In 2003, Uwe Boll, the notorious and undisputed king of bad video game to film adaptations, gave us House Of The Dead. It was a terrible film, and was pretty much panned universally, but it actually turned a profit and because of that we're now forced to deal with the inevitable sequel - House Of The Dead II – Dead Aim. This time around, Boll was nowhere to be seen (he was off in Europe directing Bloodrayne, a film that may be remembered as his masterpiece years from now…) but unfortunately that doesn't prove to work in the film's favor. Whereas Uwe's film was so bad it was almost good (at least we could laugh at it), this straight to video sequel is just flat out bad, and unfortunately, it's flat out dull.
After some frat boys crash a girl's dormitory, we see Professor Curien (Sid Haig of The Devil's Rejects) working late in the lab one night. He's a little irked that his experiments haven't re-animated the dead like he's hoped… or so he thinks. As it turns out, his experiments are working just fine and as he happens to turn his back on the naked corpse he injected with his re-agent (oops, I mean, serum), he finds that out the hard way when she chomps down on his neck. This, dear readers, is the beginning of a zombie outbreak that will spread across the campus very quickly, meaning that the government is going to have to kick things into high gear and send in some highly trained A.M.S. agents and a few special forces grunts to save the day.
Enter Dr. Alex Morgan (Emmanuelle Vaugier of Saw II), better known as Nightengale, and her partner Jake Ellis (Ed Quinn). These two, along with the team of soldiers lead by Sgt. Dalton (Sticky Fingaz) head into the heart of the campus, killing their way through hordes of undead students and faculty, in hopes of finding the original zombie that started the plague so that Morgan can extract a blood sample that they hope will lead way to the discovery of a cure for this horrible plague. The only problem is, they're on a tight schedule – they've only got a few hours to make this happen before a nuclear strike is called in to ensure that none of the zombies escape to spread the plague even further than it's already sprawled…
A strange and rather ineffective mix of stylized violence, splatter, and childish humor, House Of The Dead II is pretty much a waste of time. When Sid Haig brings nothing to his role, you know that the script is weak and further evidence of this pops up throughout the film with bad cliché after bad cliché creeping into the dialogue and horrible one liners coming out of nowhere at completely inappropriate times. Very little of it is funny (it seems like we're supposed to take this fairly seriously, meaning it's not quite a comedy despite the incessant attempts at wit), none of it is scary, and the movie rips off not only Resident Evil but also Re-Animator and even the ultra crappy Return Of The Living Dead: Necropolis (in both films a team has to go into a compound, fight insurmountable odds, and return unscathed to save mankind). The problem is that all of those films, even Necropolis (which sucked and sucked hard), do it better than House Of The Dead II leaving us with a film that feels like nothing more than a fast, cheap cash in on the horror/zombie craze that's currently running rampant in Hollywood.
Furthering the 'cheap cash in' theory is the fact that although this is obviously touted as a sequel it has almost nothing to do with the original film or the video game. In fact, it doesn't even take place in a house, though one could argue that calling your horror film Campus Of The Dead might not go over so well with the kids. The only real reference to the video game is during a firefight at which point one of the characters yells 'RELOAD!' but that's about it. There are a couple of nods to the original film in that the alpha zombie that they're looking for is supposed to be one of the surviving corpses from the island attack that Boll brought to life and Ellie Cornell shows up as Col. Jordan Jasper, reprising her role from the first movie, but story-wise, this could easily stand alone and in fact the original script was originally supposed to be a stand alone film before some marketing wizard decided to slap the House Of The Dead brand logo on top and pretend that it was some sort of follow up.
The characters are cookie-cutter formula folk, the script is predictable and borrows heavily from better genre efforts, and although the action kicks in fast and keeps up until the end, the movie somehow manages to be pretty much completely devoid of excitement. A couple of stand out scenes can be found if you're patient enough to wade through the piles of crap that surround them – a scene in a football field where our heroes have to run through a team of undead jocks is mildly amusing and a scene where one of the soldiers takes his picture with a naked corpse and makes crass jokes about her is a little disturbing – but that's it. All the make up effects and gore in the world can't save this one…
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen on this disc is pretty nice despite an abundance of edge enhancement in some scenes and some mild to moderate aliasing. Black levels stay strong throughout, only showing mpeg compression in a couple of spots (which is good seeing as a whole lot of the film takes place at night or in dark places like the insides of the university… with the lights off!). Flesh tones look lifelike when they're supposed to and sickly and zombie-esque when the script calls for it – which is quite often, as there are an abundance of zombies in the movie. Color reproduction is strong and the strange dead flesh make up does look pretty good for the most part. There's a pretty decent level of both foreground and background detail present in the image almost entirely throughout the movie though some fine detail does get lost in the shadows from time to time. Thankfully this only happens sporadically and it isn't a regular occurrence. Overall though, House Of The Dead II does look pretty good on this DVD.
Audio options come in your choice of a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix or a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround mix, both in English, with optional subtitles provided in both English and Spanish. An English language closed captioning option is also available, for the feature only. As far as the quality of the audio is concerned, there's little to complain about there. The dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion. Directional effects are obviously more active on the 5.1 mix than on the 2.0 mix, but both make nice use of the side channels to throw a few fun sound effects your way during playback. Bass response is pretty solid and the cheesy soundtrack comes through loud and clear on this disc. You won't have any problems following the dialogue as the movie plays out and a few of the nastier sound effects come through the speakers with a fair bit of punch.
First up in extra feature land is an audio commentary with director Michael Hurst and co-writer/co-producer Mark A. Altman. If you're looking for a commentary packed with great information or technical secrets, don't bother with this one but if you want to hear the director and producer take the piss out of Uwe Boll and his first film, then you'll get a kick out of this track as they spend a fair bit of time doing that. Altman dominates the track and has an obvious love for what he's doing, but he spares no expense in making sure that the listeners know that Boll was responsible for so much of what was completely wrong with the original House Of The Dead. At least that movie made us laugh, whereas this one makes us want to take a nap. Other than that, they cover casting and some post production tweaking as well as script details and a few ideas that didn't make it into the movie. It's not a bad commentary in that at least it's mildly amusing, but you'll have to be a die hard to want to make your way through the entire thing, though the self congratulatory remarks do get really old, really quickly.
A thirteen minute featurette entitled Reinventing The House: Making A Bloody Sequel covers the two and a half week shooting schedule that the film was made on in quite a bit of detail. We see an acting coach getting the zombie extras into character as well as some effects work being practiced. It's interesting to see the locations in a less formal environment and see some of the changes that lighting and sound can bring to a film to add atmosphere. Sid Haig shows up in here, but it's briefly with most of the attention going to the stars and the director.
Lion's Gate has included four deleted scenes – the first one is some extra footage from the panty-raid sequence but there's no bonus skin here to note which probably explains why it was cut. The second scene is a longer take for the zombie football sequence, which has a few extra snippets of splatter in it and which is moderately amusing. The third scene features the librarian zombie and it gives her a different introduction than that scene in the final cut of the film. The final scene features the two A.M.S. agents having a heart to heart talk in the college dorm. None of these are essential and although there's no commentary or text screens here to explain why they were deleted it's probably safe to assume that they were cut for pacing reasons.
Rounding out the extra features are a few trailers, animated menus, and the requisite chapter stops.
House Of The Dead II commits the ultimate celluloid sin – it's boring. The zombies are kind of cool and there's enough splatter in here to matter but the characters suck, the story is a lame rip off of what has been done before and done better at that, and it adds nothing to the first film to note. The Lion's Gate DVD looks and sounds fine and some of the extras are interesting but it isn't enough to save this one. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.