Sony // 2005 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // February 28th, 2006
Fear has no cure.
Screw a cure for fear. How about a cure for bad movies?
Five female medical students agree to spend five hours in a creepy, long-abandoned sanatorium. You can guess what happens next.
Death Tunnel was filmed at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, which is located in Louisville, Kentucky. Once home to thousands of patients stricken with tuberculosis, Waverly Hills is now something of a local landmark. The most infamous feature of Waverly Hills is the Death Tunnel, an underground pathway stretching from the sanatorium to a nearby railway platform. This tunnel was used as a means of discreetly transporting the bodies of deceased patients from the hospital grounds to the train that would carry them to their final resting places. Well, you add all of that up, toss in some local folklore, and Waverly Hills is now renowned as one of the spookiest places on the planet (how's that for a badge of honor?). Sounds like the perfect setting for a horror movie, doesn't it? Sure. All you need now is someone with the talent to pull it off, and that's where Death Tunnel comes up short. This movie is poorly written, directed, shot, edited, and acted; no one involved in its making should ever again be allowed anywhere near filmmaking equipment.
Let us begin our discussion of this movie's awfulness with the script, which is illogical beyond belief, and looks to have been made up as the filmmakers went along. The idea for a tale revolving around a group of people who agree to spend time in a spooky building originated about five minutes after the shock waves from the Big Bang began abated, and I think it's high time we put it to rest. In order for such a plot to work in this day and age, you have to assume that almost every character involved in the plot was raised by wolves and thus never had access to movies, television, or books. Honestly, if someone sneaks up behind you and puts a card in your hand informing you that you should put on some lingerie and head down to a local bar because you've been chosen to spend the night in a building where thousands of people died, wouldn't you think something was up? (To make matters worse, the characters in Death Tunnel who agree to spend some time in a creepy building are medical students, which means that admission standards at medical schools have hit an all time low.) And, unlike most movies of this ilk, the characters in this movie aren't offered a major cash prize for spending time in a spooky building. All these girls can expect to gain is...well, I not exactly sure what they can expect to gain. I think they think they're going to suddenly gain entrance into the school's top social clique, but that's odd considering that three of the girls selected for the ritual already make up the school's top social clique (how high school!). It gets even dumber, too. (Spoilers ahead!) The girls get all dolled-up and go to the bar; they are then bonked on the head and taken to the sanatorium. The sanatorium has been wired up with cameras and an intercom system, which allows the guys behind the whole scheme to monitor the girls. Now get this -- one of the girls is actually in on the whole thing. She's a rich bitch whose family now owns the sanatorium, and she hopes to frighten the other girls and prevent their families from filing class action suits against her family. Why would the families of the other girls be interested in filing class action suits against the family of the rich bitch? Because all of the other girls are descendants of people who died under mysterious circumstances at the sanatorium. (If you can find anything resembling logic in that, please let me know.) Wait, there's more! The rich bitch's grandmother was a nurse at the sanatorium, and she was having an affair with the head doctor, who just so happens to be the grandfather of the rich bitch's ex-boyfriend. (The doctor and the nurse were stealing grant and research money and using it to fund their extravagant lifestyle, thereby resulting in countless deaths.) Wait, there's still more! The rich bitch's ex-boyfriend's grandfather also founded the medical school, but nobody on campus seems to know this! (Seems to me this sort of thing would be common knowledge, especially given that the rich bitch's ex-boyfriend is named after his grandfather, but what do I know?) Not only that, but the other girls all seem to be unaware that their ancestors died under mysterious circumstances in the sanatorium. That's right -- they are all going to school within walking distance of the very spot where their close relatives met grisly ends, but no one in their families ever brought this up.
