31 (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: NC-17 for Sadistic Graphic Violence, Bizarre Sexuality/Nudity, Pervasive Disturbing Images and some Strong Language

31 poster

Directed by: Rob Zombie

Written by: Rob Zombie

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson, Jane Carr, Elizabeth Daily, Torsten Voges, Lew Temple, David Ury, Richard Brake, Meg Foster, Ginger Lynn & Sheri Moon Zombie

Rob Zombie is a polarizing figure in the horror genre. Some people love his 70’s grindhouse style and ridiculous amounts of excess, while others think that he’s a hack who should just keep to music. I fall on the former side of this. Aside from his two HALLOWEEN installments, I haven’t actively disliked anything that Zombie has done as a filmmaker. I thought HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES was wildly weird entertainment and DEVIL’S REJECTS remains my favorite film of his thus far. I even dug the hell out of LORDS OF SALEM (which was far more restrained and atmospherically different from anything Zombie had previously attempted). 31 is Rob Zombie’s version of THE RUNNING MAN and it’s a mixed bag. There are definitely shining moments in this film, but the rest of it seems half-assed and shoddily put together.

31 1

It’s Halloween and a van of carnies are traveling to their next gig. Everything seems to be going smoothly until they find themselves abducted by a group of masked psychos. These five carnies have been snatched up by three insane aristocrats who are hosting their annual game of madness and bloodshed. The game is called “31” and the kidnapped carnies are its latest players. Locked in an underground hellhole, the desperate group find themselves trapped in a life-or-death fight against a gang of murderous clowns.

31 2

The plot for 31 is simple and to-the-point. However, one might argue that it’s a little too simple as we don’t get adequate time to develop the characters. It’s not like Rob Zombie immediately throws these carnies into the bloody game of clown carnage. No, instead he treats us to a painfully awkward van scene that’s made entirely of these profanity-spewing rednecks telling dirty jokes to one another…and then throws them into the bloody game of clown carnage. That’s the most development we get for these protagonists. I wasn’t expecting brilliant writing, but it would certainly help if I cared about the victims competing in this violent game. Instead of knowing who these characters are, all I know is that they’re foul-mouthed carnies who like sex, smoke pot, and are only here to die. They also make frustratingly clichéd decisions, such as splitting up and not checking to see whether the knife-wielding lunatic they knocked over the head with a bat is dead or not.

31 3

Zombie has never quite had the talent for writing solid good guys to root for and usually shines when it comes to his villains. I was expecting somewhat of the same here, especially seeing that “31” contains six psycho clowns and three insane rich folks betting on the madness. The bad guys here are a bit of a mixed bag too, much like the rest of the movie. While Malcolm McDowell certainly has a strong screen presence as Father Murder, his storyline is left unresolved by the wayside. The clowns themselves are mostly entertaining to watch, with two exceptions.

31 4

This movie could have excised Sick-Head (a Nazi-obsessed Mexican midget) and Death-Head (a bland German guy in a tutu) and been all the better for it. Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head (armed with chainsaws) both get the perfect amount of screen time, while Sex-Head deserved a few extra scenes (she seemed to have the most unique personality of the bunch). Meanwhile, Richard Brake (who previously played the ambulance driver in Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN II) absolutely shines as Doom-Head. Every time that Brake’s well-spoken Doom-Head is on the screen, 31 soars to a great level of filmmaking. Brake’s scenes also showcase how awesome 31 could have been, if this intense level of twisted cat-and-mouse had been maintained for the entire running time.

31 5

The set design for 31 should be praised as the hellish underground labyrinth makes for an interesting location. There is also plenty of grime and gore to spare. However, a big complaint comes in Zombie’s totally unnecessary use of shaky-cam and quick editing. There are a handful of potentially great scenes that are compromised by the camera shaking every which way or flashing a strobe light directly onto the screen. One key moment in particular (involving chainsaws and severed body parts) is rendered damn near incomprehensible due to frenetic camera work and a frustrating amount of quick editing. If this is the NC-17 version, I want to know what the hell they cut to get an R rating.

