Before heading to the screening of Rob Zombie’s new flick 31, I hopped on imdb to find out how long a film it was. I needed to know whether Chipotle would still be open when the movie got out. While on the site, I happened to notice that 31 possessed a metacritic score of 11.
For those of you new to metacritic, it’s a website that calculates a film’s ratings from major film critics across the globe and offers an aggregate score from 1 to 100. Now, I didn’t read those reviews – I like to go in clean – but still…
It’s Halloween night, 1976. A van full of what appear to be do-it-yourself carnies pulls into a dusty, woebegone Southern gas station and meets a couple of creepy characters.
You’ve seen at least one horror movie in your life. You know things cannot end well for everyone involved. But if you’re familiar with Zombie’s work, you’ll know that 31 is neither a spoof nor a ripoff. Every film in Zombie’s repertoire is a mishmash homage to everything from slashers to Blaxploitation flicks to grindhouse movies to the “savage cinema” of the Seventies. 31 is no different, except that the mishing and mashing don’t work especially well.
The homages continue with the cast. As is the director’s way, Zombie’s populated his overly familiar yet strangely mismatched world with similarly remembered yet out-of-place faces. Favorites Sheri Moon Zombie (natch), Jeff Daniel Phillips and Malcolm McDowell join Laurence Hilton-Jacobs (that’s right! Boom Boom Washington, people!), Meg Foster and Richard Brake in a game of death on Halloween night. (31 – get it?)
The writing is dreadful and the acting worse. While Zombie’s attempts at humor may make you recoil, the carnage itself is generally uninspired. He contrasts the grimy fight on the ground with a weirdly opulent games-masters celebration (powdered wigs and all). What I’ve learned is that you can bedeck Malcolm McDowell with all the frilly collars and broaches you like, he can’t deliver with a shitty script. And if he can’t manage, what’s a hack like Sheri Moon Zombie supposed to do with it?
“You want to know what’s in this head of mine? I’ll tell you what’s in this head of mine. What’s in this head of mine is…”
Do you know what that is?
That’s bad writing.
Is 31 an 11? No. It’s probably a 31 – not bad enough to be memorable, not good enough to pay to see.
The great news, though, is that Chipotle was still open.
At long last, the keeper of the keys for Killumbus Horror joins Fright Club, with the topic of her own choosing. Bridget Oliver decided we should discuss the most polarizing filmmakers in horror, so here you have the Love Them or Hate Them list. Note, we are not talking about filmmakers whose personal lives make them hard to stomach. (We’re looking at you, Roman Polanski.) No, these are movie makers whose cinematic output have made them polarizing figures. The three of us have differing opinions about the 5, so be sure to check out the full podcast HERE.
5. Tom Six
After a handful of middling Dutch comedies, Tom Six stumbled upon inspiration – 100% medically accurate inspiration. Yes, we mean the Human Centipede trilogy – a set of films that doubles its ridiculous, bloody, unseemly intensity with every new episode.
For a lot of viewers, the Human Centipede films are needlessly gory and over-the-top with no real merit. But for some, Six is onto something. His first effort uses a very traditional horror storyline – two pretty American girls have a vehicular break down and find peril – and takes that plot in an unusual direction. But where most horror filmmakers would finish their work as the victims wake up and find themselves sewn together, mouth to anus, this is actually where Six almost begins.
His next two efforts in the trilogy are more consciously meta and more clearly referential of the controversy he caused with Episode 1. Much like Last House on the Left, the Centipede films seem to be addressing the abundance of almost unthinkable but true life violence available for public consumption, turning that into something so bombastic and fictional that it’s almost safe to watch.
Not everyone (George, for example) buys that theory. For many, Tom Six makes movies that people simply don’t want to sit through.
4. Ti West
Because West’s films are not, in and of themselves, particularly controversial, his inclusion in this list may seem counter intuitive. But West’s early work suggested a promise that he has failed to live up to, or so several of us seem to think.
West’s first film, The Roost, starring Tom Noonan (hooray!), was a low budget affair that worked mostly because of a peculiar style and ingenuity. It seemed to mark a filmmaker who could benefit from a little real cash flow and some time to develop an idea. For a lot of people, the filmmaker’s next effort, The House of the Devil, proved the director’s mettle.
