Zombie’s latest film ’31’ is almost everything expected. It’s one I did a promo for back in June, so I’ve been keen to get my eyes on the full flick. This week I did just that. But, in spite of the plethora of maniacs (psychotic Latino/Nazi dwarfs, chainsaw wielding hillbilly brothers, and manic dancing Germans), it might still leave a few of the hardcore Zombie film fans slightly deflated.
A gang of carnies: Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie), and Venus Virgo (Meg Foster), Panda Thomas (Lawrence Jilton-Jacobs) and Levon Wally (Kevin Jackson), and Roscoe Pepper (Jeff Daniel Phillips), are on a road trip. Where they’re going doesn’t seem to matter, what does matter is that they have all sorts of risqué fun along the way. They make a stop at a gas station, where Roscoe spies a broad who offers him a little of something he likes, but her motives are more sinister than it would at first appear. That evening a load of thugs in face paint and old style prison suits slash up a couple of Roscoe and Levon’s groupies. The main characters are gaffa-taped, tied-up, and bundled into their own highjacked van, then dropped off at Father Murder’s (Malcolm McDowell) bloodsport arena… where the fun really starts.
Father Murder, Sister Serpant (Jane Carr), and Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson) announce the annual game of 31, and explain to the involuntary players the rules of the game: spend 12 hours in Murderworld, survive three waves of hired crazies, and make it out alive. In terms of an insightful, complex plot structure, there’s not much to be said. In terms of character development or motivation (besides “don’t fucking die!”), there’s not much to be said. In terms of colourful, quirky violence, and a Zombiefied delve into the most sinister parts of the American nightmare… there is a fair bit to be said. Like Zombie’s debut release House of 1000 Corpses (2003) this film serves up a tasty selection of weirdly nostalgic, almost recognisable, villains to feast on. In place of the 1000 Corpses twisted family of serial-killer cranks we have a motley crew of circus freaks, including: A Latino knife wielding dwarf called Sick-head (Pancho Moler), a couple of chainsaw revvin’ rednecks called Schizo-head and Pyscho-head (David Ury & Lew Temple), the big and little of unhinged German maniacs Death-head and Sex-head (Torsten Voges & Elizabeth Daily), and finally the pièce de résistance the deliciously schlock, sadistic, and psychotic Doom-head (Richard Baker), whose character is reminiscent of Trevor from GTAV, but even crazier. Baker’s performance is so on point, as he delivers Tarentino style soliloquies with a pernicious charm that chills and thrills in equal measure.
The first scene – a long-take, close-up of Doom-head staring directly down the camera lens delivering one of these monologues – succeeds in bringing down that fourth wall, making us into the victims, and is among the film’s most effective scares. If only for a short while as a quick cutaway reaction shot, which reveals the dithering priest begging for his life (which in my opinion was a poor editorial choice).
In this picture Zombie has replaced his histrionic, lurid, outré style of violence for something grittier, less manic, and vaguely more in line with realism. The bulk of the scenes in the warehouse use sets that wouldn’t look out of place in a Saw film. Although there were a few standout scenes in terms of composition, watch out for Sick-heads neon pink murder boudoir, laden with swastikas and dead, naked hookers, and Psycho-head and Schitzo-head’s carnivalesque cage. But the crimson theatre hall where Father Murder introduces the game, and watches the proceeding onslaught, is certainly my favourite (that’s pretty much what the inside of my mindscape is all the time). Overall hardcore Zombie fans might be a little disappointed by the comparative seriousness of this film, which could be described as a toned down version of 1000 Corpses with the villains switched up.
Like a big mac meal, this film certainly isn’t good for you, and it won’t leave you satiated for long… BUT you’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
Words by Lola Josephine