A kaleidoscopic-stroboscopic Grand Guignol slathered in Day-Glo greasepaint, bathed in black light, and soundtracked with a crushing jackhammer din, metal maven Rob Zombie’s long-awaited directorial debut doesn’t quite match its own hype as " the most shocking tale of carnage you’ll ever see. " Sure, this charnel house serves up butchery by the bucketload (it was dropped by Universal for fear of an NC-17 rating), but the music-video auteur’s kitchen-sink camerawork and frenetic editing only distract you from feeling suspense or fear. Cribbing liberally from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and others, Zombie’s screenplay follows four kids who — you guessed it — get waylaid roadside in the middle of nowhere. They’ve also just picked up a hitchhiker. And it’s pouring. And it’s Halloween. What luck, there’s a trash-strewn Victorian manse up yonder where they can dry off.
Inside, of course, a family of sadists and sex maniacs await (voluptuous, horrible Karen Black plays Mom), and the hapless teens are subjected to an assaultive barrage of split-screening, jump cuts, negative film stock, fuzzy flashbacks, and grainy Super-8. If Zombie is smitten with his own cleverness, he’s also unsure of what tone to strike. At first, the carnage is carnival-colorful — Rob was once a production assistant on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and it shows. But by the time we reach the grim and oppressive climax, one character’s warning rings true: " You don’t have to go to Hell. This is Hell. " (88 minutes)