Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Strong Violence/Gore, Language and some Nudity
Directed by: Uwe Boll
Written by: Mark A. Altman & Dave Parker
(based on the HOUSE OF THE DEAD video games)
Starring: Jonathan Cherry, Ona Grauer, Enuka Okuma, Tyron Leitso, Will Sanderson, Clint Howard, Jurgen Prochnow, Michael Eklund, Kira Clavell & David Palffy
Every time I was in an arcade during the early 2000’s, I was throwing down lots of coins to shoot zombies with plastic guns in HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2 and HOUSE OF THE DEAD III. When lil’ preteen me saw that there was a HOUSE OF THE DEAD movie coming out, I knew that had to see it. Little did I know that this film would help catapult one of this generation’s most infamous filmmakers into Hollywood and would be an utter crapfest. In spite of its many, many (countless) problems, 2003’s HOUSE OF THE DEAD is fun in a so-bad-it’s-good way and is far from the worst zombie film that I’ve sat through.
A group of college students head to a SEGA-hosted rave on a mysterious island. Little do they know that the island is crawling with flesh-eating zombies and there’s something far more dangerous lurking in the basement of a dilapidated house on the island. If the group of students want to survive the night, they had better pick up a gun and start firing at anything that moves. Also, this movie vaguely ties into the HOUSE OF THE DEAD video game mythology by serving as a prologue to the first game.
The first things that should be noted about 2003’s HOUSE OF THE DEAD are Uwe Boll’s misplaced stylistic choices. To remind you that this film is indeed based on a video game, Boll has sporadically inserted clips of gameplay into this movie. These game clips frequently serve as transitions, fodder for the seizure-inducing opening credits, and are also edited into action scenes for no goddamn reason whatsoever. THE MATRIX was still fresh on people’s minds, so Boll felt the need to frequently use over-the-top slow motion and a 360-degree camera that spins around characters. With a better director helming this project, these effects might have been cool. With Boll, they are overused to the point of being hysterically funny.
The titular house in HOUSE OF THE DEAD is in the movie for a total of 20 minutes of screen time and looks more like a SHED OF THE DEAD than a house. It’s worth noting that the house’s interior looks like it was furnished with dollar store Halloween decorations and the front door of this house is blown off its hinges on two separate occasions. It’s so nice to know that zombies took the time to repair the front door so it could be destroyed again. HOUSE OF THE DEAD mostly takes place outside the titular house and those sets aren’t much better. There’s the lamest rave in existence, a swamp that seems to be made of dry ice, and a graveyard that appears to be filled with cardboard headstones.
The acting is laughably awful and most of these victims are stupid to the point where I didn’t care if they lived or died. This certainly isn’t helped by useless opening narration that tells us exactly how many people survive, spoiling the story before it even really begins. There are some notable, in a bad way, characters. Jonathan Cherry (who I mainly know as the stoner in FINAL DESTINATION 2) looks embarrassed to be playing bland leader Rudy, while Ona Grauer is his equally bland love-interest. Michael Eklund has a brief part as a nerdy cameraman and makes a cringe-inducing reference to George A. Romero’s DEAD trilogy (three films that are light years above HOUSE OF THE DEAD).
Kira Clavell plays a kung-fu chick in an American flag outfit (fittingly named Liberty). Jurgen Prochnow plays a cartoonish one-note tough guy Captain Kirk (yes, they make a STAR TREK joke) and Clint Howard slums it as his yellow-rain-coat-wearing (even when there’s no rain) assistant Salish. Meanwhile, Elle Cornell does her best Sonya Blade impression (from another crappy video game movie) as gun-wielding Casper and David Palffy is laughably over-the-top as the film’s mysterious main villain.
HOUSE OF THE DEAD’s zombies play very fast and loose with the typical undead cannibal rules. Some of these ghouls run, some slowly shamble, and others wield weapons. A handful of these zombies have glowing red eyes and super strength. Others spit acid in one of the film’s most ridiculous scenes (which is really saying something). Sometimes, the characters have to shoot them in the head and other times, they simply can shoot them anywhere to kill them. Also, the zombies range from actors to a pop-up puppet that Uwe Boll appears to have swiped from a rundown haunted house. There’s also one hilarious moment in which a character distracts a zombie with a flare…like it was the T-Rex from JURASSIC PARK. This all makes for a wildly inconsistent zombie film that doesn’t seem to know what the hell it’s doing at any given point.
With all my bashing on HOUSE OF THE DEAD, I will say that this film is an extraordinarily entertaining time if you watch it with a group of bad-movie-loving friends. To me, this crappy video game adaptation is one of those so-bad-it’s-good gems that can be watched for the sake of sitting through an unintentionally hilarious failure. Also, HOUSE OF THE DEAD isn’t the worst zombie film that I’ve sat through, not by a long shot. I’ll easily watch Boll’s film over the direct-to-video RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD sequels, the DAY OF THE DEAD remake, or overrated shot-in-someone’s-backyard crap like AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION. HOUSE OF THE DEAD is an undeniably bad movie, but it’s entertaining in its badness and that seems a backhanded compliment.