Am I ever a glutton for punishment? Having barely survived last month’s viewing of Street Fighter with all of my sanity, something that I probably already lacked due to the fact that I decided to view it again in the first place, I have now delved even deeper into the realm of films based on videogames. This is a realm that truly contains content more painful than a bag of salt in the eye and is about as apologetic as a new born puppy the first time it takes a shit on your brand new carpet. You wouldn’t expect the mutt to apologize for its actions and you would be a fool if you expected the director of the film I am about to review to do the same for any of his.
The director in question is Mr Uwe Boll, if you haven’t heard of him all I can say is “well done” because your life is probably richer for the lack-of experience. Often compared to Ed Wood, Mr Boll is convinced that his films carry cinematic merit despite the criticism that he has been bombarded with and has labeled his critics as ‘f*cking retards’ and even challenged them to boxing matches. I’m actually not making that last bit up, in 2006 Boll challenged his 5 harshest critics to Box against him and when he defeated all 5 opponents he proclaimed that it was proof that his films were not terrible.
The film I am about to review from Boll’s fun house of cinematic accidents is House of the Dead and it’s actually one of his better productions. Despite the fact that it has more flaws than a tower block in Peck ham and to many it’s probably about as pleasant to look at and be around I actually enjoyed it in an odd way, its classless and dirty to the point that it will probably make you feel like you’ve tried to sleep with your best friends mum but most of Boll’s other works will make you feel like you’ve succeeded so in that sense House of the Dead actually deserves some praise.
The film begins with a bunch of no-name adolescents who would probably struggle for roles in my 10 year old sisters school play meeting up on a harbor to catch a boat to, what else but, the ‘rave of the century’ which is taking place on a deserted island with thousands of other people. As an adolescent I wasn’t a massive fan of raves, a massive fan of deserted islands or a massive fan of people so I find that this scenario goes completely over my head but it is during these early sequences that the films main problem begins to rear its ugly head. This problem is that most of what happens is completely irrelevant and often makes absolutely no sense. For a start, the kids end up missing the boat, despite the fact that they are seen brandishing invitations that clearly state the departure time of said boat. Did this rave take place on a day where the clocks went forward and out of the five characters none of them were aware of it? Were they purposely tricked into missing the boat? Or was Mr. Boll more interested in showing close-up boob shots of the female protagonists, by the 5 minute point I had already counted around 4, than actually creating a coherent story. Due to the fact that this film contains more unnatural breast than a KFC restaurant during peak-trade I am inclined to go with the third option.
Not to be deferred, the kids approach a nearby fishing vessel and bribe the captain whose name is Captain Kirk, again I am not making this up, and his first mate Salish for a ride to the island. These two characters are played by Jűrgen Prochnow and Clint Howard respectively, some would refer to these 2 actors as ‘B-Movie Icons’ I would simply refer to them as ‘actors who have been in a lot of B-Movie’s’ but having them in it is quite a nice touch and at least adds a small measure of star-power to the otherwise blander than a Chicken Korma line-up. Unfortunately this again leads to another pointless plot thread as whether the kids caught their scheduled ride on time or not, they would still have made it to the island and participated in the ensuing chaos and these two additional characters add nothing to the story as a result. Since where on the subject, what kind of person decides to throw a rave on a deserted island anyway? I think the clue is in the name, most islands are deserted because their uninhabitable and this island is no exception. Honestly, it’s the sort of place that would be perfect if Mr. Boll was looking to create a sequel to Castaway but buying that the ‘rave of the century’ is taking place on that piece of earth is like swallowing a pint of absynth, mixed with red pepper while somebody tickles your throat with a feather.
As an added addition to the list of pointless plot threads, you know things are going badly when you can justify calling it a list, Captain Kirk and his new best friends are followed to the island by the ‘United States Marine Patrol’, an organization that I’m fairly sure doesn’t actually exist, who think that Kirk is smuggling contraband. The unit is headed by Casper, played by Ellie Cornell, an actress so small in stature that she would need a cardboard box and 5 years’ experience of high-jumping in order to punch me in the thigh but one that were supposed to believe is a gun-wielding law enforcement bad ass.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that shortly after arriving on the island chaos ensues as the rave, which looked like something that Ferris Bueller could pull off in his back garden by the way, has been gate crashed by zombies. The kids and their new found companions feel about as welcome on the island as a colony of Ants at a royal picnic and with all communications cut off in typical horror film fashion they are left to fight the undead themselves. It’s at this point that the film makes another ridiculous decision by turning the group of teenagers who, up until this point seemingly wouldn’t know a wrist lock from a wrist watch, into a group of gun-toting, martial arts-knowing machines as soon as a gun is put in their manicured hands.
