OK, they've done it again. Another perfectly good video game franchise has had its name sullied by a rotten movie. This time the victim is "House of the Dead", a video game in which the player uses a hand-held gun to shoot on-screen zombies and other beasties. (The game originated in arcades and then migrated to home systems.) And while, "House of the Dead" doesn't have the narrative structure of the "Resident Evil" games, or the back-story of the "Tomb Raider" saga (two other games which yielded awful movies), the games does have a plot-line, which was thrown out the window for the movie, House of the Dead.
House of the Dead opens with five twenty-somethings -- Greg (Will Sanderson), Simon (Tyron Leitso), Alicia (Ona Grauer), Cynthia (Sonya Salomaa), and Karma (Enuka Okuma) -- attempting to reach a rave which is taking place on a small island off the coast of Seattle. They have missed their boat and are desperate to get to "the party of the year". (When we see the rave, there are about 30 people there.) So, they hire a local captain named Kirk (Jurgen Prochnow) (?!?!) and his first-mate, Salish (Clint Howard), to take them to the party. Once they reach the island, they find that the rave has been demolished and the only survivor is Rudy (Jonathan Cherry), who just happens to be Alicia's ex-boyfriend. Rudy explains that zombies attacked the party and that there's no way off the island. Now, this group, along with Coast Guard rep Casper (Ellie Cornell of Halloween 4 and 5), must find a way to survive the night as they are attacked by thousands of re-animated corpses.
My big problem with zombie movies is that they often mimic the monsters in the film and have very slow pacing. House of the Dead breaks this mold by being a fairly fast-paced movie. And, I'm no gun advocate, but I always think that many horror films would be much shorter if someone would just grab a gun and shoot the villain. In this movie, Captain Kirk (groan!) is a gun-smuggler, so there are plenty of weapons to go around. That's where the original thinking in House of the Dead ends.
This plotless, pointless exercise in cinema steals ideas from every horror movie (and several other genres) and the result is a goopy mess. The story in the game deals with secret agents who are tracking a mad scientist who has created a group of monsters. The "going to the rave" scenario in the film is lazy and dumb, and once the group reaches the island, the entire film becomes one long chase scene. Once an explanation for the zombies is given, it makes little sense and adds nothing to the film. The film's denouement makes a nod to the game, but it's too little, too late. And the game features many other monsters besides zombies, but we get none of that here.
Director Uwe Boll may not be able to tell a story, but he does attempt to give the movie an interesting look. Unfortunately, this look is stolen from other films. The restless Steadicam is reminiscent of Carpenter or Raimi. And, of course, there's the much maligned "Bullet-time" shot. (In the making of featurette, Boll points out his "Matrix camera".) During the big battle scene, each character gets a shot in which the camera rotates around them. This may look original to some, but it was taken directly from Wilson Yip's 1998 film Bio Zombie. Boll must have fallen in love with the Canadian scenery, as there are countless shots of the water and the island, lest we forget where the film is happening. Also, this is one of those movies where the night-time scenes which take place in the woods are lit as if it's mid-day. (I don't know about you, but the woods near my house are dark!) One of the most controversial parts of the film are the shots from the video game which are inserted into the film. Personally, I don't mind the idea, but for me, it just reminded me that the games are much, much better than the movie.
House of the Dead isn't the worst movie ever made, as it's saved by it's technical competence. And, if you're in the mood for a gore-fest in which NO thought is required, then you may enjoy the film. But, that doesn't change the fact that House of the Dead is a shockingly unoriginal movie which wastes a perfectly good video game idea.
House of the Dead lumbers onto DVD courtesy of Artisan Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as it is very sharp and clear. The movie has a very clean and crisp look and that comes through beautifully in this transfer. The colors look very good and the image has a nice amount of depth. There is some noticeable edge-enhancement, and some mild artifacting problems, but otherwise, the movie looks good.
The nice video transfer is matched by some impressive audio tracks. The DVD carries both a DTS-ES 6.1 track and a Dolby-EX 5.1 track. Both of these tracks sound great. Both offer clear dialogue with no distortion. Each track offers superb stereo and surround sound effects. The action scenes sound fantastic, as the gunfire travels through the speakers and the subwoofer response is very good. Why is it that the worst films always seem to have the best transfers?
The DVD carries a handful of extras. We start with two audio commentaries. The first features director Uwe Boll, post-production supervisor Jonathan Shore, producer Shawn Williamson, and actor Will Sanderson. (The DVD box mistakenly lists actor Jonathan Cherry as being a part of this commentary instead of Sanderson.) For the most part, this is an interesting talk, as this quartet speaks about the film's production, touching on location shooting, the special effects, and the actors. The second commentary features executive producer Mark Altman, who speaks non-stop throughout the film. He reveals some interesting tidbits concerning the film's original script, the origin of the film, and some of the controversy surrounding the film's visuals. He also talks about his desire to see the video game's various monsters included in the movie, but due to lack of budget, this wasn't possible. (Insert your own "Then why make it?..." comment here.)
We next have one of the worst extra features ever, "Stacked for Zom-bat: The Sexy Babes of House of the Dead". In this 6-minute featurette, we see how the actresses in the film trained for the action scenes by playing the "House of the Dead" video game (See other people play video games! Experience what it's like to wait in line, quarter in hand!) and then shooting paint-balls at people dressed as zombies. Are these women really proud of this? Next we have "Behind the House: Anatomy of the Zombie Movement". This 18-minute segment is actually a making-of featurette for House of the Dead disguised as documentary. The short features interviews with George Romero (I've met him and yes, he really wears those glasses.) and Tom Savini, and includes clips from Romero's Dead films. However, these two legends only comment on zombie films in general. The rest of the segment concentrates on House of the Dead and offers clips, behind-the-scenes footage, and an overview of the make-up effects. There are storyboard comparisons for 3 scenes and 3 very short and pointless deleted scenes. Finally, we have the trailer for House of the Dead, which has been letterboxed at 1.85:1.
If you were hoping to see that "Go Kaarl!" monster brought to life in House of the Dead, you're going to in for a big disappointment. If you were hoping to see a movie that feels just like a movie that you've seen before, then House of the Dead may just be the ticket. The movie isn't the abomination that was Resident Evil, but it definitely shows that filmmakers still have no idea how to adapt a videogame to the big-screen. What's worse, director Boll has already finished shooting another video game movie and is in pre-production on another. When will it ever end?