House of the Dead
by Josh Gloer
Note to all future filmmakers: Nice FX do not a good movie make.
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With the exception of the Tomb Raider series, it seems that video games have not had an exceptionally overwhelming success as they attempt to make the translation to screen; a fact that director Uwe Boll and writers Mark Altman and Dave Pryor seem to have overlooked as they bring the popular video game House of the Dead to the big screen. Failing to be even slightly entertaining, this film has set a new precedent for horrible filmmaking. Disappointing in nearly every way, the scariest aspect of this pseudo horror flick was its blatant setup for a sequel.
Loosely based on the video game with major action and gore appeal, House of the Dead is the story of several young adults lead by Rudy (Jonathan Cherry) in search of the world’s greatest rave which happens to take place on a deserted island rumored to be overrun by evil spirits and zombies. Ignoring the warnings of a fugitive guns smuggler named Captain Kirk (Jurgen Prochnow) and his crazy first mate played by the only other recognizable actor in the film, Clint Howard, the group boards the Lazarus which they chartered for 1,000 dollars after missing the main transportation to the rave. The party seekers arrive on the island only to find the opposite of what they were looking for. Bloody jackets, deserted stages and what appears to be the aftermath of mass hysteria aren’t enough to distract this bunch from their mission as they decide to continue the party on their own, only to discover an army of violent, flesh eating zombies waiting to kill them for their island intrusion, succeeding in several cases.
When they flee back to the Lazarus in hopes of a quick getaway, they find the ship overrun by the monsters, and their only escape is to flee into the woods to a secret old house they passed by earlier. In hopes to make it their Alamo, the kids find themselves engaged in a less than epic battle complete with an extremely overabundant use of bullet time and slow motion camera work, and only a small handful of the suddenly well trained teenage soldiers make it inside to make their final stand.
Armed with the weapons Kirk was stockpiling in his boat, the feud continues, as the original group dies one by one in completely predictable and unimpressive ways, while they find secret labs and catacombs beneath the house. Simon, played by Tyron Leitso, manages to kill most of the zombies as he blows up several powder kegs only to end his own life, but allowing the others to escape into a tunnel full of more zombies who kill all but Rudy and his new girl Alicia (Ona Grauer). Alicia, who uses her fencing skills to fight the head zombie who only has a sword to defend himself with, takes a blade in the chest, leaving Rudy to chop off the zombie’s head only to allow the zombie’s body to strangle him. Using her last bit of remaining strength, Alicia crushes the decapitated head, finally bringing the headless zombie down.
While a game in which the player shoots zombie after zombie creating an enormous body count and plumes of computer generated blood could be fun, what happens to be a great game should have never even been considered for the screen. While the acting was the worst to make it to theaters in years, these actors and their obvious inexperience didn’t have a chance as they were given the choppiest and most unnatural dialogue imaginable. Drama was delivered as comedy, comedy delivered completely flat and facial expressions were out of control as the actors attempted to wade through this nightmare of a script.
Restructuring this film wouldn’t have saved it from what is sure to be box office failure, but it would have been nice if these writers hadn’t decided to give away the ending in the first thirty seconds. In a distracting narrative through which Rudy introduces his friends in a creative copout, the audience learns that no one survives this island adventure almost before the opening credits stop rolling. With no hope for anyone’s survival, the viewer is left counting down as each victim is slaughtered hoping for some sort of ending. The film ends with a similar narrative, which only confuses the story further as Rudy wrestles with “what he has created” after having done nothing during the whole film, but stand and watch his friends die.
While the plot was stupid, the acting was bad and the storyline ruined within fifty seconds of the film’s opening, the film did finally deliver some of the gore that one might expect from a zombie movie. Unfortunately these filmmakers decided to lump it all into the last fifteen minutes as they focused on completely random and unnecessary nudity in the first fifteen minutes, and then seemed content distracting the viewer with random insertion of video game clips, passé bullet time camera tricks and making the zombies appear as artificial as possible as they ran over smoking swamps, Walt Disney-esque grave yards and through phony looking woods. Some more attention to the plot holes and less devotion to camera technique might have made this watchable.
Maybe someone should have told Sega that their shameless plug as the sponsor of what would classify as an illegal party on a deserted island where countless people are murdered isn’t the best image to portray, but after seeing this film, that will be the least of their worries. Even in comparison to the worst slasher or monster films, House of the Dead failed to be entertaining in any way.
Josh Gloer is one of our L.A. staffers. He is a screenwriter working his way up the Hollywood ladder.
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