31

2 out of 5

Directed by: Rob Zombie

I appreciate those who appreciate this movie.  There’s a consensus among those with a positive take on it that A. it’s a Rob Zombie movie and B. it’s not the best Rob Zombie movie.  Meaning that if A. isn’t a selling point for you, then B. won’t help to make the film stand out all that much.  And if you’re going into it blind, well, it can be a bit of a churn.

Gather several unlikable types – lots of swearing, lots of bickering, lots of excess – and put them in a travelin’ van and make the setting the 70s because you obviously love Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  On Halloween, said van is stopped by some occulty lookin’ roadblock, and the passengers kidnapped and put into an underground “game” called 31, run by some Victorian-era dressups who’re betting on your survival against killers with names like Psycho-Head, Sex-Head, etc., most of whom wear clown makeup.  Fanciful kills and gore can save simplistic affairs like this, and, unfortunately, we don’t really get there until we’re well into the movie – our first -Head villain is dispatched rather easily (and visually cheaply), and Zombie’s reliance on extreme shaky cam and closeups on his high-contrast makeup and lighting for “grit” make the thing look and feel like the low budget affair that it is.  Ho hum, I says, looking to see that there’s still, like, an hour left.  But after a pause between killers, a nice quirk is tossed in there to keep our ‘heroes’ on their toes (or their knees, retching), and thereafter the movie picks up somewhat, keeping things moving, with some slightly more interesting locales and better kills.

It’s ultimately rather repetitive and video gamey – each -Head is a ‘boss’; each boss takes place on a ‘stage’ – and I’m not sure I buy into the political commentary the Ebert review read into this, as the movie just feels like a variant on House of 1000 Corpses, but once you give yourself over to the nature of the flick as pure indulgence in what Zombie wanted to create, it drags acceptably by on its own kooky, crass energy.