A group of carnies gets kidnapped while on the road. They are brought to a massive compound and forced to play a twisted game by three people dressed as old English aristocrats. The game is called “31”. All the carnies have to do is survive 12 hours in the compound while being hunted by one twisted clown after the other, each one more dangerous than the last. These clowns specialize in murder and mayhem. Will the small band of unwilling participants be able to survive the night?
31 was a hodge podge of really great ideas and some not so great ones. Overall, I think the concept was a really fun and exciting one. There wasn’t ever a dull moment during the film. The opening scene was one of the best parts of the entire film. It was a monologue by the aptly named “Doom-Head” clown. The scene was intense, even though it was just Doom-Head talking to his victim. That was a great way to start the film (even though there were some editing errors where the amount of blood on his face drastically changed between cuts and drove me crazy). After such a strong opening, the rest of the film was filled with a mix of high and low points. Most of the film was fun and exciting; I laughed, I gasped, and I had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, there were definitely some holes in the plot, which was where we run into the low points. Most of the holes surround the orchestrators of this event known as Father Murder, Sister Serpent, and Sister Dragon. Who are these people? How are they funding this? What do they do when it isn’t Halloween? How did they find the psychopaths to participate in their murder game? We may never know.
One of my biggest issues with this film was the character of Charly, played by Sheri Moon Zombie (Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses). Anyone who has seen a Rob Zombie film knows that he is going to have his wife as the star and hero of the film. That I don’t mind, but Charly was such a pathetic “hero”. There were times in the film where she definitely rose to the occasion and did what she has to do, but at the same time there were scenes where she was made out to be such a weak person. It was too extreme to see her go from one end to the other, making her character unbelievable. Also, the wig they had her wear throughout the film was so distracting for me. Every time Zombie came on screen all I could look at is the ridiculous hair. The various clowns, on the other hand, were fantastic. They were such extreme caricatures of demented personalities that you couldn’t help but laugh at them as they were hunting their victims.
The biggest standout performance was, of course, Doom-Head. He was played by Richard Brake (Water for Elephants, Spy). If this film had just been his opening monologue, I would have been completely satisfied with that. Brake managed to play a ruthless killer who clearly enjoys what he does, and it made you enjoy watching him at work. My only complaint was that I wish he had been in the film more. Jeff Daniel Phillips (Lords of Salem, Halloween II) also stood out as the carnival worker, Roscoe. Of all the carnies, I found him to be the most likable and realistic character. I was rooting for him to survive the game more than any other character (maybe it had to do with his sweet sideburns).
The clown makeup and costumes in 31 were delightfully strange and minimal. The various clowns were all made to look ridiculous, and only slightly clownish, in order to add to the insanity. For example, Sick-Head was a little person who was a Spanish speaking Nazi clown. He primarily looked like a Nazi with a painted on Hitler mustache and a swastika on his chest. The only aspect that looked clown-ish is the white painted face and red nose. Probably my favorite clown look was Death-Head, who was this mammoth of a man. He wore a little white leotard and the tiniest tutu I have ever seen. It was hilarious because Death-Head was so huge and terrifying, yet he was running around in the least threatening outfit one could possibly think of. Again, he could only really be thought of as a clown because he was wearing such a comical outfit. It was all a fun juxtaposition by having murderous lunatics in ridiculous costumes.
Rob Zombie gave us a film that has everything you expect from a Rob Zombie film: excitement, bloodshed, and bad guys that you can’t help but love. This was definitely not his best film, but it was a lot of fun to watch. He always succeeds in making me laugh at the most inappropriate times. If the various plot holes had been filled, or at least briefly touched on, and if the hero character was a bit stronger I would have enjoyed 31 that much more. As it is, 31 is a thrill ride that lacks a bit in substance, but makes up for it in carnage and madness.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10