After Lords of Salem all but failed for Rob Zombie, getting fresh financing became a problem. The appetite for hyper-violent horror was diminishing and the people willing to fork out to see the film – especially internationally where a lot of independent horror, not just Zombie’s movies were struggling to get distribution – were getting fewer and further between. So instead of fighting the system, the rocker decided the best way to finance his new film was via crowdfunding.
Somewhere around 2014, after the director was done putting together The Zombie Horror Picture Show – a release not covered here because, well directed by Zombie or not, it is a live gig DVD – the director started teasing his next project. A black one sheet with a bloody clown face on it left fans salivating, hoping for a follow up to The Devil’s Rejects. Ideas were flowing, the clown – oddly reminiscent of young Michael’s in the director’s Halloween reboot – brought up ideas of a third Halloween film.
“I ain’t no fuckin’ clown!”
Sadistic as he is, Zombie left it three months until he jumped in with a few details and debunked the theories that had taken on lives of their own (a Rejects spin-off following Spaulding was my personal favourite and real hope). Including one that came out of nowhere that it was going to be the IT remake!
Using the, now defunct, fanbacked.com crowdfunding platform, Zombie offered fans the opportunity to chip in to the production costs of the film. In true Kickstarter fashion, there was an array of tiers that fans could jump in at, from $50 for a signed DVD once the film was released to a $300 tier that would see fans followed on Twitter by Rob himself (yes, really). But whether or not those tiers were good was immaterial when the film made its required budget in record time. 31 was one of the most successful crowdfunded film budgets ever, and Zombie got extra cash to make more of the film when enough fans cried out for the opportunity to throw into the pot that a second round of funding was run.
Based almost exclusively on a random statistic that Zombie read once that stated that “Halloween is the number one day of the year when people go missing for some reason”, 31 sees a van full of carnies kidnapped and thrown into a deadly game of cat and mouse for the amusement of the wealthy people watching it. Think the purge parties held by the elites in the first Purge sequel.
31 stars Sheri Moon Zombie (of course) as Charly, one of the friends grabbed in the night and dragged into the game. Along with Jeff Daniel Philips, Meg Foster and Laurence Hilton-Jacobs, she is chained up and pushed into a in a ruined building with a horde of murderous clowns chasing them. All overseen by three aristocratic looking crazies, played by Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson and Jane Carr, the maze is a 12 hour nightmare for the friends who need to survive this Halloween night.
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Of course, that is wholly unlikely with the super-colourful selection of killers roaming the halls. These characters are the reason 31 is worth spending time with, because it’s a tiny glimpse into Rob Zombie’s mind when he isn’t hamstrung by studios and contracts and what not. This definitely needs a list.
First, Sick-Head. Played by Pancho Moler – a man once credited in an episode of American Horror Story as “evil dwarf” – Sick-Head is a Spanish speaking, Hitler ‘tache wearing, Nazi midget clown with a penchant for knives. If this doesn’t sell you on 31, I’m not sure what will.
Then, we get Sex-Head and Death-Head. A bloodthirsty pair that complement each other perfectly. Sex-Head, played by Elizabeth Daily, is a little clown in a nurse’s outfit, out to kick some arse. With her partner/protector Death-Head (Torsten Voges) hulking over her, dressed like the lead singer of a Rammstein tribute band, he’s one hell of a terrifying image. Schizo-Head and Psycho-Head (David Ury and Lew Temple, respectively) are a couple of chainsaw-wielding clowns with a dark love for sexually assaulting their victims.
And finally, the star of the show, is Richard Brake as Doom-Head: the truly psychotic one in this bunch, scary in his gimmick of not having a gimmick. He’s the one the aristocrats call when the clock is running out and blood needs to spill. A personality you’d never want to cross in a dark alley, or a well lit street. Or even a beautiful lavender-filled field. Or anywhere, really. Doom-head is 31’s stand out bad-ass, earning Brake not just a spot on the cast of the upcoming 3 From Hell, but a spot on the one-sheet.
“You know what they say, kemosabe, in Hell, everybody loves popcorn.”
Filming 31 was done within a tight two months after beginning in March 2014 and wrapping in April. The heavy metal filmmaker took to his usual lengthy post-production schedule. It was yet another Rob Zombie film plagued by an inability to get an R rating without some cuts, but 31 was a perfect midnight film when it premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in January 2016. 31 spent the summer of 2016 hitting the festival circuit – including getting its UK premier at London’s FrightFest – and landed in theatres for a limited run that September going to VOD worldwide on the same day.
Sadly, 31 was relatively poorly received. It was a film designed solely for fans of Rob Zombie’s filmography, but with little in the way of real originality it struggled to make any money. But as disappointing as it was for fans to see Zombie’s latest tank, it did eventually lead to the filmmaker heading back to the dance that brought him here, the Firefly family.
Now, there’s nothing left to do but sit down and wait for 3 From Hell.
READ MORE: The Road to 3 From Hell…