Rob Zombie’s retro, faux grindhouse splatterfest is undeniable, unmistakable Zombie.

Say what you will about the cinematic results of Rob Zombie’s crowdfunded, Halloween set splatter-piece, “31,” but whether you love it or hate it (and chances are you already know which camp you’ll fall into before you even see it), you can’t deny the signature auteur stylings of the film.

No one could have made “31” other than Rob Zombie.

Five middle aged carnies on vacation in their carny RV are traveling across the country hitting roadside attractions from coast to coast when they are accosted by a cabal of sinister clowns on Halloween night in 1976 and forced to play a game of 31 for their lives. The game of 31, a variation of “The Most Dangerous Game,” is apparently run by a syndicate of stuffy old white people in Victorian wigs and powder makeup led by Malcom McDowall who wager on the odds of survival of their captives.

The captive carnies, including Zombie’s wife and frequent star, Sheri Moon Zombie, must survive 12 hours while being hunted by a series of psycho clowns who want to carve them into little pieces for the amusement of their employers.

31,” which was crowdfunded online and released by a media company best known for “Power Rangers,” probably has the lowest budget Zombie has ever worked with and it shows in the impoverished set design and claustrophobic digital camera work which seems to have been edited by a meth addict on a bi-polar manic episode.

Accompanied by a script that seems written by a 15 year old sniffing glue, “31” has some of the worst dialogue ever typed onto a computer screen that ever made it to the final draft of a screenplay and ended up on the silver screen.

It’s really that bad. Really. I got the impression, however, that it was supposed to be that bad. As the audience at Tinseltown’s one-night-only screening howled with laughter at seemingly inappropriate moments, I began to suspect that Zombie was trolling us all and that “31” was a stiff middle finger to all those spoiled movie geeks out there who expect horror films to actually be good.

Zombie is attempting to re-imagine the sleazy, sometimes insane, sometimes incompetent cinema of the independent studios making films for the drive-in movie circuit in the late 60’s and throughout the 1970’s. This is Zombie’s approximation of the lurid grindhouse trash he saw from the back of his parent’s station wagon at the drive-in as a kid.

But it’s very much distilled through the singular prism of Zombie’s brain. The first killer clown unleashed on our heroes is a midget, clown-faced Hitler who speaks Italian! That’s just something you don’t see in a Spielberg film.

Besides buckets of blood, “31” does have one thing going for it that I can enthusiastically champion and his name is Richard Brake. As the professional psychopath that you call when all other psychopaths have let you down, Brake plays a sadistic killer known as Doom Head. Don’t call him a clown. Zombie manages to coax a sweaty toothed, oozing, boiling, barely contained powder keg of a performance out of Brake that will likely turn him into a horror icon in the same way that he did for Sid Haig and Bill Moseley in “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects.”

The biggest hurdle “31” has to overcome is the same one that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez had to overcome with “Grindhouse” (2007). It’s not as easy as it looks to create a cult, midnight movie. Most of the genre’s beloved “so bad they’re good” movies became cult films by accident and not by design. With “31,” Zombie appears to be trying to consciously deliver a film so wonky in the acting, story and production departments that it defies critical assessment.

Indeed, it has defeated me! Hardcore Zombie fans will eat it up. Everyone else need not apply.

The Phantom of The Ville

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