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The House of the Dead
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   Uwe Boll (Director)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   October 10, 2003
Review Date:   October 24, 2003
Audience Rating:   Rated 'R'
RevSF Rating:   2/10 (What Is This?)

If H.P. Lovecraft wrote this review:

Even now I cannot comprehend it. There are things, terrible things, wonderful things, which the human brain simply cannot process. I must not think on it directly, or I'll invite the madness in again. The giddy laughter, the throat-tearing moans of anguish . . . it's getting so hard to tell the difference between the two. I can't describe it. Words simply cannot convey the shadowed cyclopean horrors of the nameless things that skulk at the corners of my mind's eye. Or maybe it's that I'm too lazy to come up with the words. Too much trouble, really, when I can just let your imagination do my work for me. I tell you that you simply must experience The House of the Dead. You must, or you will not understand. And you must understand. You must. So I tell you that you must experience it. I beg you to have it imprinted on your senses. But why would I do such a thing? Is my pleading with you the pleading of an acolyte who has just found true bliss, or of a raving lunatic who, having been pulled into the depths of agonizing insanity, is seized with the obsession that, if he can only but tempt others into the gaping abyss, he will not feel so alone and afraid in his prison of cackling depravity?

I am convinced that no review I write can do justice to the experience of seeing House of the Dead in the theater. You really have to see it with your own eyes, or you won't believe it. Heck, I saw it, and I still don't quite believe it. After an hour and a half, I emerged into daylight, still blinking in confusion: "Did I just see that?" and "How did I manage to enjoy myself so much when I should by all rights be demanding my money back?"

I spent the first half hour of The House of the Dead trying to figure out how on earth this movie made it into my local multi-plex. I mean, execrable horror movies get a wide release all the time (FearDotCom, Soul Survivors, They), but I don't believe I've EVER seen any movie in the theater, horror or otherwise, with such screamingly low production values. How low are they? Low enough to win a limbo contest with a soap opera.

The acting is spectacular in its sheer and consistent awfulness. There's an actress with a brief speaking part whose entire audition probably consisted of taking her clothes off. An actress with much more screen time of the type who looks like a model from the neck down and a scurvy crackwhore from the neck up (keep in mind that I'm not saying that she is a crackwhore. An actual crackwhore probably would have done a better acting job). Jonathan Cherry, who was mildly convincing in Final Destination 2, is in this movie possibly the worst leading actor in a horror film ever. The best that can be said of most of the other young actors and actresses is that they're usually dull enough so that, when put next to Jonathan Cherry and the crackwhore, they're less likely to be singled out for abuse by merciless movie reviewers.

Oh, wait, there's Ron Howard's gnomish brother Clint as a wacky first mate in a yellow rainslicker. Maybe he'll liven things up with . . . . No, he's bad too, and not in a good way. And keep in mind that Clint Howard is the big Hollywood star in this movie. Along with Jurgen Prochnow (In the Mouth of Madness, Das Boot), who actually does manage to rise slightly above his surroundings. Prochnow plays a ship captain named Kirk. Yes, Captain Kirk. It's an unclever joke that's saved a bit by Prochnow's reaction to the joke.

The first twenty minutes of House of the Dead also caters to that coveted "Why don't they make horror movies like they used to, with nudity? I started watching horror movies in the 80s when I was twelve, and I still haven't grown out of the idea that the quality of a horror movie goes up in value every time a canary starts airing the dairy" demographic.

The best rave of the year is being held on the "Isla de la Muerte." It looks as though the "rave of the year" was a real party hosted by Sega (the company that made the House of the Dead videogame), and it's probably the most unconvincingly staged rave is the history of unconvincingly staged raves. Meanwhile, a girl goes through the woods looking for her boyfriend. She finds a creepy building, opens the door, and then a man in a zombie costume stolen off the clearance rack at Spencer's Gifts puts his zombie-colored glove through the boyfriend's stomach.

Instead of jumping in my seat, I turned to the person beside me and gave her the half-shrug half-grimace that means "Yes, I too am struggling to comprehend the existence of such an unprecedented wreck of a movie, and please please please don't get mad at me for dragging you to it."

That was not the first time I employed that facial expression. Nor was it the last.

Then came this scene: A guy named Simon sees a boat just off shore, and he wants to get to it, so he dives into the water and starts swimming. At the sound of the splash, several zombies on the boat pop up their heads, look around, then jump off the boat and start paddling toward Simon. Pretty soon the water is full of zombies making like (a pale, decomposing) Mark Spitz in the 100-meter freestyle. SWIMMING ZOMBIES! On top of that, a rave girl named Liberty, dressed in a tight red, white and blue jump suit, starts wading into the water, putting herself in mortal danger, and frantically calling out "Simon! Simon!" as if he were her brother or lover. "But sweet Liberty," I wanted to say, "you only just met Simon fifteen minutes ago!"

