1.5 out of 5 Skulls
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Richard Brake, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster
Written & Directed By: Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie’s 31 came out at the end of 2016 and is partly what inspired this site. I (Leslie) went to see a screening of it in Hollywood and left with a bad taste in my mouth over it. On the one hand, I loved the idea of the movie, but, on the other, I wasn’t thrilled about the execution and I was fairly outraged about the female characters in it. After talking with Kelsey extensively about how we should have more of a voice in the horror world to stand up against weak female characters, we banded together and created Scared to Deth.
For our second review, we took a deep breath, tried to clear all our expectations and dove back into 31. We struggled to find any redeeming qualities and overall we were still very disappointed by the way women were portrayed, by the way the male characters talked about and treated women, and by the underdeveloped characters and story.
I went in to the film expecting weak female characters based on your previous experience with the film, but was still curious and hoping the story would be strong enough to make up for some of its flaws. Rob Zombie’s films have become increasingly more frustrating for me, partially because I see his incredible potential to dive in to the psyche of a killer and explore darkness in humanity in an intensely interesting way, yet his films only seem to be getting more and more flawed rather than him growing and perfecting his art as a horror director. I will admit 31 was less of a mess than Lords of Salem, but it still felt so lackluster and at the same time demeaning. Anything that might have intrigued me fell so flat due to the lack of substance or any type of exploration or even realism with the characters, male characters and villains included. Of course, all of the female characters were overly sexualized, where that was almost all there was to their identity. Even a lot of the male characters’ dialogue was extremely disrespectful, clichéd, and even at times vile towards women, even those women who were closest to them whom you would think at least to their faces they would show a little more respect towards. Now I could accept this in one or two characters as there is no denying some people do think and talk that way, but not every single character should have this tendency, especially considering the women don’t seem to ever call them on it and even over-sexualize themselves as well.
I had so many issues with 31, but, my biggest problem was that almost all of the female characters in this are over-sexualized, under developed and unrealistic. One of the first things we experience when the movie starts is Roscoe (one of the main characters) disrespecting and degrading the girl that it’s implied he’s in some sort of relationship with. All the while, she’s just laughing it off and giggling along like its okay and completely acceptable and normal for him to be treating her like that. He talks down to her and tells her to shut the fuck up while she’s being nothing but agreeable and supportive. While this immediately made me hate his character, what actually annoys me most about it is how stupid she is and how much she just takes that shit from him and doesn’t even react. This is how we start the movie and it definitely set the tone for the gender roles within it.
I found the characters to be all-around unlikeable and underdeveloped. Most of the female characters were written like they’re just dumb pieces of meat there for nothing but sexual relief and most of the male characters were unnecessarily degrading toward them. I certainly understand some of each of these to build a certain character and develop them, but, this was the standard for the whole movie and there was no development on any of the characters explaining why they act that way. And the fact that none of the characters react to any of this like its abnormal really solidified why I ended up disliking most of the characters.
Exactly, not only did I immediately feel distanced and somewhat offended by Roscoe’s character and dialogue, thus caring even less when he was in great peril, but the way his girlfriend didn’t even react and just went along with every put down when she was being completely agreeable, just felt weird and unnatural to me and took me more out of the story. If the nature of their relationship includes her just accepting being treated like shit, she should at least be acknowledging that this is what’s happening, even if it’s just in a brief offended or hurt look. It’s not even just a gender thing, if you were being nothing but supportive and upbeat to someone and they constantly pushed you away, rejected that support, and insulted you, at the very least you would have a momentary reaction to this, not just giggling along like nothing happened. It just seems like more solid proof that Rob Zombie didn’t care to make realistic characters, which I think goes for the women and men, but of course it’s more targeted to be at the female characters’ expense.
Probably the only protagonist that at all seemed like a genuine character who you could root for was Venus Virgo, the older female character, who was likely only not overly sexualized (aside from one line of hers) and treated like a real person due to her age and by Hollywood and likely by Zombie’s standards not as desirable. Praising her character is really only the result of comparing her to the far lesser characters she shared scenes with, because while she felt more genuine and I could respect her character more, I really can’t claim there was any real layers, complexities, or immense strength beyond her trying to fight for her life and those she cared about, which most people would try to do in her situation.
Yes, I agree, my favorite protagonist by far was Venus Virgo, but the bar certainly wasn’t set very high! She was kind of a breath of fresh air among all the other women in this film. She had one sexual scene, but, other than that, she was non-sexualized and a strong, admirable character when thrown in the horror game.
Let’s dig into the main protagonist in this, Charly. I think it’s a combination of Rob Zombie’s writing and Sherri Moon’s acting, but she seems too much like every other character I’ve seen her play in a Rob Zombie film so it was hard for me to just see the character, Charly when watching her in this. Charly ends up being the final girl, but she’s my very least favorite type of final girl by far. She literally only survived because of a bunch of lucky mistakes and because some of the other characters died to save her. She has some moments where she’s a little badass, but mostly, she’s annoying, whiney and stupid but somehow always lucky enough to stay relatively unscathed. She did have a few redeeming moments though, like when she decides to go after the chainsaw-wielding clowns instead of running/hiding. She shows some ferocious will for survival there that’s admirable.
Charly did end up fighting ferociously for her life, but I really wasn’t given a chance to care for her or any of the other characters even before the torture started, so I guess in a way it felt like too little too late, especially coming from such an unrealistic, weak character. I agree Sheri Moon Zombie felt like only a slightly version of every other character she has played and still it was a lesser version of what I have seen her do before. This is the fault of the material as well as her not taking any risks to make this character unique from others she has played.
