“Are the actors bad, or is it the dialogue?” That’s the question you will be asking yourself while watching “Death Tunnel”, the new horror film (made for a reported one million) set in one of those locations horror movies always seem to find themselves set in — that is, an abandoned, old, and creepy hospital/mansion/house/[insert your abandoned, old, and creepy locale of choice here]. In the case of “Death Tunnel”, the location’s history, as chronicled in the film, just happens to be true. Mind you, not that this will make you forget your initial question: “Are the actors really awful, or is it the writing that’s stinking up the joint?”
The story of “Death Tunnel” is as derivative as its setting — five college girls are required to stay for 5 hours at an old, haunted sanitarium that was once home to mental patients that perished en masse in 1928, so that they (our 5 lasses) can join some sort of private club led by greasy heartthrob Richie (Jason Lasater). As expected, ghostly happenings intrude on what was supposed to be an elaborate prank, and soon a bodycount is not far behind. And yes, if you were wondering, the dull Fair Hair Lead (who is, of course, blonde) is also psychic. How predictable.
The main problem with “Death Tunnel” is director Philip Booth, who has high visual acumen and no one knows this more than he. This explains why the film is chock full of ADD-laden jump cuts and other assorted editing gimmicks, all timed to generic screeching music, of course. So enamored with his editing skills that Booth drowns every inch of the movie to within an inch of its life with flash camerawork, every directing decision pre-determined by the films Booth has seen and been influenced by. The result is a glossy, polished looking film, the kind that teens weaned on MTV music videos all but demand nowadays. And on those rare occasions Booth decides to let a scene play out without gratuitous jump cutting to something else a split-second later, there is so little going on that tedium quickly sets in.
Booth’s filmmaking style is in direct contrast to the less-is-more approach of Brad Andersen’s similarly themed, but far superior “Session 9″, which was precisely the reason why that film got under your skin. Booth’s movie doesn’t get under your skin so much as it makes you itch with its constant screeching soundtrack, unnecessarily non-linear chronology, and overwhelming style over all else approach. Speaking of which, there is absolutely no good reason why “Death Tunnel” decides to get cute with the timeline, save to remind the audience that yes, the filmmakers have seen a lot of movies, and like all impressionable youths, they’re just copying what they thought was “cool”. Damn you, Tarantino!
The basic, lowest common denominator treat to be had from “Death Tunnel” is that the primary cast consists of attractive young women required to wear skimpy nighties during their stay at the sanitarium. This allows for extended scenes of pretty young girls walking about the dingy building getting dirty. It definitely plays to the hormone-inclined men in the audience, which was obviously the intent. Unfortunately most of the actresses chosen for speaking parts are dead weight, but then again I’m sure acting ability wasn’t part of the job description. One girl has such a thick Southern drawl that I’m not sure if it’s affected or the real thing, and if it is the real thing, imagine having to hear that voice 24 hours a day. Christ.
“Death Tunnel” does have a few serviceable moments that make it not a total waste of time. This includes actress Kristin Novak, who seems to be really enjoying her time as the snooty rich bitch of the group, playing the character so exaggerated that you can’t help but grin whenever she struts onto the screen. In probably the film’s best moment, Richie has just been dump by Ashley (Novak), prompting him to have a flashback (one of many the film indulges in, alas) to their better days together. In the flashback (which, remember, is supposed to be one of those “back when it was great” moments), the two are kissing, when Ashley turns toward the camera and gives us (that is, Richie) the finger. It’s too bad the rest of the film is devoid of such imagination.
If the premise of “Death Tunnel” feels overly familiar, you may have seen another teens-in-haunted-hospital movie called “Boo!” earlier in 2005. In that movie, teens also went to a haunted hospital and encountered ghostly apparitions from the past. The two films share much in common, but then again “Death Tunnel” shares a lot in common with a lot of films that you’ve probably seen before. This isn’t exactly an original story, and the visuals, as slick as Booth presents them, does little to alleviate the seasoned horror watcher’s familiarity with the story at hand. What’s left, then, is a movie about half-naked girls walking around a dingy building as the soundtrack screams and screeches on cue. Plus, Kristin Novak gets naked.
Philip Adrian Booth (director) / Christopher Saint Booth, Philip Adrian Booth, Shane Dax Taylor (screenplay)
CAST: Steffany Huckaby …. Heather
Annie Burgstede …. Tori
Kristin Novak …. Ashley
Jason Lasater …. Richie
Melanie Lewis …. Devon
Brian Dyer …. Dr. Vanguard