This horror film by German director Uwe Boll is one of the few to succeed in making me cower in terror. Sadly, not because it’s a scary movie per se, more that $12,000,000 was wasted on such a celluloid abomination. House of the Dead is that rare beast that goes beyond bad and then beyond “so bad it’s good” into it’s own little niche where even the most die-hard horror fans fear to tread.
House of the Dead is supposedly a big screen adaptation of a Sega arcade game but as with 99% of game adaptations is only really faithful in name. And that it features footage from said arcade game… don’t worry you heard right, but we’ll come back to that later…
Our movie opens as a shabby teen gives us a rather long-winded voice-over explaining in advance that all the main characters except him will die and then kindly introduces us to the characters in question like an episode of “The Dating Game”. This conveniently eliminates any need for the film to try and bring any depth, feeling or backstory to the characters - presumably to make the job of acting badly easier for the rest of the cast. It also helps the audience by eliminating the need to waste brain-power working out who lives and dies. Our ill-fated bunch are on their way to join revellers at a rave on a remote island but after missing the official ride they buy their way to the island on the boat of a smuggler going by the dubious moniker of Captain Kirk. Followed by a tough-as-TP harbour inspector intent on bringing Kirk to justice, they arrive on the island to find it seemingly deserted. Of course it soon comes to light that the island is in fact the home to a posse of flesh-eating zombies who have already munched their way through all the other party-goers and have now set their sights on the new arrivals.
HOTD in many ways seems to be a tribute to the zombie movies of the 70s, though tribute may be a generous. By tribute, we might interpret that as the special effects are no better than the most average of 70s output and the female cast have a hippy-chick attitude to nudity, happily displaying their boobies to even the most lecherous of first mates with nary a blush in sight. Our ravers have Scooby-Doo levels of intuition and logic (“Hey I found this book, it looks old, maybe it can help us”) and in the space of a 30 second montaged training session, turn from pot-smokin’ slackers to ass-kicking kung-fu choppin’ gun experts. Which poses another interesting aspect to this movie; the world’s most considerate zombies. Yes, one minute our disparate group are being hounded by dozens of blood thirsty zombies, the next they conveniently disappear to let the cast brush up on their shooting skills or find an old journal with the key to the zombies’ past, not reappearing till this exposition is complete.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was Uwe Boll’s first feature. In fact, had this been made, Evil Dead style, by a bunch of students trying to scrape together their first full length movie I’d probably have been much more forgiving. But when the director has a long list of German art-house and US direct-to-video movies on his CV, the sloppiness at work here is inexcusable. His directing style has all the subtlety of a horny bull in a china shop and all the style of a street tramp. His pace seems to be dictated by hitting the Random button on his “dramatic interlude” and “thumping mid-90s techno” CDs whenever a music cue was required. As for the editing, this is probably what kills whatever fun this movie could have had. Boll for some inconceivable reason intercuts footage from the House of the Dead arcade game into the movie itself. At first it is used as an attempt at being clever (note: attempt), signifying a change of scene, reminiscent of those cuts used in the 60s “Batman” series or in 80s cartoon favourite “Transformers”. However, Boll soon starts indiscriminately adding these snatches of game footage into the action scenes, a process which soon falls into the category of “not funny and not clever” and ends up being distracting and an annoyance. Also an annoyance is the completely pointless and utterly inept use of “bullet-time”. When will people learn; THERE WAS A REASON THEY USED IT IN THE MATRIX! Here it looks out of place, not least due to the fact that most of the time it is very poorly framed and like the game footage, is used inconsistently and for no good reason, especially the “death spin”; where when certain characters die (I say certain, because in another step of inconsistency it only applies to one or two of the deceased) we are treated to a bullet-time 360 spin of the dispatched as the screen fades to red. Why? Who knows, who cares? Certainly not Boll.
Cast-wise, as prime zombie-bait we are served up a stock bunch of brainless twenty-somethings straight out of the Joey Tribiani School of Acting. Vainly attempting to provide some gravitas is Die Hard 2’s Jurgen Prochnow as the gruff ship’s captain. Meanwhile some kind of award must go to Clint Howard for being the only person on set who seems to realise this whole movie is surely a “Candid Camera” style joke, hamming it up something terrible and as a result is possibly the best thing about the whole exercise.
On some levels Boll seems to want to pay homage to fellow genre kings Romero and Fulci and in others seems to want to pay tribute to genuinely good directors (spot the Jaws and Lord of the Rings shots) but sadly his own painfully obvious directorial shortcomings mean he never really achieves this goal. House of the Dead is pure train-wreck cinema. You know you’ll hate yourself for watching it, but at the same time you can’t take your eyes off the screen, entranced by the wonderment of its badness. Even the ending is nothing more than a pathetic take-off of Resident Evil and a poor attempt to try a mooch a sequel. A pretty ballsy move when the original should have never made it past the first script draft before hitting the shredder.
If you do decide to watch House Of The Dead, you’ll laugh… you’ll cry… you’ll come away with a higher opinion of Paul W.S. Anderson; which is probably the scariest thing of all.