I’ll just put it out there straight off the bat. I’ve never been Rob Zombie’s biggest fan. I did enjoy ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ for what it was trying to be. Pure Grindhouse exploitation. I loved it’s Americana soundtrack, I enjoyed Sheri Moon-Zombie’s raw but maniacal performance as Baby Firefly. I even loved the splattered Mexican maid on the freeway.
Then came Halloween, Halloween 2 and Lords of Salem, which took my expectation of Zombie from 7 out of 10 all the way down to zero in that order. That said, time has passed, I enjoy the aesthetic of his movies so I went into a Grimmfest preview screening of ‘31’ with an open mind.
The premise is simple. Three very British cardboard cut-out villains like to get together, kidnap rednecks and have them eliminated in a series of gruesome setpieces by deranged clowns. They take bets on who will survive. Nobody EVER survives. That is until they throw in Sheri Moon Zombie, who, of course, will survive anything, Even the nuclear holocaust, should her husband direct it. It’s simple, to the point, and yet still feels like a labour…
The over-riding feeling I had throughout the film and after was one of disappointment. For some reason I expected that in the course of a decade Rob Zombie might have either a) learned to write a film script that made you care for or engage with the characters, be they heroes or villains; b) manage to write female characters who weren’t demented twisted psycho-sexual whores who’s dialogue is too puerile even for a teenage boy; or c) know how to end a movie.
Unfortunately he failed to do all three with this one. From bad Jamaican accents, to the pseudo-intellectual outpourings of the villains, I kept metaphorically twanging the rubber band around my wrist, telling myself to switch off the writer’s brain and enjoy it for what it was.
Just enjoy the mindless violence and the scares!
Let me start with the scares. There are none. Not a jump, not a creep, not a hair on the back of the neck. Why? Put it down to preposterous characterization leaving you so alienated from these characters you’re wishing them dead anyway. Or put it down to plain old bad directing and writing. For example… a scene that opens with creepy old scarecrows silhouetted against the night sky shrouded in mist. Great. It evokes a 70s/80s VHS chill that surely means a scare is on the way. But then the villains lumber onscreen and start attacking the heroes with such a lack of co-ordination I thought they might just be lost.
As for the violence… Well the premise of the film is a group of rednecks being stalked and killed by a succession of weird killer clowns with chainsaws, flick knives, axes… you name it. So surely we’re in for some bone-crunching, shocking, repulsive acts of torture and murder. Right? Well during one kill I decided to go to the bathroom. I didn’t need to go that badly. It was just something to do. So that should tell you all you need to know.
I get why people love RZ movies. They look amazing for the most part. They make great music videos. And if you want blood and guts? You got it. But being bombarded with terribly drawn characters, mediocre to terrible acting, and a script that sounds like it’s been written by a sociopathic 13 year old… it wears pretty thin for me.
There are gems amongst the cast. Meg Foster (Evil Lynn from the He Man Movie) is a grizzled ageing pole dancer (I think? I could be wrong but most of RZ’s female characters tend to be written that way) – and she’s a great actress with an amazing face and real balls. And Richard Brake plays big bad psychopath clown Doom-Head with insane relish – imagine Heath Ledger’s Joker on Crystal Meth. And then comes the highlight of the entire film for me, who should have been saved for last…Pancho Moler as Sick-Head, a Nazi Midget Clown with a swastika on his chest and a shrine to Hitler.
So it’s not all bad.
No, it is. It’s all bad.