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By David Grove | February 6, 2004

“House of the Dead” is a film that’s so bad, so grievously awful in so many ways, that you’re convinced that it was meant to be a comedy. Can anyone consciously make a film this bad? I don’t know, but I know what guilty pleasures are (Return of the Living Dead), and I damn sure know a good bad movie when I see it (Flash Gordon). “House of the Dead” is just bad, period. Here’s a would-be horror film that contains not one ounce of professional pride in its making, not one shred of technical competence. This is one of the worst films of recent times.
“House of the Dead” opens with a bunch of brainless college students who take a trip to a remote island – with the help of a boat owned by the mysterious Captain Kirk (ho ho) – where they discover that everyone’s vanished. Actually, everyone’s dead – ravaged by a horde of vengeful ghouls who quickly turn up to eat the nubile travelers. “It’s so quiet,” one of the characters intones. Indeed, and if the characters had seen George Romero’s Dead Trilogy, or the films of Bava or Fulci, they’d have gotten back on the boat and gone back home. Aren’t characters in this era of post-modern horror supposed to know all of the rules and to have seen all of the movies in the genre? It doesn’t matter because the characters in this film are all one-dimensional dullards who generate no sympathy and spit out some of the worst dialogue (“This looks like it’s been here for a millennia,” says one character, referring to the titular setting) of any film in recent memory.

After the dumb dialogue and the obligatory sexual situations, the monsters (are they ghouls, zombies, or undead?) attack and the film really degenerates as we’re bombarded with annoying and cheesy camerawork complete with endless 360 degree shots, sloppy cutting, endless bullet-time shots that reek of a grade Z “Matrix” influence, not to mention some really crazy death stills of the characters that occur each time one of the characters is laid to rest. If that’s not enough, pounding rap music blasts through the entire film; the kind of numbing music that makes you yearn for that mind-numbing jingle from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” The colors look washed out, the dialogue looping is terrible, and the actors – especially the old warhorse Jurgen Prochnow who plays the captain of the boat – have embarrassed looks on their faces. Embarrassed yet mighty grateful for the employment type looks. I hate to criticize actors, because I think actors in bad movies are usually the last ones who should be blamed, but the acting in “House of the Dead” is, to be kind, strictly amateur night.
“House of the Dead” is also a really terrible looking film – technically deficient in all areas. I guess that most of the blame for this should go to director Uwe Boll who seems to be intoxicated by cheesy camera gimmicks (the film includes annoying video game clips), not to mention having a disturbing and leering obsession with young girls’ breasts. I found the film to be so crudely sexist that I wonder if there was a real sleaziness at the screenplay level. The monsters in the film (I should know because I briefly got to be one of them) are straight out of the Identikit factory of forgotten zombie films, although I’m loathe to blame the film’s talented effects expert, William Terezakis, who I witnessed, firsthand, gluing appendages to dozens of dumbstruck extras under severe time constraints. “House of the Dead” must’ve been hell to make. It’s certainly hell to watch.

The worst thing about “House of the Dead” might not be the film, but the yearlong marketing campaign that the makers of this film have launched at horror fans across the country. How can you spend so much energy promoting something that is of defective quality? Why wasn’t the same energy put into the film itself? Into such minor elements as character, story, technical precision? This is such cynical filmmaking – deceptive and sneaky. Why is the film set at an island rave when the video game was about a zombie apocalypse terrorizing the whole world? Because the island setting is cheaper and it’s much easier for the filmmakers to have it take place on an island. Why was this film made? Because it’s named after a popular-selling video game. Why is this film getting a theatrical release? Because it has a marketable name and because Artisan Entertainment probably feels that they can milk a strong weekend at the box office before word gets out. That sounds real nice, doesn’t it?
While films like May and the recent “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake prove how exciting and strong the horror genre can be at its peak, a film like “House of the Dead” crudely demonstrates how a really bad horror film can be the worst kind of film in any genre. The only good thing about “House of the Dead” is that it will cause horror fans to have an even more deepened appreciation of George Romero’s great films “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead.” See, there’s all the difference in the world between the monsters from Romero’s films and the creatures from films like “House of the Dead” and that’s the idea that Romero’s monsters were driven by neuron impulses that caused them to still retain some memories of their human form at the point of death. There were also the parables about Vietnam, racism in the south, inflation and urban decay. Maybe that’s asking for too much exposition in this era, but I don’t think George Romero would enjoy “House of the Dead” very much.
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