You get what you expect with a Rob Zombie movie in ’31’

Rob Zombie is the first to point out his movies are not for everybody, nor do they necessarily have any redeeming social value. They are what hard core fans of horror demand: uncompromising brutality in their depiction of violence and terror.

Zombie set the tone with his first two movies, “House of 1,000 Corpses” (2003) and its followup, “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005). Then he applied that same vision in his remakes of “Halloween” and “Halloween 2.” He expects and accepts the various responses to his movies: some love them, others are ambivalent, and still others are appalled.

In “31,” Zombie’s first film since “The Lords of Salem” (2012), is yet another exploration of the dark underbelly of the human psyche — an ability to have so little regard for others’ lives and subject people to cruelty, terror and death.

As usual, Sheri Moon Zombie, Rob’s wife, has a pivotal starring role in “31,” playing Charly, one of a group of carnival workers on the road in their colorfully designed but beat up van. It is Halloween 1976 and as darkness sets, their progress on a remote rural road is impeded by what look like scarecrows. Upon investigating, they are attacked. Two of them are killed and the remaining five are kidnapped and taken to an abandoned warehouse.

There they encounter three people, adorned in powdered wigs and looking like they came right out of the aristocratic 1600s. These three — Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell), Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson) and Sister Serpent (Jane Carr) — inform the five what they are about to endure. For the next 12 hours, they will be pursued by various killer clowns. Each one is given odds on surviving, and they are not promising.

The five are  then separated, forcing them to try to get back together if they want to pool their resources (they are each given a weapon) in a battle to survive. The only other woman in the group is Venus Virgo (Meg Foster) while the men consist of Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips), Panda (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) and Levon (Kevin Jackson).

A signature of Zombie movies is that the villains/killers often are more colorful than the victims. This certainly is the case with the stalker/killers in “31.” Standing out is the first predator, Sick Head (Pancho Moler) a portable pack of lethal power with a swastika tattooed on his chest and a chillingly gleeful mocking style.

So the game begins and it is now a matter of who, if anyone, will survive, and the only guarantee is that the audience will get an unblinking view of the carnage.

Zombie saves the best for last when Father Murder summons Doom Head, the baddest of the bad. The viewers already have seen Doom Head (Richard Brake) in a pre-credits scene in which he torments his victim with a monologue of dire philosophical gems before committing the murder. Included in these sayings is the chuckle-inducing “In Hell, everybody loves popcorn.”

While “31” is not on par with his first two movies, now  considered classics of the ultra-explicit genre of horror movies, familiar elements of Zombie films, including almost artfully choreographed mayhem, are in place. They are not for the squeamish, nor are they for people who like happy endings.

“All Through the House” has successful festival run before its release on various platforms

Some of us enjoy accentuating the joyful holiday season by digesting Christmas-themed horror movies. “Silent Night Deadly Night” (1984) certainly was a pacesetter in making this possible, and excitement has to be running high, not only with “Krampus” now available on home-viewing platforms, but with “All Through the House” following up its award-winning journey on the festival circuit with an Oct. 4 release.

“All Through the House,” written and directed by Todd Nunes, is a throwback to the 1980s slasher movies and has proven it meets all the objectives of this genre, having netted the Best Slasher award while also being voted the Audience Choice Award at the R.I.P. horror film festival.

The movie starts out with a simple premise. During a holiday season in Napa, Calif., a crazed person decked out in a Santa Claus outfit and wearing a hideous mask, is moving house to house and using a pair of hedge shears to slaughter victims who, naturally, are primed to enjoy some yuletide sex. As we all know, in films such as these, frisky people are doomed.

Returning to her hometown of Napa while on a holiday break from college is Rachel Kimmel (Ashley Mary Nunes, Todd’s sister). Although her only family here is her wheelchair-bound grandmother Abby (Cathy Garrett), Rachel has made plans to meet up with friends Gia (Natalie Montera) and Sarah (Danica Riner) and go Christmas shopping.