Okay, so when the rich bitch comes to in the sanatorium and realizes she's been duped, does she start screaming for one of her cohorts to come release her? No, because that would be the smart thing to do, and nobody in this movie ever does anything smart. So what does she do? She goes and takes a shower and taunts her ex-boyfriend, who is watching her from the control room on the top floor. (This is quite possibly the most desperate attempt I've ever seen at shoehorning female nudity into a movie, and I've seen plenty of them.) While watching his ex-girlfriend playing with her breasts, the ex-boyfriend suddenly realizes something is wrong, so he runs outside and starts looking in windows in hopes of finding his ex-girlfriend. That right -- he's standing in the control room, looking at a bank of video monitors, the intercom switch right beside his hand, but instead of contacting his ex-girlfriend and telling her to hang tight so he can come get her, he runs outside and starts looking through windows. He cannot find her, so what does he do next? He runs up the fire escape, climbs onto the roof, jumps through the roof, crashes onto the top floor, and then runs downstairs looking for his ex-girlfriend. (I think it was at this point that I started hoping someone would break into my house, tie me up, and steal my television.) Okay, so what follows is a long stretch in which four of the girls die in ways reminiscent of the deaths of their ancestors (the actresses don't even bother to trying holding their breath when they're supposed to be dead), the one remaining girl and the rich bitch's ex-boyfriend desperately try to find a way out of the sanatorium (the rich bitch's ex-boyfriend has somehow completely forgotten about the fire escape), and the rich bitch's ex-boyfriend's grandfather shows up and yells at his grandson for being such a pansy. That's right -- the grandfather shows up out of nowhere, looking to be about fifty years old despite the fact that he would now be well over a hundred, if not dead. (Seems to me this would be a bit of a shock to the grandson, but, again, what do I know?) Anyway, the remaining girl and the rich bitch's ex-boyfriend ditch the doctor and make their way down the Death Tunnel, which, after all of that buildup, takes about fifteen seconds, and escape. Once outside, the girl starts babbling about how she wants to find a cure for all of the people who died due to the evil doctor's neglect. The rich bitch's ex-boyfriend says they will find a cure together. (Wait a minute -- how the hell do you cure dead people? Or is she talking about a cure for tuberculosis? If that's the case, how the hell is that supposed to help the dead people? Good lord.) Then there's a final bit lifted straight from The Shining.
All right, so the story sucks. What about the manner in which the story is told? Well, it also sucks. Director Philip Adrian Booth, who concocted the script with twin brother Christopher Saint Booth, has a shorter attention span than Michael Bay; I don't think a single shot in this movie lasts longer than five seconds. Visually this movie looks like a music video directed by a crystal meth addict who has recently developed a love for Maxwell House coffee; between the shaky camerawork, the machinegun editing, and the fact that most of the scenes appear to have been lit with strobe lights, it's enough to make your brain start oozing out through you eye sockets. And Booth's hackneyed stylistic choices (I'm still trying to figure out why all of the cuts in the opening scene are accompanied by the sound of flashbulbs popping) certainly don't heighten the tension (not that there was any tension to begin with), nor do they camouflage the absurdities of the script. In fact, they do nothing more than provide further evidence of the emptiness, not to mention pointlessness, of the entire project. (Adding insult to injury, the Booths have dedicated this movie to the memory of the individuals who died at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium. I am sure the deceased are overjoyed.)
So we've covered the story and the story's execution, which leaves us with the acting. Let me put it this way: I see bright futures for this movie's five leading ladies...as exotic dancers.
Oh, wait, I almost forgot to mention this. In addition to all of the lapses in logic in the plot, the film also features an error so glaring it wouldn't escape the eyes of a fourth grader -- the masthead on a Louisville newspaper states the following: "Circulation 12,0563."
Death Tunnel was shot on high definition video, and the transfer appears to have been created directly from the digital source. Grain and edge enhancement are nowhere to be found, but the picture suffers from the flat look that plagues so many low budget, shot-on-video indie movies. And exteriors, which appear to have shot using available light, look very poor, with colors that bleed something fierce. The soundtrack is loud and raucous, with abundant surround and low-end action; unfortunately (or maybe not so unfortunately), dialogue is buried in the mix and is quite often unintelligible. Extras include a gallery of production photos, a gallery of production drawings, and a short featurette in which the actresses stand around in lingerie while the director photographs them. You also twenty minutes of interviews with the cast and crew, during which the Booth brothers (who look like they could very well be the love children of former Poison frontman Bret Michaels) try to pass off a lens flare as one of the ghostly apparitions said to haunt the sanatorium, Kristin Novak (she's the actress who plays the rich bitch) explains how she researched her role as a medical student by watching a bunch of teen comedies, and Steffany Huckaby (she's the actress who plays the only girl who makes it out alive) says "um...uh...er" about eight thousand times. Oh, yeah -- onscreen text constantly reminds us that the people being interviewed worked on Death Tunnel, which is helpful for anyone who gets confused and thinks they are watching interviews about the making of Death in Venice.
Death Tunnel undoubtedly isn't meant to be seen as anything other than a dumb horror flick, but it doesn't work on even that level. Hell, it's almost bad enough to make you yearn for an Uwe Boll flick.
Guilty as hell.
Review content copyright © 2006 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Behind the Scenes Featurette
* Death is in Fashion Featurette
* Photo Gallery
* Production Still Gallery
* Official Site