Not for everyone, though. We see House of the Devil as one of those horror movies that people who don’t like horror really enjoy. It’s a short film extended far beyond its natural length, and though it boasts some excellent cast mates (Noonan, again, along with Mary Woronov and Greta Gerwig), it’s a long slog. The rest of West’s catalog offers a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns. While many (including Bridget) are eager to see whatever it is West is ready to put out next, MaddWolf thinks he’s outstayed his welcome.
3. Rob Zombie
Here’s where the real heavy-hitters begin, because if there is one filmmaker who’s caused the most divisive response from our listeners, it’s Rob Zombie.
We enjoy Zombie’s particular knack with casting. His giddy affection for horror and other cult film genres is on full display with every minor and major piece of casting in every film, and for that reason alone, true horror fans must enjoy his work. On the other hand, his greatest successes – Halloween, for instance – are often his worst films.
Though The Devil’s Rejects is a very fine genre effort, his version of Halloween was nothing more than an arrogant correction of John Carpenter’s genre classic, and the very polarizing Lords of Salem was his ill-aimed attempt to model classic Italian horror.
2. M. Night Shyamalan
Shyamalan is clearly not known solely for horror, but he’s a tremendously polarizing filmmaker who dabbles in horror. His The Sixth Sense was not only nominated for two Oscars (directing and writing), but it was one of the most popular films of 1999. The filmmaker went on to write and direct his personal masterpiece, Unbreakable, followed by another wonderful effort, Signs, before bottoming out completely.
For the next 13 years, Shyamalan did little more than embarrass himself. But just this year he made a humble but genuine comeback with The Visit – a return to his twist ending horror shows. It’s a modest film, but refreshingly lacking the pretentiousness that has marked most of Shyamalan’s work in the last decade and a half.
Though definitely flawed, the film boasts a fine cast, a lot of creepy tension, and the kind of twist ending you should have seen coming but simply did not. That is, it marks a return to form, however low key, for a filmmaker that seemed to have all the promise in the world before he lost his way.
1. Eli Roth
There was a thread about The Green Inferno on Bridget’s Killumbus Horror facebook page that just about broke the internet. Bridget had to remove it, not because those posting were being too hostile toward Roth, but because the comments turned a bit vitriolic toward other posters. This is a guy people love to love and love to hate.
We have to admit that we’re in Camp 2. Though both Hostel and Hostel 2 are decent efforts, Roth is a filmmaker whose timing is far superior to his actual talent. Hostel was released at a time when the world was just beginning to understand that torture was now actually on the table as an acceptable, even encouraged, strategy. Roth’s film tapped into the zeitgeist – forgive our pretentious vocabulary – and spawned a decade of horror porn followers.
But Roth has struggled to follow the popularity of his torture porn epics, and recent efforts like Knock Knock and The Green Inferno, attempts to push the genre envelope, come off more as neutered versions of Seventies films.
Join us next week as filmmaker Jaston Tostevin helps us count down the best horror films of 2015. Until then, stay frightful, my friends.
Rob Zombie returns to film after a blessed hiatus with the hot mess Lords of Salem. In it, Zombie’s talentless wife Sheri Moon Zombie plays a radio DJ haunted by Salem’s past.
Try to ignore the ludicrous radio station situation: Boston’s most popular DJs are actually based at a Salem station. Sure, they’re patterned after a hyperbolic morning show – sound effects and all – even though they appear to be a nighttime program. They also play no music save snippets of hardcore weirdness, but I’m sure that’s the kind of thing a major market really goes for.
What can’t be ignored is Zombie’s mishmash of horror gimmicks, recalling Kubrick and Argento as well as the slew of witch films popular in the late Sixties and early Seventies. This is not a knock, really. It’s Zombie’s overt fandom that has defined his directorial style since his first film. But don’t recall Kubrick unless your film can stand up to the comparison. Lords of Salem cannot.
Overly designed sets and loads of disturbing nudity hope to draw your attention away from weak dialogue, weaker plotting, ridiculous acting and general pointlessness. More than anything, though, the film is dull – just a whole lot of nothing really happening. A lot to look at, but no action at all.
Just Sheri Moon Zombie and her acting prowess. Yeah, that’s really scarier than anything the film does intentionally.