Death on Demand
by Jef Burnham
Coming to DVD on MTI Home Video on July 8, 2008.
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John Carpenter’s Halloween not only ushered in the age of the slasher flick, but spawned seven sequels of its own. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch does not feature the series’ killer, Michael Myers, and garnered the worst reception from fans for that selfsame reason. The runner-up for most despised of the series is the webcast-inspired Halloween Resurrection, which I am all but alone in my appreciation of. If you took Halloween Resurrection and removed Michael, Busta Rhymes and any semblance of horror, then added lots of crude humor and sex, what you would be left with is something akin to Death on Demand (and, let’s face it, Resurrection would be nothing without the kung-fu fight scene between Busta Rhymes and Myers).
One would hope that a title as bad as Death on Demand would conceal a work with significant social commentary, or, hell, any message at all. What we get instead is amateurish rehashing of old horror films. A group of college students are coerced into staying the night in a supposedly haunted house in the hopes of winning a $5,000 prize. This is all part of a business scheme by another student to market a horror-themed webcast because, as he puts it, “horror stuff is hot right now.” He also hires a porn star to have sex with as many of the teens as possible in an even sadder attempt to pump up subscriptions to his site. It’s plain that he is actually the voice of the filmmakers here. If you find yourself watching Death on Demand, it’s undoubtedly because of a love for horror movies (or perhaps breasts) that the filmmakers have exploited, and you’ve fallen into the trap of a bad movie.
What more insultingly predictable premise could be exploited than a group of people spending the night in a haunted house for cash? The students hold a seance and unwittingly summon forth an evil spirit—the spirit of a homicidal mountain climber—that methodically bumps them off, one by one. And while I’m at it, I should also mention that the movie features a football player named Biff and a nerdy girl obsessed with spores. And these are main characters! Audiences (even we “unrefined” horror fanatics) should be too sophisticated at this point to overlook such poor writing.
This lack of originality pervades all parts of the screenplay, including the humor. Perhaps it’s just me, but jokes about male genitalia and gastric emissions (colloquially referred to “dick and fart jokes”) haven’t been funny since I was in grade school. Unfortunately it is the grade school form of said humor that is present here. No actual jokes surface. Screenwriters Kevin Burke and Adam Matalon (who also directed) content themselves with frequent references to the penis and bowel functions, and having characters simply fart.
Since this was supposed to be a horror movie, let’s address the horror aspects for a moment. The gore is passable though extreme—I doubt seriously the feasibility of decapitating someone with a kitchen knife in one swing. And I have to admit, it is kind of cool that the murderous spirit solely employs mountain-climbing tools to slay the teenagers. However, the spirit is in no way ethereal at all. He is about as believable as a spirit as anyone without a suntan. And aside from the flashback in the opening when we see the mountain climber massacre his family, there are no deaths for the first 50 minutes of the movie.
To close, I have to address one more bit of perplexing writing from Death on Demand. The teens must solve various riddles throughout their stay in the house. One riddle is: What is the opposite of a mountain? You may be thinking valley, ditch, pit, ravine, hole, or even trench perhaps, but according to Burke and Matalon, you’d be incorrect. The answer is apparently a mole hill. I may be wrong, but my understanding is that the opposite of something is definitively not the same thing just smaller. If you’re going to write a screenplay, it would be helpful to understand the definitions of elementary terminology.
Jef Burnham is a freelance writer and film critic in Chicago.
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