drinks and smoke within easy reach. Stop looking for gold in a garbage heap, turn your brain off, and try “31” out. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, is grimy and trashy beyond compare but in the right frame of mind it isn’t terrible. Just don’t be an idiot going in thinking this is the next “”Killer Klowns” or “It.”
PS – if you want a killer clown story with a bit more plot or just need more grease painted freaks, keep an eye on “Circus of the Dead.” It sounds like it is finally getting some much deserved distribution in the next short while. Follow their Facebook to find out when it’s out
PPS – “It” kinda sucks except for Tim Curry. Curry is god.
– Scotty Floronic (@drunkgraveyard)