House of the Dead (2003) Movie Review

Genre movies are notorious for lying through their teeth. The favorite lie that everyone knows, but no one really seems bothered by, is obvious 20-something actors playing teens. “House of the Dead”, the latest film to cash in on the glossy horror craze, goes a step further. This time we get a cast of 30-something actors (or they look like they’re all in their 30s, which is doubly bad!) playing college students. It’s not like the filmmakers couldn’t find good young actors and had to go with an older cast; the film doesn’t exactly have future Brandos and Streeps on its hands, if you know what I mean. The most you can hope for is co-star Clint Howard-caliber acting, a lowly threshold these poor souls can’t even reach.

“House of the Dead” opens with survivor Rudy (Jonathan Cherry) providing voiceover, introducing our characters and their quest to join the “rave of the century” at an isolated island with one of those generic evil-sounding names like “Island of the Dead” or “Island of the Evil” or some such. As soon as the ravers reach the island, they discover that the party has been crashed, and that all their fellow ravers are missing. It turns out zombies are roving the island, controlled by a Spaniard seeking immortality. Thankfully the fishing boat captain that brought the kids to the island is also an illegal arms dealer and he’s got enough guns to make the NRA rethink that whole 2nd Amendment argument.

If you were looking for incompetent filmmakers to rule a kingdom, you couldn’t go wrong with director Uwe Boll and writers Dave Parker (“The Dead Hate the Living”) and Mark Altman. Boll has elected to shoot “House” with the mentality of a kid shooting a Z-Grade zombie film in his parent’s backyard, with his buddies as actors and himself as the lone crew. To say that “House” is atrocious is giving it too much credit. It’s senseless and cheapie crap that somehow managed to put together a dozen million dollars or so in investment budget. Of course Boll has neither the creativity nor ability to put the sizeable budget to good use.

The above results in “House” being jam-pack with unnecessary special effects that do nothing but take one out of the moviegoing experience. There’s enough nonsensical usage of bullet-time and 360-degree spins to make the inventors of both gimmicks regret ever having invented them. The money spent on all of these effects, which show up about once every 2 seconds, could have been better spent on a real screenwriter. Or, even better, maybe the producer should have hired a real director. Parker and Altman’s script reeks of mind numbing retardation only surpassed by the childish decision making skills of director Boll.

Not only is the film overloaded with superfluous expensive camera tricks, but the movie itself features footages from the “House of the Dead” video game. Worst, Boll doesn’t use the footages to good effect. The scenes just sort of, well, show up arbitrarily throughout the film. Also, not only is the supposed “rave of the century” taking place in the daytime, but there are, oh, about 20 or so “college kids” present at this super duper rave to end all rave. And oh yeah, who knew corporations like Sega were now sponsoring raves? Of course it helps that Sega also produced the “House of the Dead” video game.

For those looking for salvation, there’s veteran Prochnow (“Das Boot”) to show the kids how it’s done. Prochnow and Clint Howard have their tongues firmly implanted in their cheeks as they throw out one groan-inducing one-liner after another. The odd-looking Howard gets to play the Old Man Who Knows Stuff and Provides Exposition, while Prochnow gets to chew scenery as well as his neverending supply of cigars. In one hilarious sequence, while Prochnow is struggling at his boat in the middle of what appears to be a vicious rainstorm, the ravers are at the rave site, but it’s dry as a bone! Not a single raindrop in sight. And they’re on the same island. Must be an awfully big island to have two weather systems.

Of the zombie fodder, Ona Grauer manages to stand out a bit, not only because she’s the Designated Tough Chick, but also because she has an interesting look. According to her archetype, Grauer’s Alicia gets to be the first one to say that something is wrong, thus proving her (supposed) intelligence. Later, she kicks zombie buttocks, thus proving her (supposed) physical mettle. The only other 30-year old who makes an impression is Kira Clavell, whose character is Asian and thus knows martial arts. Of course all of the kids turn themselves into zombie killing machines. Who knew college kids could pick up a gun and suddenly become Rambo? The kids of “House” make the transition from zombie fodder to unstoppable super duper killers in about 10 minutes of movie time.

The hows, whys, and whens of “House” hardly matter. Better writers and directors should explore these things, not the makers of “House of the Dead”. What we have here is a really, really stupid and mindless film, but oddly enough it’s rather entertaining — in a “so bad it’s good” sort of way. Then again, maybe it’s just stupid, and I’m giving it too much slack.

Uwe Boll (director) / Mark A. Altman, Dave Parker (screenplay)
CAST: Jonathan Cherry …. Rudy
Tyron Leitso …. Simon
Clint Howard …. Salish
Ona Grauer …. Alicia
Ellie Cornell …. Jordan Casper
Will Sanderson …. Greg

Buy House of the Dead on DVD