31 (2016)

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  • Writer: Rob Zombie
  • Director: Rob Zombie
  • Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake
  • Medium: Shudder (Streaming)

Synopsis

A group of sideshow workers get kidnapped on Halloween to play a game called 31. They have 12 hours to kill or be killed. The thing is: no one has ever survived until the end of the game.

Review

The film starts out in black and white with the killer Doom-Head (Richard Brake) delivering a big monologue to his latest victim. The speech is written and performed like Exorcist III was on, and they wanted to steal Brad Dourif’s Gemini Killer performance, going so far as to talk about how long cockroaches can survive after decapitation (the Gemini Killer talks about how long a human head can continue to see after decapitation). I don’t know if the idea was to emulate or pay homage or just blatantly rip off the performance, but, based on a later character, I’d go with the latter.

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Doom-Head invoking Brad Dourif’s Gemini Killer

The sideshow workers are traveling by van to their next spot. In Rob Zombie fashion, they all have that white trash quality he writes so well. You have Sheri Moon Zombie as the lead female, and Jeff Daniel Phillips (who looks like Rob Zombie) as the lead male, just like in his film, The Lords of Salem. I have a feeling the scenes in the van and everything before the kidnapping is to make you think what a fun-loving group and maybe get some sort of connection to the group, but…I don’t know…I didn’t feel anything.

After the kidnapping, Malcolm McDowell, in white wig, along with Judy Geeson and Jane Carr, set the game in motion. If you are familiar with The Most Dangerous Game or The Running Man, then you know the plot. I’m not going to say anything negative regarding recycling the plot because it can be done well…I remember enjoying the film Slashers, which used the plot and tied it to a reality tv show. In this case, though, it’s set in 1976, and the killing is just for the amusement of the three. Still…that being said, there really isn’t anything new in the storyline here.

There is an attempt at emotion after the first kill, but I didn’t feel it. It didn’t heighten any emotions. The first killer is a nazi midget, who gets a lot of screen time, but the other killers get limited screen time before they are dispatched. Lew Temple plays one of the killers, and, if the part was not meant for Bill Moseley, then Lew just did his best Otis Driftwood impersonation. At times, he actually sounded like Bill Moseley. Can you fault Rob Zombie for ripping off one of his own most popular characters? Anyway, the nazi midget isn’t all that appealing, and the others are not on screen long enough to have any impact…until Doom-Head is called upon again. I guess he is supposed to be the “cool” villain. Again…he didn’t do much for me – he doesn’t pull you in like the Firefly clan did.

Issues I had with the way the film played out:

  • Meg Foster lasts for quite a while and delivers a couple crippling blows to the killers. Then, she ends up getting killed so easily. It didn’t seem to fit with what went before.
  • There seemed to be a lot of slow-motion. They didn’t need to pad the time because it ran well over 90 minutes. My thought is that they needed some emotional scenes as deaths were discovered. Since the actors may have had limited ranges, they decided to go with silent, slo-mo to cover up the inability to emote.
  • Sherri Moon Zombie is the final survivor. Would love to see a Rob Zombie movie where she gets killed off first. That would be surprising. Her surviving until the end is getting boring.
  • Neither the “good guys” nor “bad guys” draw you in one way or the other to get you involved. You just watch the action unfold without any attachment.

The positives:

  • The soundtrack was great. I would buy the album.
  • Sherri Moon Zombie is not as unlikable as she was in The Lords of Salem. This time around, she’s just blah. Didn’t like her. Didn’t dislike her. She seemed to underplay her role a bit more this time around.
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Jeff Daniel “Rob Zombie” Phillips and Sheri Moon Zombie

Film Rating: 4.5 Clowns out of 10 | I almost rented this movie off Amazon. Thank god I saved my money and lucked out to have the film appear on Shudder instead. Deciding if I’d watch it again. I tried a second viewing of The Lords of Salem and couldn’t get through it. This one is slightly better, so maybe I could try a repeat viewing eventually.

