Rob Zombie returns with another lurid thriller that attempts to trade more on its vulgar “qualities” than any particular visceral appeal. The end result isn’t only surprisingly tame but also rarely rises above watchably mediocre.
On Halloween 1976, a group of carnival workers are attacked, kidnapped and set loose in a fight-to-survive game at the behest of Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder (Malcolm McDowell), the leader of a group of maybe-aristocrats who pay to watch their hapless victims slink around a warehouse for 12 hours, facing off against an array of demented killers.
It’s a pretty basic, Running Man-lite premise, but a director like Zombie could, in theory, deliver on the ferocious brutality of such a concept. Unfortunately, though, this really feels like the Devils Rejects filmmaker at his most wheel-spinning, making fairly middling use of his usual tropes – including his shoehorned wife Sheri Moon, who plays the protagonist – while surprisingly cutting away from much of the graphic violence.
Most infuriating of all, though, is Zombie’s baffling deference towards shaky cam, such that the majority of the action – of which there’s a considerable amount – is scarcely comprehensible. There’s no discernible reason for it beyond wanting to cut corners and obscure the “seams” of the fighting on a low budget, as well as save cash on elaborate gore effects. Given the crowd he plays to, that’s tremendously disappointing.
On the other hand, it is sporadically tense, and there’s a terrific performance from Richard Brake as the demented antagonist Doom-Head, even if his appearances only bookends the movie. The middle where he is absent, unfortunately, is less-assured, recycling a repetitive conveyor-belt of painted crazies and only-kinda-gruesome slaughter. At least Malcolm McDowell pops up every so often and is compulsively watchable by his sheer baffling presence alone.
It’s inoffensive enough…which is kind of the problem here. It’s certainly not a terrible film by any means, but hardcore fans of Zombie deserve much better, given how stultifyingly innocuous and lacking in fresh ideas this comes across. The ending in particular is liable to leave a good portion of the gorehounds flipping over furniture.
31 is available now on VOD