Rob Zombie Turns A Halloween Scare-Maze Into A Movie With 31
By Jeff Feuerhaken
Peanut Butter & Chocolate. Peas & Carrots. Simon & Garfunkel. Rob Zombie & Halloween. Some things just go great together. Case in point: 31, the new twisted survival horror film from Rob Zombie, is a showcase of what Rob Zombie as a writer and director does best. This film ain’t concerned with such fancy pants stuff as say, character development or story cohesion. But then again, when have those things ever been present in a R. Zombie flick? (crickets…) Zombie’s brand is visually compelling redneck horror, and whether or not that niche floats your boat, he tends to do his thing quite well. I’ve recently gone back and watched all of Rob Zombie’s body of work, even the CSI Miami episode he directed (can you say random?), and I’ve picked up on a number of recurring motifs, repeated in practically everything he’s ever done. I’m going to lay some of them out for you here, specifically in regards to 31.
First off, every Rob Zombie movie ever made has a character that looks like him. Seriously. Don’t believe me? Well, in his first films, actor Bill Moseley held this distinction. In House Of 1,000 Corpses, he sorta looked similar, but in the sequel, The Devil’s Rejects? Oh my Gaad, I literally thought Rob had just said F it and cast himself in the role. And then there’s Halloween remakes. Since when did Michael Myers has long hair and a beard? Hmmmm. The latest actor to take up the Rob Zombie lookalike mantle is actor Jeff Daniel Phillips. Beard? Check. Long, scraggly hair? Check. Rednecky? Definitely check. In 31, Phillips plays Roscoe Pepper (how’s that for a redneck name?), the leader of the travelling circus troupe that stumbles into a very precarious situation.
Next on the Rob Zombie checklist? Gas stations. House Of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and 31 all have early scenes at gas stations, where the main characters have first contact with the forces they will ultimately be pitted against. The gas station scene in 31 seems to have no real purpose other than painting a picture of the remoteness of their location. Not a terrible scene, but not nearly as memorable as the gas station scene in 1,000 Corpses. But I imagine good ol’ Captain Spaulding would make any scene memorable. Another Rob Zombieism? Sherri Moon Zombie. Rob has cast his wife in literally every movie he’s ever made, because relationship goals. Don’t hate.
The final Zombie trend I’ll bring up here is the most important, because in 31, it practically defines the movie. Have you ever been to a theme park in Octoberr? Most of the LA-based theme parks annually convert to a Halloween “scare-maze” attraction. You walk through themed mazes, and employees dressed up in costumes jump out and try to scare you as you go. For those who have never been, I recommend it fully, because if you’re in the right mood it’s a blast. One of the first times I went to one of these events was at the Universal Studios in Hollywood, where the standout maze was, ironically enough, House Of 1,000 Corpses themed. The movie lent itself perfectly for such an inspiration, because the plot plays out like an escape from a sick, deadly haunted house. This digression is all to say that where in the case of 1,000 Corpses the movie inspired the maze, in 31, it seems the reverse is true. The plot of 31 is an even purer form of this “escape the maze” theme. The main characters are the unwilling participants in a bourgeois game, where wagers are placed on who will survive the longest. One could draw parallels to 1987’s The Running Man, a typical Schwarzenegger romp in which where Arnie plays an unwilling participant in a TV game show, where viewers bet on who will survive the longest. This setup can make for a fairly entertaining linear story, through the process of making the protagonists’ obstacles literal in nature. Only through surviving encounters with each successively difficult opponents, be they gladiators (The Running Man) or murderous clowns (31) can the heroes hope to achieve the ultimate goal: escape.
With respect to this pure form of entertainment, 31 is for the most part successful. The action in the second and third acts are interesting, but unfortunately predictable. The first act of the film, however, is a bit head-scratching. An obscene amount of time is taken setting up the main characters and their relationships to one another, and absolutely zero of that ends up paying off during the course of the story. It’s fragmented enough to give the impression of watching two separate movies in succession. And since, like I mentioned earlier, character development is not one of Rob Zombie’s strong suits, I have to question the motives for spending so much time on needless setup. But again, this is a Rob Zombie movie, and the Rob Zombieness of 31 shines through in the bizarre visuals and characters that inhabit the film. I recommend going to the theater, shutting your brain off, and enjoying the escape. Or you could just go to Universal Studios and brave a scare maze or two.