Its scenario’s like this and a number of other tacky filming decisions that drag this film down faster than a sprinter running through quick sand, with a hunting dart in his side and concrete slabs on his feet. The zombies themselves, while not badly designed by any means, have no consistency. One minute their lumbering around like a drunken single mother on a midlife crisis after a Sambuca fuelled evening at an 18-30’s spot and the next their moving through the terrain with the speed and agility of what would come out if Colin Jackson bred with Usain Bolt and then had its DNA spliced with Brock Lesner.
There are also some serious visual and story-based inconsistencies; for example, a scene takes place on Captain Kirk’s boat where the crazy skipper is attacked by zombies whom he promptly shoots back into the water with the type of casualness that’s usually reserved for tying your shoelaces. In this scene the rain is coming down so hard that you would swear they were shooting in Black pool but then the film cuts to the teenagers who are on the island itself and things are drier than a packet of Tesco brand Gram-Cracker’s, despite the fact that the two scenes are taking place less than a mile apart. Perhaps worse is a scene that takes place later in the film where the remaining survivors have barricaded themselves in an old cemetery building after a fight scene that I would wager at least 6 million of the films reported 9million dollar budget was blown on. The events that precede this scene all clearly take place at night but during the indoor shots sunlight can clearly be seen streaming through the curtains, meaning that this scene was actually shot in the day and no effort was made to cover it up.
As mentioned before, the plot of House of the Dead is pretty shoddy but hey, it’s a zombie movie right? When asked to respond to the negative criticism that the film was met with Boll responded by stating “It’s a movie based on a videogame where you kill zombies for 2 hours, were they expecting Schindler’s List?” This is actually a fair argument in my opinion, or it would be if Uwe Boll would have at least worked hard to create an accurate and enjoyable interpretation of the videogame. Alas, as it stands House of the Dead has about as much in common with its source material as The Green Mile has with Lesbian Vampire Killers.
I genuinely think the screen writers were higher than a giraffe’s genitals when they wrote the script, there are film techniques on show that I used in a college project 6 years ago, the acting is third rate and the action sequences are contrived but all this could be forgiven if the film didn’t slap fans in the face harder than Rampage Jackson on a happy slap crusade by completely disregarding the source material. The game takes place in a science lab where a crazed scientist has lost the plot, ironically enough, and created an army of zombies to destroy the world, the protagonists are a pair of special agents sent in to apprehend the scientist and rescue survivors. Is that really a difficult premise to translate to film? Apparently so as instead Boll goes for the deserted island, the obnoxious teenagers and a ridiculous explanation of it all involving a Spanish conquistador discovering immortality and murdering the captain and everybody else aboard the ship he was being detained on. By the way, we get conformation of this from a captains log book that were told by the character reading it, states that the conquistador killed everybody aboard the ship…Yet somebody aboard said ship was able to write all about it! How does that make sense!?
I really don’t know what to make of House of the Dead if I’m honest. Its low budget, clichéd and at times very derivative but it still has a certain charm. The first 45-50 minutes contain some fairly enjoyable action sequences, the female cast members are all hotter than the type of curry that’s sold in a restaurant that will give you the meal for free if you finish it and although the dialog is generally awful it does contain a few giggles here and there. A frequent criticism of Uwe Boll’s work is that he struggles with pacing and House of the Dead is no exception, the first 30 minutes are to slow, the second 30 minutes are the best of the bunch as it’s here that most of the action takes place and the final 30 minutes are where the writers rush to create some incentive for the audience to care about the meat sacks left alive by making them all full in love and snog each other.
All in all House of the Dead knows what it is but that doesn’t excuse its shortcomings. It’s fun in parts but is also seriously flawed to the point that it becomes difficult to recommend. I won’t scold it as much as other critics have in the past but I will say that viewers should probably pass it up if their not a fan of B-movies or not as tolerant of amateurish film-making as I am.
P.S The soundtrack is actually really good and worth checking out.