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Rob Zombie’s latest blood-soaked horror film should more than satisfy his loyal fans… and may even create a few new believers. 

31_finish_27x40_teaser_digital_01I had the immense pleasure of being able to check out Rob Zombie‘s eagerly anticipated new horror film, ‘31′, weeks before it’s scheduled nationwide release later this September. I must admit, Zombie’s previous contributions to the genre have been touch and go with me. Thus, I went into this one with realistic expectations, not expecting to be blown away. However, much to my very pleasant surprise, I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end.

The hype, while perhaps slightly overblown, was actually not far off the mark. ‘31′ wastes no time bringing us gore hounds what we want in a film, and I definitely appreciated this. Sherri Moon Zombie, of course, continues her quest to star in everything created by her husband, rocker and filmmaker Rob Zombie. But that’s not a negative here, as she delivers quite a standout performance. In fact, Zombie once again proves he’s got a real penchant for near perfect casting.

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The tale of  ’31’ is quite a demented one, one with enough blood and uncomfortable predicaments to satiate most horror fans. I did not find myself bored at any point during the film. On the contrary, I was secretly cheering the demise of damn near every character introduced to us — not out of hate for the characters (which were actually quite likable), but out of morbid fascination for more of the iconic death scenes Zombie has become known for.

’31’ starts out immediately with some great grease-painted gore. And, when I say immediately, I mean only about two minutes or so into the film. The perfectly psychotic Doom Head (Richard Brake) tortures and terrifies a bound priest, sending him to meet his maker with a couple of chops to the head with a dull axe. My eyes were wide the entire opening scene, in awe of the pure horrific enjoyment but also of the technical achievements on display by Zombie and his crew. Richard Brake is damn near perfection in his role as Doom Head, the go-to killer clown.

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Throughout ’31’, it’s evident the director has become very comfortable behind the camera, gaining the knowledge necessary to successfully utilize amazing transition shots coupled with the cinematic command he has over his actors.

The film follows five unfortunate carnival workers who become trapped in a hell-like compound, with only hours to survive an onslaught of sinister, killer clowns. Each traveling Carny is assigned a number and given the odds for their survival, which all seem pretty goddamn bleak. As if that is not enough to intrigue viewers, let me add that some stellar genre staples play a significant part of this movie mayhem. Malcolm McDowell (the uncompromising Alex DeLarge from Clockwork Orange) portrays Father Murder, all decked out in classic European aristocratic garb as he leads a duo of equally sadistic and amoral ladies. Also lending her legendary acting chops is Meg Foster (They Live) as the motherly figure within the clan of carnival workers.

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First up to inflict fear on the kidnapped group is the disconcerting Sick Head (Pancho Moler).  Small in stature but not in his level of depravity, Sick Head is a Spanish speaking, Swastika-wearing sicko who obviously takes immense pleasure in his job to initiate the game of 31. The subsequent group of clowns, whose main task is to track down and murder the captives, are no less frightening. There’s the chainsaw wielding twosome of Psycho-Head (Lew Temple) and Schizo-Head (David Ury), in addition to the succubus like Sex-Head (EG Daily).

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The tagline of ’31’ is “Welcome to Hell”, and it really is quite appropriate. The film is dark and dirty in almost every aspect. The production design is spot on, as are the costumes. And, if you already have a slight hesitation towards clowns, this film may push you over the edge.

It was surprising and impressive to learn filming only took a scant 20 days to complete, but I’m a firm believer in ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ Rob Zombie has enjoyed success in the past with many of the actors in this film, including his wife Sheri Moon Zombie, Lew Temple, Meg Foster, Malcolm McDowell and a slew of others. Their ease and comfort level with Zombie as a director, and his trust in his actors, surely made it easier to elicit such strong performances under such a compressed shooting schedule.

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Despite numerous obstacles — including a mad dash to find a new distributor (Saban Films) after the original one (Alchemy ) went bankrupt (Alchemy) right after the January 2016 premiere at Sundance Film Festival, as well as the struggle to secure an R rating that resulted in numerous forced cuts to the film — ‘31′ is still a fun blood-soaked ride and one of Zombie’s best.

I really hope when the Blu ray/DVD is released, it contains the Director’s Cut, full of everything that had to unfortunately be mercilessly edited to hell to earn that theatre-friendly R rating.

Ultimately, the film is enjoyable and well-paced, with no shortage of deaths. The characters are strong, and the banter between them is exceptional. I found myself laughing out loud a few times while watching this movie, but I also found it slightly confusing. It almost felt like the audience was left out of important backstory or legend that was perhaps cut for the theatrical release. The ending left me wanting more, and there was an ambiguous tone once the ending credits rolled.

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Final note though, if you have dug Zombie’s catalog thus far, by all means be sure to catch ’31’ at the theater. There’s a lot to love, especially for fans of the polarizing director. If you’re not already a fan, I’d wait until one of your horror family members insist you watch it anyway.


>> CLICK HERE TO READ A SECOND OPINION FROM LOS ANGELES ZOMBIE GIRL

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