It is probably safe to say that the MPAA is not a huge fan of Rob Zombie. From House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, to Halloween and The Lords Of Salem – the organization that exists to label movies according to age-appropriate content is always bound to struggle with work produced by an artist whose film work tests the boundaries of brutality and depictions of suffering. His latest project, 31, is proving to be no exception, as the MPAA has apparently assigned it an NC-17 rating, twice.
31 is a characterized as a horror-thriller and would appear to take elements of films like Saw, The Hunger Games, and anything with clowns in it, and combine them to create something altogether darker, and more disturbing.
“Five carnival workers are kidnapped the night before Halloween and held hostage in a large, secret compound known as Murder World, where they have 12 hours to survive a game called 31, in which murderous maniacs dressed as clowns are released to hunt them down and kill them.”
With the knowledge of that premise, and the fact that it is executed by Rob Zombie, an observer of the situation might be forgiven for finding the NC-17 unsurprising. However, 31 is partially crowdfunded, and, as he commented in 2014, Rob Zombie clearly has those supportive fans in mind as he does the required dance with the MPAA.
“…without fans raising funds and helping to build buzz, a crazy film like this would have been almost impossible to get off the ground. I owe the fans big time on this one.”
Skip forward to today, and the filmmaker’s frustration at the ratings process is obvious.
“Well, after two tries at through the MPAA, our rating on 31 remains NC-17. Maybe three is the charm to get an R rating. Why R, you ask? Well, because your local theatre will not show an NC-17. Even though you are a… adult… things must be censored for your enjoyment.”
This statement is interesting for three reasons. Firstly, Rob Zombie has clearly been re-editing his film according to MPAA guidance to reduce the amount of disturbing stuff in it and achieve an R rating, and he has submitted it to the organization for review twice.
Will he try a third time? It seems like a likely route for him, because of the second interesting point, which is that Rob Zombie holds his audience in such high regard. For him, fans have contributed to the project financially, and so, of course, he wants them to be able to see it in cinemas. If that means compromising to an extent to appease the MPAA, then he appears to be willing to try, at least. Whether the MPAA ultimately relents is another question.
At the present time, 31 is scheduled to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23rd, 2016, but it is access for the wider fandom that is giving Rob Zombie cause for concern. This concern highlights the problem with the current theatrical system – whereby the availability of films is essentially determined by the large chain cinemas. Increasingly, we can only see films at the cinema that cinema chains make room for and, arguably, this is why the move toward same-day releases on streaming channels such as Netflix is such a contentious issue. In that respect, Rob Zombie is making a very important point about the film distribution model as a whole – just by talking about 31.