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Saturday, September 3, 2016

HORROR DOUBLE-FEATURE REVIEW: 31 & BLAIR WITCH

This week I was able to attend to very special screenings of two upcoming horror movies. The first being Blair Witch (2016) and then Rob Zombie's '31' (2016).Both of these movies are highly anticipated in the horror movie and while I was able to get free admission to 'Blair Witch' I did purchase a ticket for a one-night special sneak preview screening of'31'.

Blair Witch is essentially a remake/reboot, which are usually hit and miss within the realm of horror movies. Set in 2014, it references the events in the original The Blair Witch Project (1999) when the character James (James Allen McCune) has been searching for his missing sister Heather since the original tape was found almost 17 years ago. When coming across found footage on the Internet supposedly of his sister, he and his friends confront the Lane, the one who found it and convince him and his girlfriend to lead back them into the Black Hills Forest to find Heather. Obviously unaware of how really bad an idea this is, and equipped with a handheld Digital HD camera, this group of young people ventures into the woods anyway. As you can expect, they get lost,  despite the availability of a GPS device and even a remote control drone equipped with a web-cam. One by one James' friends are separated along with Lane and his girlfriend Talia encountering supposed supernatural sounds and voices and various warnings from the ever-present wooden figures tied to the trees.
This more modern incarnation of Blair Witch Project depends mostly on the fame and mystique created by the original film which became such a groundbreaking horror film 20 years ago. Although panned by critics for it's amateur production and vomit-inducing shaky camera it nevertheless began the new sub-genre of horror/suspense in the "found-footage" film, which has become prevalent in many recent movies such as the Paranormal Activity franchise and Cloverfield (2008). While the premise of Blair Witch in that how does James expect to find evidence of his sister still in the woods after 17 years is somewhat far fetched, the movie does have some significantly frightening moments. While the inclusion of 21st century technology really doesn't add much to the story except as shallow plot points and instead replacing a lost map with a lost GPS signal.The drone shots make for some interesting shots as we see just how huge this forest really is and adds to the overall theme of isolation. Without really giving away any spoilers I will say that the few glimpses of what we can only assume is in fact the Blair Witch are truly terrifying. All in all, this is an interesting movie but not as original, yet it lets us forget the total train-wreck of a movie that was Book of Shadows: Blair With 2 (2000). On a side note the special screening I attended at the Angelika in Dallas was a wonderfully interactive experience with help from costumed performers from Dark House Haunted House in Plano complete with fog machines and creepy red lighting to add a little ambiance to the show.

I have been a big fan of Rob Zombie since first hearing White Zombie's "Astro Creep: 2000" (1995) while in high school. Then having followed his solo music career since the release of Hellbilly Deluxe (1998) and his promising film career beginning with his first horror movie House of 1,000 Corpses (2003). Burgeoning out of his experience in directing his own music videos, he developed a style all his own which to his fans has only increased his popularity but critically he has met with box-office failures and commercial setbacks. After his two remakes of the Halloween horror movie franchise (Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009), his last film Lords of Salem (2012) was a major flop with both audiences and fans (read my review). His latest venture into the extreme-horror genre comes the most brutally, ultra-violent, exploitative horror movie I have ever seen! This is Rob Zombie's '31'.
Set on Halloween, 1976, while on a rural Texas road, a group of five carnies are kidnapped and forced to play a sadistic game of cat-and-mouse in a so-called "Murderworld" where they must survive for 12 hours. The ringleaders of this psycho-circus is known only as Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell) and his two female companions, Sister Dragon and Serpent,  dressed in gaudy French aristocratic costumes straight out of Versailles. Among the murderous-maniacs are a group of six lazily-named, psychopathic, killer clowns. The first being a vulgar, Spanish-speaking, Neo-Nazi, knife-wielding, midget (no joke!) named Sick-Head (Pancho Moler), who then proceeds to kill them off one-one until there is only one survivor. The final adversary is a pretentious, white-faced,  masochist named Doom-Head (Richard Brake) with a unusually sick-sense of fair-play.
The movie features much of the similar music-video style of visuals Rob Zombie has been known for. With a survival-horror theme similar to the Saw series, the story has somewhat of a slow start with a bizarre monologue from the character of Doom-Head as he is about to mutilate his latest victim before we are even aware of what's going on, which presents a very disturbing, albeit apologetic, first-hand view of his twisted philosophy as if we were the one about to be brutally killed. Although effective, it is both confusing and presumptive. The one major flaw in all of Rob Zombie's films (and most music videos) is his inclusion of his wife, former model and dancer Sheri Moon-Zombie, While Sheri has often been featured prominently in many of his works first as the maniacal 'Baby' in House of 1,000 Corpses, Sheri has gone on to appear in every one of his films becoming more and more of a central character including her part as Deborah Myers, Michael Myers' mom, in both Halloween and Halloween II. As the main character of Heidi Hawthorne in Lords of Salem, most audiences and critics agree that Sheri is not leading lady material however this doesn't stop Zombie from casting her in more and bigger parts like he's Roman Polanski or Luc Besson. Also his tendency to cast has-been (but still classy) actor Malcolm McDowell in everything as well. It would be a surprise if Zombie didn't feature both actors in his next project.
While '31' is a fast-paced, gut-wrenching murder-fest, there is little substance or story to speak of. There is very little information regarding why or even how these people continue to wage their little Halloween game of death every year as there is obviously not much chance at survival for any of them. There is even a debate between the Father and Sisters waging on the incredible odds of survival so far as 1,000,000 to 1 for one of them! It's like if C-3PO was a serial-killer instead of a droid telling us the odds of survival! It is curious that Zombie seems to be deviating from his originality again by  embracing the trends with recent killer-clown movies such as John Watt's Clown and the upcoming remake of Stephen King's IT.v With it's strange, abrupt ending, this movie left me drained and confused and concern for the future of Rob Zombie's films.