Rob Zombie likes gore, vulgarity, and violence as spectacle, and 31 is pretty much exactly that with his usual psycho redneck types. Also it’s set in the 1970s, which is something else he loves. In short, 31 is basically a stereotype of Rob Zombie movies.
Basically a group of carnies get kidnapped and forced to try and survive 12 hours in a factory maze where people dressed as clowns all known as “-Head” hunt them down and try to murder them while a group of rich people dressed with all the excess of French nobility watch and act like the rich jerks we all know they are. It’s a pretty obvious statement: the rich use the perverse and exploitative extremists to corral and kill the poor for their amusement. If you expect the poor to make it, well, don’t.
This is pretty much Rob Zombie preaching to the choir. If you like his brand of brutality and redneck weirdness, you’ll probably enjoy 31. Much of it feels like violence for violence’s sake, and it will please eager the gore fans who enjoyed his other films. Will it bring in new fans? Mmm…probably not. It’s not quite as brutal as, say, his Halloween remake, and I never felt it quite reached the level of nightmarish perversity that was The Lords of Salem. Instead, this sits around the House of 1000 Corpses territory for me, where over a career it’s just kinda sitting in the middle of what Zombie can do.
For me, the real stand out here is Richard Brake as the ultimate killer clown, Doom-Head. He’s sinister, malevolent, and sadistic, but with both an intelligence about him, a pride, and a strange sense of what might be considered honor. He’s pure crazy, but in a more sophisticated way than all of the other trashier -Heads. The film is worth watching just for his bizarre antics and behavior, particularly when we watch him get dressed up and then punch himself in the face so he can use his own blood as makeup. It’s a scene that’s far more harrowing than, say, the unintentional cannibalism as a joke scene.
As for the rest of the Heads, they contain a variety of perversity, be it sexual, exploitative, and all very violent. You start off with Sick-Head, a little person dressed up as a clown version of Hitler. Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head are rape-happy chainsaw-wielding murder clowns. Sex-Head and Death-Head have a weird German dungeon porn thing going. They’re all happy and eager to kill, of course, but in the end, Doom-Head outdoes them all.
What can I say, it’s a Rob Zombie movie. That’s pretty much all one needs to say about it. If you like his movies, you’ll probably like this, but if you don’t like his movies, this won’t be your cup of tea. Now if you’ve never seen a Rob Zombie movie…I really don’t recommend starting here. Halloween is probably his most accessible for slasher fans, but House of 1000 Corpses would probably be the best starting point for most folks. Plus you should watch it before moving onto The Devil’s Rejects. The Lords of Salem is a strange outlier that is divisive. Personally, I loved it a lot more than 31.