31 6

Rob Zombie’s usual quirks also come into play with an overuse of profanity (“fuck” is uttered at least once every minute) and juvenile sex jokes that he clearly thought were a riot (did we really need a dream sequence to hear the difference between whores and onions?). What’s extremely frustrating is that 31 had such promise and the heights of this movie show how great it might have been with a few more rewrites. I wish that I cared about the characters. I wish that the action was shot competently so that I could properly see the decapitations and gory NC-17 level mayhem. I also wish that the story had resolved itself and didn’t leave so many loose ends up in the air (possibly for a sequel). Finally, I wish that I could hold this movie in the company of DEVIL’S REJECTS, LORDS OF SALEM, or even HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. Much like its grimy labyrinthine battleground setting, 31 is a bloody mess.

Grade: C+

THE CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Monster Week

Directed by: Simon George

Written by: Charlie Foley

Starring: Jim Sturgeon, Richard Brake, Simon Ginty, Sam Swainsbury & Ping Medina

CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is the most difficult movie that I’ve had to review for this website. That’s not because the film horribly made or difficult to watch, but rather because there is so little information about this film online. For the past week, Animal Planet has been celebrating Monster Week (with documentaries about man-eating tigers, vicious polar bears, giant crocodiles, killer hornets, etc.). Every single piece of promotion, be it on TV or their website, has been hyping the world premiere of their original movie: THE CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE. Yet, despite this, there is not a full-fledged webpage with details about the film and absolutely no IMDB page yet (which is sort of mind-boggling). Animal Planet hasn’t exactly become known for cinematic prowess (what with titles like KILLER LEECHES and MERMAIDS: THE BODY FOUND), but CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is actually an okay movie of the week that gets slightly more right than it gets wrong.

CJungle 1

In the 1970’s, Tim Darrow and two fellow scientists ventured into Indonesian jungles to look for a rare owl. Their expedition didn’t quite go as planned. A bruised Tim Darrow emerged from the jungle and Darrow’s two other companions were killed and apparently eaten by Darrow. To this day, Darrow denies his involvement in their deaths and claims that hobbits (a creature of Indonesian urban legend that’s nowhere near Tolkien related) attacked the trio. With Darrow locked away in an Indonesian prison for decades, a documentary filmmaker decides to venture through the old expedition grounds in search of the mythical man-eating creatures. He might not like what he finds. CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is all fiction, but there are pieces to preexisting folklore and a scientific approach taken to the possible existence of monsters. In other words, this is heads and shoulders above a majority of what Animal Planet has been airing for the past 5 years or so.

CJungle 2

CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE has both good and bad qualities. I must give the movie props for not giving too much actual on-screen time to the hobbits themselves. Instead, filmmaker Simon George wisely decides to rely more on sounds, eerie locations and creepy hints at what we’re not seeing. It’s far scarier to see a half-eaten pig, a bunch of footprints and markings on trees rather than ruining any possible suspense by immediately revealing the threat. When the CGI/practical monsters do finally make an appearance, their moments are fleeting and surprisingly effective. The effects used are far better than what I was expecting (KILLER LEECHES was very much in Syfy territory). The narrative being told in a pseudo-documentary format (complete with reenactments, interviews and archive footage) actually works and has a solid entertainment factor to it. While MERMAIDS spent too much time on trying to seem authentic and real, CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE fully knows what it is and embraces that in a mostly positive way.

CJungle 3

Where CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE wavers is in the horror movie cliché department. We’ve got characters making really dumb decisions, including the head-slapping mistake of chasing the monster that you were just running away from. There’s an obligatory found footage scene at night with a ton of ominous sounds in the distance. A chase scene that would have been otherwise pretty intense is damn near ruined by indescribable amounts of shaky cam. The most glaring problem comes in the annoying music used throughout. We don’t need a suspenseful tune building up to a guy opening a door and cheerfully saying “Hello!” which is exactly what happens during one scene. You can very much tell CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is a TV movie because there are automatic commercial breaks built into it. These usually come with a cryptic line (including “I found something,” “They are tracking us,” “Did you see that?” and “That’s when I saw it.”) and a loud stinger (usually a boom) following it. It isn’t like these take up a majority of the running time, but they are annoyances throughout.

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Overall, CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is an okay TV movie that very much feels like a feature-length version of LOST TAPES (one of the better, earlier episodes, mind you). This movie-of-the-week (in this case, Monster Week) manages to surpass both Syfy Channel and Chiller standards, but suffers from clichés. Knowing what Animal Planet has given us in the past few years, CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE is still a bit of a half-hearted victory.

Grade: C+

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