A group of carnival workers are travelling in their van on Halloween morning 1976 when they are captured by a group of mysterious people and are then forced to play a "Running Man"-esque survival game called "31" (after the date). The aim of the game is to survive for 12 hours while battling murderous, torture-obsessed maniacs with clown paint on, wielding weapons. The game appears to be for the amusement (and gambling interests) of a group of madcap aristocrats lead by Malcolm McDowell.
The film has the same chaotic feeling that most of Rob Zombie's film enjoy with sudden scenes of violence split by scenes of random banter between the characters. However, the overall effect is less easy to follow than his previous films with a major flaw for me being there were so many characters to begin with, especially since it became apparent that a lot of these characters weren't required and are quickly lost in the confusing capture scene. There wasn't enough personality built up around these surplus characters to make them an emotional loss either, so I didn't feel their demise to be of any significance.
The settings are familiar: dusty back roads of America, big empty warehouse... The jump from one to the other is jarring and seems almost like 2 separate films. Zombie has also paid homage to Rocky Horror, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other genre favourites, but some scenes seem more like replication than actual homage.
The action and kill scenes are good viewing, but our protagonists leap a little too easily into the roles of survival killing machines against supposed professional maniacs. The villains are colourful but would have benefited from some more screen time.
I did really enjoy main villain, Doom Head (Richard Brake), who, although very chatty, had a really effective menace to his character on top of being very violent and giving a good monologue.
As did Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects", "31" features a good group of familiar and established cult and genre faces including Meg Foster (she of the mesmerising eyes in "They Live" and more recently, "Pretty Little Liars") amongst a cast of many others. The acting is good, but the style of scripting sometimes makes the aforementioned banter seem less comfortable between characters.
All in all, it will certainly not be overtaking "House of 1000 Corpses" as my favourite Rob Zombie film and suffers from a few pitfalls, but it had the gore and action to bring it back.
[Image: Bow + Arrow Entertainment, et al]