Plot: What’s it about?
I have to admit that I haven’t seen a lot of Rob Zombie’s films. In fact, I think I’ve only seen the Halloween re-makes and I was actually pretty impressed with them. I wasn’t too much of a fan of Zombie’s music either, though I do have to give him credit as he’s made the transition from musician to filmmaker – a feat that few others have done (or done well). That said, from what I know of Zombie’s films, they’re gritty and violent. I read in a review somewhere else that if Tarantino’s “Grindhaus” movie had done better, this would have been a prime candidate to have been released under that label. But it didn’t and this isn’t. So there. Having seen the press release for 31, I really did’t know what to expect, though on paper it seemed like it had elements of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Running Man and maybe even a little bit of The Hunger Games in there? Ok, I’m intrigued. Of note, this movie was partially crowd-funded, so if you sense an extra layer of “sticking it to the man”, that might be why.
Set in the mid 70’s on, you guessed it, Oct. 31, we meet a group of drifters as they’re approached at a gas station. Blowing off the encounter, they’re then abducted later on that evening and thrown into a game where the ultimate goal is to survive for 12 hours. Do that and they get to keep their lives (though it might be noted that they’ll need years of therapy, but that’s not important). And if they fail, well…they die. A trio of “aristocrats” are running the game led by Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell). The motley crew must face a series of assassins whose only job is to kill the participants. We meet a Spanish-speaking, Nazi-clad midget, Sick-head (Pancho Moler), a couple of chainsaw-wielding clowns and Death (Torsten Voges) and Sex (Elizabeth Daily, yes the same one from Pee Wee’s Playhouse)! Following the rules of a horror movie to a tee, certain members of the group get picked off and eventually we’re down to a duo and, wouldn’t you know it, one of them is Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Zombie’s real-life wife. Who’d have thought? Will she live to tell the tale or is her fate sealed?
31 is gritty, graphic, foul-mouthed and, yes, actually a bit interesting. It didn’t blow my mind and I was never truly scared (I did a lot more laughing than wincing), but I’m pretty sure that was the idea. The movie wasn’t overly-priased, though it wasn’t overly crucified, either. I suppose fans of Zombie’s other films will or have already given this a look. I felt it pretty predictable, but yet eerie enough to keep me guessing. And, without giving too much away, it does have a bit of a twist ending that I appreciated. Then again, I don’t think this is the type of movie to serve you up a nice, neat ending with a little bow on it, is it? The cast of character actors do well with a scene-chewing Richard Brake as “Doom-Head” leading the way. It won’t scar you for life and you’ll probably forget it as soon as the credits roll, but there are far worse films out there.
Video: How’s it look?
Say what you will about Zombie’s films, I do think he has a very artistic eye. The opening sequence is shot in high contrast black and white that sets the stage for a unique look and feel. This is immediately followed by the opening credits which look as vintage as anything I’ve ever seen (it was intentional, of course). The majority of the movie is dark as the group is stuck inside a factory of sorts with different “levels” that encompass a carnival-like atmosphere. The 2.40:1 AVC HD image doesn’t seem to have too much trouble conveying a nice, highly-detailed picture. This is important when you’ve got a clown swinging a chainsaw. Black levels seem strong and accurate, I noticed no major errors and I think fans will appreciate the production value.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Again, I have to use the chainsaw reference as it just fits the mold of the film. Having hardly ever witnesses a chainsaw in real-life, most of my “experience” comes from that of film. That said, the DTS HD Master Audio mix does the chainsaw and other deadly elements quite well. Vocals are a bit on the grainy side except for Father Murder who speaks as eloquently as you’d expect Malcolm McDowell to speak. Surrounds are used with some good effect, be it the “squish” of internal organs or the thud of a lifeless body on the ground. Impressive.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- In Hell Everybody Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31 – I’m always confused if I should call these documantaries or featurettes? Essentially it’s just a series of 5 featurettes which can be played together or one at a time. At any rate, here’s what to expect:
- Chapter 1 – Pre-production
- Chapter 2 – Days 1-6
- Chapter 3 – Days 7-11
- Chapter 4 – Days 12-16
- Chapter 5 – Days 17-20
- Audio Commentary – If you watched the nearly two hour long documentary (above) then a lot of Writer/Director Rob Zombie’s comments will seem redundant. If not, he actually puts together a pretty straight-forward track that fans will probably love. He’s pretty strong-minded, articulate and we get a real sense as to how some of the scenes were shot, staged and edited post production. It’s a good, technical-minded track.
The Bottom Line
I wouldn’t expect folks to run out and grab a copy of this, but it’s actually not a totally bad offering. Zombie’s commentary and the accompanying documentary are actually pretty informative and it goes to show that a “big budget” Hollywood movie can be shot in the span of 20 days. It both looks and sounds good, but for heaven’s sake – if you encounter scarecrows blocking your way on a road, don’t get out to investigate!