(US - 2016)
Written and directed by Rob Zombie. Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Jane Carr, Richard Brake, Lew Temple, Daniel Roebuck, Pancho Moler, David Ury, Torsten Voges, E.G. Daily, Esperanza America, Andrea Dora, Michael "Redbone" Alcott, Tracey Walter, Ginger Lynn Allen, Devin Sidell. (R, 103 mins)
Earlier this year, critic/blogger Jason Coffman wrote a fascinating piece about horror fandom that went viral and quite frankly deserves a Pulitzer. It was filled with things that needed to be said, such as, in no uncertain terms, that horror fans are the worst. Of course, that's a gross generalization on my part that wasn't exactly Coffman's central thesis, but he questioned why a very vocal contingent of horror fans--he called them the "gatekeepers"--had such vehemently negative reactions to thoughtful, serious horror films that received significant accolades from critics outside of horror circles. The piece was written specifically in response to audiences turning on THE WITCH, but it also referenced similarly acclaimed offerings like THE BABADOOK and IT FOLLOWS. To reject original, thought-provoking films that fall in the horror realm, to question their genre validity because they've been praised by those outside the insulated horror bubble, Coffman posited, is to "reinforce the image of the 'horror fan' as a slack-jawed dullard whose only interests are sex and gore."
classic. But after 16 years and with six feature films under his belt, shouldn't there be some kind of progress by now? I'll give Zombie props where it's due: his second film, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, is his masterpiece, a definitive mission statement that melded the '70s aesthetic of Tobe Hooper and hillbilly horror with the operatically bloody ferocity of Sam Peckinpah. It's foul, it's vile, it's difficult to watch--and it's incredibly powerful and an unforgettable experience. And Zombie's never come close to it since. His entire filmmaking career seems to be an endless, circle-jerking tribute to 1986's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. His 2007 remake of HALLOWEEN is a disjointed fusion of his usual hicksploitation horror before shifting gears to became a condensed, pointless remake of the 1978 original, while the less said about his 2009 HALLOWEEN II, the better. 2013's THE LORDS OF SALEM was ultimately a misfire that lost its way as it devolved into sub-Jodorowsky shock imagery, but it had a weird '70s Satanism vibe going on, like 1973's MESSIAH OF EVIL if directed by Stanley Kubrick. It wasn't a success, but Zombie was at least making a concerted effort to work outside of his comfort zone for the majority of the film.
WELCOME BACK KOTTER 40 years ago, here playing Panda, one of the doomed carnies. It's nice to see Hilton-Jacobs again, but it's too bad he's using an overdone Jamaican accent that renders most of his dialogue unintelligible. You'll wish more of the dialogue was unintelligible when you see Foster (as carny Venus Virgo) gesticulating around her crotch and saying "fucky fucky fucky, juicy juicy juicy, money money money" and witness this enlightening conversation between carny Levon (Kevin Jackson) and a cackling Sick-Head (note: transcription double-checked for accuracy):
Levon: "Fuck you."
Sick-Head: "Fuck you!"
Levon: "Fuck you!"
Sick-Head: "FUCK YOU!"
Levon: "FUCK YOU!!"
Sick-Head: "FUCK YOU!!!"
"Walk Away"). If you're one of the Rob Zombie gatekeepers, then you decided this "fuckin' ruled" before he even started filming. 31 is for you. Go enjoy yourself. You've seen it all before--and better--but hey, this is what you wanted.