Rob Zombie’s 31 always faced a problem, and it’s the problem with anything extreme: Once you’ve crossed over the line and have been shocked enough times, the shock becomes less effective. It wears off. This is what I felt when I watched 31.
Oddly enough, I didn’t hate the movie, but had a definite sense of “Been there, done that.” It’s a carnival ride of sorts, and may be okay for someone who’s less cynical and jaded, but plenty of people are itching for something new, even from horror films. In fact, Zombie has such an established pattern that his movies are increasingly interchangeable, aside from maybe his film The Lords of Salem. That film was markedly different — though certainly maligned by some of his more gore-hungry fans. His original version of Halloween was also a little different, although it definitely had the strong trashiness he’s known for in his plots.
Roz Zombie also tends to use a lot of the same actors over and over, even aside from his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie. This only adds to the “been there, done that” feeling. So does the use of villains who are basically straightforward evil. They are usually quite one-dimensional. In 31, there’s never the possibility of seeing the villains as complex beyond their sadism, perversion and greed. They’re around to torture, antagonize and kill some hapless victims for the entertainment of some rich weirdos (played by Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson and Jane Carr).
The evil clowns are somewhat memorable (especially Richard Brake’s character, “Doom-Head”), but not enough to really make this film commendable. In fact, at least The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films tend to explore family dynamics, which can be compelling. There’s really not much like that here. On top of that, the victims aren’t particularly memorable, either, other than Meg Foster’s character (but that has more to do with her incredibly noticeable eyes). This film does have some female nudity, but that alone probably doesn’t make an epic horror film, either.
Is 31 Worth Watching? Maniacs Can Get Boring
Many of Rob Zombie’s hardcore fans will likely be pleased by 31, precisely because it isn’t a departure from his previous films. However, even some of those will likely say, “Okay, I think I’ve seen this sort of thing already.” I’m not sure what Rob Zombie could do differently for his next few movies, but I’ll leave that up to him. Still, it would be nice if he’d try a somewhat different approach, as this one’s getting a little too well-tread.
If I were to use an analogy here, I might go with the shock rock icon GG Allin, who definitely has plenty of fans (in fact, I know a few). While he has been known as a true “rock god” for taking shock rock to extremes, it eventually reaches a point where it gets old. It becomes like a cartoon. In fact, sometimes it seems like GG Allin was invented by the establishment itself to totally invalidate the punk rock movement, to make it look like a bunch of nihilistic morons getting splattered with poop by its crazed ringleader. Maniacs get boring sometimes.
Unlike GG Allin, 31 doesn’t throw poop around. It’s gross, but it uses fake blood and not much imagination. While I’m sure I’ll watch this film again some day, it will be just as something to put on to kill time. That’s sort of all it needs to be, at least to this jaded, cynical horror fan.
What are your thoughts on 31? Let us know in the comments!