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Exorcist III (1990)

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  • Writer: William Peter Blatty
  • Director: William Peter Blatty
  • Starring: George C. Scott, Brad Dourif, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders
  • Medium: SHUDDER (Streaming)

Synopsis

Based on William Peter Blatty’s book, Legion. A supposed exorcism took place in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC. Around the same time, the notorious Gemini Killer was put to death. 15 years later, killings are happening again, using the same modus operandi as the Gemini Killer. The only problem is that the press were leaked incorrect information about what the Gemini did (this allowed the cops to ferret out all the crackpots who claimed to be the killer), and these new killings are displaying the real trademarks of the Gemini. The victims, however, are all connected to the supposed exorcism of Regan McNeil. On top of all that, there is a man in isolation at the hospital who claims to be the Gemini Killer. He is never allowed to leave his room, and he actually appears to be former priest, Damian Karras, who helped perform the exorcism and fell to his death down those famous flight of stairs. It’s up to Detective Kinderman to figure out what is going on.

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Ed Flanders and George C. Scott taking over as Father Dyer and Detective Kinderman

Review

First off, this is a review of the original theatrical version. There is a director’s cut that has been recently released to Blu Ray by Scream Factory. Although I am dying to do so, I have not yet purchased or viewed this edition. Also, I have read the book this is based on. It’s been awhile, but I absolutely loved the book, which I thought was a much better story than the movie. The director’s cut supposedly follows the book a bit more.

This film is definitely a worthy successor to one of the most famous horror films of all time. That alone is not an easy task. It’s fiction, but I would love to re-read the original novel, The Exorcist, to see relationships built (possibly even the film adaptation). My only critique is that the film starts with Father Dyer (the young piano-playing priest in the original) saying he needs to comfort his friend, Detective Kinderman (the detective from the original), because he gets sad every year on this day because it is the anniversary of Father Karras’ death. Detective Kinderman says the same story about Father Dyer. They both make it seem like they are consoling the other, when both need it. The critique is that I believe Kinderman met Karras during the investigation in the original story. Karras dies at the end. In this film, it is said that Kinderman and Karras were basically best friends, but I don’t know if they really had the time to develop that much of a friendship prior to Karras’ death. Minor thing. Having them as close friends adds to the tension and drama, so I let it slide.

There are plenty of freaky scenes in this movie. More jump scares, though, than the religious freakiness of the original. Even though you know a scare is coming, it doesn’t stop you from jumping in your seat when it finally occurs.

The tone is different from the original movie, which I think makes for a great sequel. Instead of seeing the same events play out for a second time, it uses the events that happened in the original to drive the continuing story of the same characters in a believable way. The story itself may not be believable (depending on your belief system), but you can see how the same characters would be pulled back into a connected storyline. It is an interesting story and almost, for a time, a bit of a whodonit, followed by a howdhedoit.

Top notch acting. George C. Scott seems to lose grip on his anger pretty quickly (maybe too quickly), but I thought he gave a wonderful performance. I bought into his drama. He was a likable hard ass.  It’s been 15 years, so people change. But, I thought I remembered Kinderman being a bit more mellow in his demeanor during the original. Ed Flanders’ Father Dyer still has that happy, showman attitude. He is a great character, and Flanders plays him to perfection. Despite her character being a bitch, Nancy Fish plays Nurse Allerton with this wonderfully subtle caring and nice demeanor, even she outwardly appears pissed all the time. All the other bit players (the old patients, the fellow cops, the doctors and nurses) do a fabulous job as well. Then, there is Jason Miller, who portrays the body of Damian Karras, who may have been possessed by the spirit of the Gemini Killer as life left him at the bottom of the staircase. His screen time is somewhat limited, but seeing the familiar face was a treat, and he delivers a great performance. When I first saw the film and even watching it 25 years later, I am floored with Brad Dourif’s performance as the essence of the Gemini. He became one of my favorite actors because of this film. Despite being in a straitjacket, he emotes showmanship. His range goes from soothing to rage in an instant, and it is quite a sight to behold.

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The ultimate jump scare

When I first saw the movie, I thought the ending seemed a little out of place. The mostly talky piece suddenly devolves into an exorcism with crazy visuals. I was interested in reading the book to see if there was more to this ending because I felt like I was missing something, like maybe they had to cut the scene or the build-up to the scene because it kind of seemed like it came out of nowhere. After reading the book and seeing that this ending was nowhere to be found, it made the book that much better because I was on board with the provided ending. I guess the book ending matches what was originally filmed as well, but the studio wanted a big exorcism in the finale, so Blatty lost out. I look forward to seeing how the ending plays out in the director’s cut.

Film Rating: 8.5 Wonderfull Lifes out of 10 | Despite the lackluster The Heretic and the couple versions of the fourth installment being let-downs, it is nice to see that a blockbuster, near perfect original film can still have such a worthy sequel.