Clowns

31

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

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The Houses October Built

Every October, various haunted houses and corn mazes open up all over the country. Their sole purpose is to scare the living hell out of you. In this film, a group of childhood friends decide to make a documentary about the scariest, most extreme haunts in the United States. Along their journey they hear humors about one specific haunt that is the most intense scare a person could ever have. As they journey to find this elusive haunt, things start to happen that lead them down a dark path they may not be able to come back from.

The main premise of the film is how back in the day, a basic haunted house where people jumped out at you and said “boo” was enough to scare the pants off most people. I myself am a total wimp. I went to the same haunted corn maze two Halloweens in a row and it scared me to death both times. These days people want the more extreme kind of haunt where the actors go past the point of what may be considered legal in most places. I have even heard stories of haunted houses where you have to sign some kind of waiver before you even go in so that if any physical or mental harm comes to you there can be no legal action taken. While I don’t know if places like this truly exist, it is the kind of place mentioned in the film that these people are dying to experience.

Intermixed within the film are interviews with supposedly real owners and actors at various haunts. The people being interviewed tell stories about extreme things that have happened at haunted houses, even murderers and sex offenders being hired as actors and using the job as a way to find new victims. While I have heard of plenty of crimes committed on Halloween, I’m not sure how valid the claims are that crimes are committed within haunted houses. This does bring up a fear that I believe many people have before entering a haunted house. You know the actors are technically not allowed to touch you, but what if a serial killer really was hired at a haunt and hid the remains of their victims within the sets.

The two aspects mentioned above give you the two extremes. On the one hand, people want something that is so outrageous and horrifying that they will never forget it. On the other hand, there is always the chance that the people in your friendly neighborhood haunted house are much worse than what they appear to be. In that way, this film makes sure that it covers all the potential fears a person may have before entering a haunt. They even show the different kinds of scares you get in various haunted houses and how it has evolved over the years. It starts with your more basic evil clowns and creepy dolls then moves into more shock horror with people being gruesomely tortured before your eyes, culminating in the ultimate scare where you are the victim of an all too real haunt.

Looking beyond the story alone, one of the aspects of this film that made is so believable was the acting. This group of people had such amazing chemistry and genuine reactions when they were going through the haunted houses that it made the entire story that much more believable. The few characters that you see from the haunted houses were great as well. Even the more silent ones, like the iconic porcelain doll, really know how to creep you out. The various masks and makeup that were used on the haunt actors was quite effective as well.

In my opinion, this film did not get as much credit as it deserved. While the ending was a bit lackluster, like so many horror movies, the overall storyline was very interesting. It seems likely that the kind of people that would appreciate this film the most are those that love Halloween and love to be scared. With excellent acting and a fairly unique topic for this fake documentary, it was hard for me to not enjoy the movie. It is the kind of movie that will be a favorite when Halloween comes around each year.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10