31 (2015) | Rob Zombie’s ultra-violent valentine to blood-soaked 1970s exploitation is a demented kill-ride
Following 2013’s supernatural misfire The Lords of Salem (which I rather liked, so check it out here), the shock rocker pays homage once again to 1970s grindhouse by tipping a blood-soaked Bozo clown wig to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse, by way of Stephen King’s The Running Man and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. But frankly, its not a par on those classics.
The director’s wife and muse, Sheri Moon Zombie, heads up a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween night 1976 and let loose in a derelict factory where they are given 12 hours to fight their way to freedom through a maze of secret passages containing deadly traps and a cavalcade of homicidal clowns bearing sicko monikers like Psycho-Head, Sick-Head, Death-Head, Sex-Head and Doom Head.
Placing bets on who will survive is Malcolm McDowell (who turns 74 today) as the bizarrely-named Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder, veteran British actress Judy Geeson (who was also in The Lords of Salem) and voice over artist Jane Carr. Bizarrely, their aristocratic 18th-century attire makes them look like they are appearing in a completely different film – and indeed they might well be as their characters are never fully explained.
Fans of Rob Zombie’s cult hits House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects will relish his return to ghoulish sadistic form, but this demented trip through the most blood-drenched funhouse this side of the late Hershell Gordon Lewis might leave everyone else colder than all those corpses that pile up before Sheri’s final girl showdown with the film’s most intriguing character, the psychopathic killer Doom Head (Richard Brake, who played the Night King on Game of Thrones).
The Lords of Salem (2012) | His satanic majesty Rob Zombie spawns a trippy nightmare journey into pure evil
In 1692 Salem, as her coven of witches are put to death by judge John Nathaniel Hawthorne for creating satanic music, Margaret Morgan curses the judge’s female bloodline, promising that Satan will be spawned…
In the present day, Hawthorne’s descendant Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is living in a Salem boarding house run by overly protective landlady Lacy (Judy Geeson) and working on a late night show at a local radio station.
When Heidi listens to a record by a band calling themselves The Lords, she awakens Morgan’s spirit and triggers the curse. With the gates of Hell now opening up in room number 5 of her boarding house, it looks like Heidi is destined to bear Satan’s child…
Heavy metal icon and Halloween rebooter Rob Zombie gleefully sticks two blood stained fingers at Christianity with this trippy nightmare journey into pure evil. Taking its cue from 1970s devil worshipping films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Michael Winner’s The Sentinel, Zombie has fashioned a supremely intelligent satanic shocker that certainly doesn’t hold back on its blasphemous intent.
Metal fans expecting a Zombie-inspired feature-length music video will be disappointed as the director saves his trademark stage show visuals for the film’s climax. However, The Lords of Salem is a very visual experience.
From the décor of Heidi’s bedroom (adorned with giant murals from George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon – an obvious visual joke) and the 1970s flock wallpaper in a corridor of the boarding house that leads to the dreaded room No 5, to the film’s big set piece – an ornate staircase where Heidi meets Satan (inspired by the masque ball sequence in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera), Zombie lets his fevered imagination take full flight, with a host of visual film references guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of classic horror buffs.
For example, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday is paid homage to during the burning of the witch Morgan, while Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise is alluded to in the film’s theatrical climax.
Zombie also brings together veteran British actress Judy Geeson, Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Patricia Quinn and The Howling’s Dee Wallace as the satanic midwives put in charge of Heidi’s care. The presence of this unholy trinity got this fan boy excited, and they certainly do bring class and kudos to the proceedings, plus they help to paint over some of the cracks in Zombie’s dark canvas (like the naff Chewbacca-looking monsters in room no 5).
The Lords of Salem is worth repeat viewings just to get all the visual cues – if you are a horror fan. But Rob Zombie films are like Marmite (just look at his latest, 31). Luckily, I love the stuff. But you might have to make up your own mind on this one.