It wasn’t just the protagonists who come off as weak characters, which is an even bigger problem. If you are going to have throw away hero or victim characters, however you want to look at them, where you don’t really care if they live or die, it really is essential that your villains are extremely intriguing. You need villains that the audience either can root for or delight in their brand of evil and intricate psychology that makes them so thrilling. There are so many beloved iconic slasher films and even silly yet fun gore-centric films, that might not be about the substance or very enlightened exploration, but along with the generic dumb clichéd protagonists, who you don’t mind seeing killed off in the slightest, they always portray the villain as richly maniacal, diving in to their twisted mindset and motives that gets the audience to be intrigued and simply to care about what’s happening.
Rob Zombie didn’t seem to take the time to give us that and it comes off as him simply not caring to build fully realized characters, victims or villains. We really don’t even get the villains’ motives here. If it’s simply the fact that they crave others misery and bloodshed at their hands, okay, showcase that. That can be quite interesting and could stumble on some captivating themes that are very true to the evil we see manifested in the real world. Even if that was the only thing, it would add a wonderful layer of enticing and tragic reality. Sadly, 31 doesn’t care to go there and falls so short in nearly every way when it really did offer the potential to be quite compelling.
Even though I felt like all of the characters in this were morbidly underdeveloped, I liked what I saw of some of the killers. My favorite killer by far was Doom Head (Richard Brake). At times, the character makes me think of characters Bill Mosley plays. But, in look, he looks kind of like a super demented Peter Murphy to me. He seemed like he could be a really interesting, compelling character, but just like every other character in this film, he was more of an interesting idea for a character than an actual interesting character. Because it did seem to build the character, I wouldn’t have even minded how terribly he treated women if it was more isolated to that character and less of a theme for how everybody acts in the movie.
I did like some of the killers in this, but I very much agree that they were underdeveloped. It’s like we were given a hint of who they could be, but we’re left to fill in all the blanks by ourselves. There was so much room to make these killers so interesting, but, instead, we’re left with interesting looking characters with no buildup, no backstory, nothing. We understand that they’re hired to be a part of this game, but, the origins or motive of the game aren’t explained. The game masters’ costumes aren’t even touched on. How did anyone get involved in this? Why? The game masters, the killers, are there spectators? What’s the motive? Who’s funding this? There are so many questions that could have been so interestingly answered, but we’re left with nothing more than a few cool aesthetics that don’t really line up or make sense without some interesting explanations.
The style, initial set up of the story and atmosphere, and some of the killers had a cool, creepy vibe to them, but everything was so generic and underdeveloped that even the aspects that engaged me a little more initially I found myself so disinterested in before long, because it completely failed in getting me to care about what was happening. Aside from the gritty yet at times fantastical style and more so, the potential that offered, the strongest element of 31 were a few strong performances. Malcolm McDowell as the leader of this killing game and sadist community, did initially draw me in and get me to wonder what his story was. Of course, we have no idea and there aren’t any interesting layers revealed, but he still had great presence and added a charismatic yet chilling vibe. Really though, Richard Brake as Doom-Head, steals the show. He’s vile, relentless, and gleefully maniacal in such an insane and terrifying way. There’s a grittiness and brutality to him he proudly wears on his sleeve. You can tell he very much enjoys what he does; the killer in him consumes him and the hunger for bloodshed and watching his victims suffer immensely before falling before him is the most satisfying thing for him to feed. Brake made the role his own and brought all this to life. He makes us want more I think because you can tell there’s more beneath the surface. The material doesn’t take us there, in to his psyche, to really make him a compelling villain and strong character, but Branch ensures we are still given a wonderfully demented performance nonetheless.
I thought the plot centering around the protagonists being kidnapped and thrown into this sick “game” for a fight to the death for the entertainment of this group of aristocratic sadists was interesting and stylistic, but they didn’t go far enough with it, it almost felt like they didn’t fully develop this concept. As you said, 31 is filled with the start of so many good ideas, but the execution is so lazy, pathetic, and unrealistic. Who are these people? Is this a cult? What makes this game so appealing to them? It was the same thing with the murderous clown characters too. Their style and demeanor were actually pretty creepy and could have even been fascinating, but they were too one-dimensional for this to really affect me. We don’t really have any understanding of their mindset or why they do this. Are they doing this in order to save their own skin, letting themselves become monsters for the sake of survival, or do they delight in the chance to torment and hunt people and this is just an environment that allows them to do that, feeding a deep, essential urge within them? If so, what led them to become this way? We don’t have to have their full life story or go down their journey in to becoming vicious killers, but even just hitting the surface of this could have been enough to get me invested in the film, to brush on some crucial horror themes that this madness reveled in. It could have saved the film for me. The flaws would have still been there, but it would have given me a character who was slightly more developed, real, and interesting. Again, with these characters along with the story, it was style over substance.
Exactly, beautifully said!
I was quite disappointed with the female characters in this movie, especially before the game started. I liked a lot of the aesthetics, but some of them felt contrived and under-explained which took me out of the story a little. It also had a good concept and a few good characters, but, again, neither were fully developed. There aren’t may movies more disappointing to watch than ones with such potential that let it melt further away at every turn.
Based on all of this, we give 31 1.5 out of 5 skulls!