Just moments before this scene began, I was seriously considering going to the concession stand for some popcorn and a box of Milk Duds, just so I could have something to throw at the screen. Now I'm doubled over laughing. Zombies are floundering in the water, getting their heads blown off. Blood is flying everywhere.

THIS MOVIE FRIGGIN' RULES!!

Five minutes later, oxygen returns to my brain, and I have to put up with some more, ahem, acting ("I just can't believe so-and-so is dead!") and high-quality writing ("Now I know why they call it Isla de la Muerte.")

THIS MOVIE SUCKS GOAT SCROTE!!

Not just one goat scrote. A boat of goat scrote.

And then came the movie's centerpiece. Armed to the teeth, seven people (more than half of which have presumably never handled a firearm before), blast their way through hundreds of zombies in a protracted fight scene that is gleefully cheesy, gratuitous, and ridiculous. The FX department evidently spent 20 bucks on zombie make-up, but didn't skimp on the exploding blood bags. Most of the budget of the film evidently went into "bullet time" camera rigs, and I'd like to go on record as possibly being the only movie reviewer who thinks that House of the Dead made excellent and original use of those effects. It's excessive, and that's precisely why it works so well. It's as if the director stuffed his bag of tricks with every editing and camera gag he could get his hands on, and then started bludgeoning you with the bag.

Techno music blares. You watch all seven characters fire away in slow motion. Liberty is Asian, and so, naturally, she knows martial arts. When people die, they get a videogame death, as the camera circles them and the screen goes red. The film-makers have perfectly captured the twitch-and-shoot experience of playing one of those light-gun arcade games (of which House of the Dead is one). The result is a kinetic euphoria so showy and so stubbornly splatterbrained that you'd have to be a real grump not to go along for the ride.

It's not too surprising that the most effective scenes of the movie are those without any dialogue. In fact, any successes in the movie seem to be a triumph of the director, cinematographer and FX team over the thuddingly albatrossian weight of the actors and the script.

Other gems hidden in the feces include a goofy "every one chooses a weapon" montage, a neat reversal of the Jaws paradigm, and a dead-funny Fellowship of the Ring Nazgul riff.

By this point, though, you're willing to savor even the horrible stuff, including a sepia-toned flashback that couldn't possibly have been meant to be disturbing (or could it?). Those times when the action stops for someone to feel (yawn) crippling regret or share a throw-away romantic moment? By now it's all funny, maybe because you're just now appreciating the humor of the situation, or maybe because your brain is now so dead that you've lost all sense of perspective.

In the beginning, when it was mentioned (in the most brief and obvious way possible) that one of the characters studied fencing, you just know that she'll be using a sword before the movie is through. But by the time that scene comes around, you laugh at her prowess because you've forgotten the screenwriters gave you a perfectly reasonable (and perfectly lazy) explanation. But then why didn't they also explain that all the eager young rave monkeys also belonged to the NRA? Must have slipped their minds.

Choice dialogue:

"Hey, this book looks really old. Maybe we can find something that will help us in here."

And:

GIRL (after the characters escape through a trap door in the floor): "Where are we?"

GUY: "We must be in some sort of catacombs underneath the house."

And:

RUDY: "You did this all to be immortal? Why?"

BAD GUY: "To live forever."

Like all genuinely bad movies, House of the Dead defies easy classification. By all traditional yardsticks, (acting, dialogue, cinematography, story, editing) it falls far below even clunkers like Soul Survivors, They, and the Rollerball remake. But if House of the Dead is the worst the movie I've ever seen in the a theater (and it probably is), then why did I walk out of the theater in such a good mood?

Maybe because House of the Dead is truly awful, but it's also truly entertaining, sometimes intentionally. It's a unique experience. You'll look back fondly on the time you wasted watching House of the Dead. It's a fondness wrapped up in a sense of pride that you resisted your initial urge to claw out your eyeballs, and a warped affection for this bumbling moron of a movie that made you laugh like a hyena undergoing dental surgery.

They should sell T-shirts: "I survived The House of the Dead."

Film/DVD Editor Jason Myers was supposed to write this review with Andrew Kozma, who lives in Texas, but when Andrew went on opening night, House of the Dead was sold out! Sold out! Wow. It just shows to go ya that the only thing dumber than webzine editors are people from Texas, and the only thing dumber than people from Texas are webzine editors from Texas.

 
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