Meanwhile, a neighbor is Mrs Garrett (Melynda Kiring), an ultimate tragic figure. Now living alone, Mrs Garrett has been dealing for 15 years with the mysterious disappearance of her daughter Jamie, reportedly snatched from her bedroom one night. As if this is not enough to merit her great sympathy, she seems a little off her rocker. She has several mannequins inside her home, all dressed up, and uses a couple of them as stand-ins for what used to be her family. Plus, she reenacts a dinner scene with one mannequin posing as her daughter and another as her husband. The scenario she concocts is anything but domestic bliss as she somehow feels compelled to re-experience some dark and rocky moments of her life.

The question that naturally comes to mind is whether there is a link between the sad Mrs. Garrett and the brutal Santa-costumed killer roaming the neighborhood.

Mrs. Garrett had sent Rachel a letter, asking the young woman to stop by and help her finish decorating her house for the holidays. Rachel, too nice to blow this off, decides to recruit Gia and Sarah to help her assist Mrs. Garrett.

Thus all the pieces are aligned for the inevitable violence that will explode upon Rachel and her pals. Meanwhile, bits and pieces of information are revealed, adding a few twists as Rachel is thrust into the Final Girl mode.

The Best Slasher nod given to “All Through the House” is well earned. The blood and gore are ample as well as particular acts of horror that will have viewers squirming.

Ashley Mary Nunes delivers in the pivotal role as Rachel, the all-around sweet young woman thrown into dire situations. And Kiring nicely paces her performance, building up to a nuttiness that fortifies an already natural inclination to be wary of eccentric but seemingly harmless older ladies living alone.

“Morgan” takes a look at science gone awry

While Dr. Frankenstein learned the hard way about the pitfalls of trying to create human life without using the natural reproductive processes, science still seems to want to pursue this. Advancements in genetics make it seem all too real that soon, humans will be manufactured, and fine-tuned, rather than conceived.

This has provided fodder for cautionary science-fiction / horror films for years. On the heels of the fine “Ex Machina” is “Morgan,” another story about a scientific effort to create the perfect being.

In a lab fortressed on a remote property, a group of scientists seemingly have made a breakthrough in creating a female humanoid they have named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) whose physical, and more importantly, intelligent development have been rapid and promising. But an unexpected and terrifying attack on one of the staffers, Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh), by Morgan leads the vast corporation financing this project to send out a risk-management consultant, Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), to assess the incident and determine whether or not to terminate Morgan and the project.

Naturally, the scientists on location, led by Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones) and Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), greet Weathers guardedly. It does not help that Weathers presents the stereotypical expectations of a corporate drone: cold, efficient, bottom-line orientated, stoic.

A gruff psychological analyst, Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti), also is brought in to interview Morgan. When that turns out to be disastrous, Dr. Cheng concedes with Weathers’ conclusion that Morgan be terminated.

There is a problem, however. All the staffers have grown fond of Morgan, who in her quieter moments really is a sweet and smart girl. But another problem is that during his brutal questioning of Morgan, Dr. Shapiro planted some ideas in Morgan’s mind that puts everybody in peril except for the behavioral scientist, Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie from “Game of Thrones” and “Downton Abbey”), with whom Morgan has developed an emotional bonding.

This all leads to bloody confrontations and a twist that may surprise some viewers, but not all.

“Morgan” was directed by Luke Scott, son of Ridley Scott, and he appears to have inherited some of his father’s keen abilities to inject humanity into the characters and then hold just a little bit back so the viewer is riveted to the end.

Particularly effective are Mara, almost chilling in her relentless determination to get the job done, regardless of the emotional repercussions; and Taylor-Joy, whose Morgan can be wide-eyed and brimming with innocence and a desire to take in the world, yet can turn lethal at a second’s notice. These two characters form the core of the movie and they succeed and getting the viewer drawn in.

 

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