Artisan // 2003 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 16th, 2004
The game has just begun.
Super Mario Brothers. Double Dragon. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Mortal Kombat.
What do all these movies have in common? They're films based on popular video games, and bad ones at that. Following suit, in a long line of head scratching ideas is Artisan's zombie-thon action flick House of the Dead. Get your quarters ready!
They've come to what they thought was the rave of the year. Now they're about to enter a place where no one comes back alive. A place called -- as if this is a BIG surprise -- the House of the Dead!
When a group of young twenty-somethings -- err, I mean TEENAGERS -- head off for spring break, they get more than they bargained for, by way of bloodthirsty zombies. This batch of interchangeable students decide to charter a boat, captained by a crusty old sea salt named Viktor Kirk (yes, THAT Jurgen Prochnow, The English Patient, if you can believe it), which arrives at the island to deadening silence. When the party-going sex maniacs finally find the much touted "rave of the year" it's an abandoned shell. This only heightens their curiosity, thus proving they're all dumb as stumps. Meeting up with a local cop (Ellie Cornell, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers) and summing up their situation ("Zombies! Lots of 'em! We gotta get out of here!"), the rag tag group of hot, sexy actors -- err, I mean TEENAGERS -- attempt to discover the secrets of and escape from the House of the Dead.
If you were to believe the gossip, House of the Dead was horror's answer to Gigli. Lambasted by almost the entire movie going community, the film lived up to its name upon its release: DOA. Did it deserve all the negative reviews and box office shunning? Yes and no. On the one hand House of the Dead is an ineptly produced title -- a movie based on a video game (already a high flying red flag) that needed to be made as much as I need hardboiled eggs shoved up my rectal cavity (finally I get to mention hardboiled eggs and my rectum in the same sentence!). And yet I was entertained, due to the sheer exuberance of the production. Is this great or even mediocre filmmaking? Nope. But it sure is watchable schlock, even if there are instances of forehead slapping insanity at just about every turn.
Characters ramble around the island as if chased by bikini-clad models instead of zombies. At one point, a character with all the intelligence of a cinder block -- one who apparently never read the "101 Things You Should Never Do In A Horror Movie" handbook -- reaches down and flips over a zombie to be sure it's dead. Anyone with an IQ above 28 knows exactly what will happen next. I guess this is why the film endeared itself to me. It's as if the filmmakers either a) didn't notice the mistakes they were making or b) were paying homage to every B-movie ever produced. Perhaps it's a little bit of both.
To be fair there are plenty of horror staples to be found here: colorful characters (Clint Howard, thanks for showing up), exploding zombie heads, gratuitous nudity, severed limbs, idiotic dialogue, decaying bodies, lots of guns, inconsistent plot holes, and splattered blood. Gore hounds will be pleased with the intense mayhem, especially once the lead actors reach the title location, which actually looks more like an outhouse shack than a house, but never mind. I'd give you a lengthy summary of who stars in House of the Dead, but do you really care? It's mostly good looking guys with great hair and mouth-watering ladies who exist only on the cover of a Victoria's Secret catalog. Just to even the score, we get Jurgen Prochnow performing a role that is, in and of itself, the very definition of the word "slumming."
While I was admirably entertained, House of the Dead is often bogged down by too many bad choices, most notably the use of actual video game clips during scene transitions (the worst of its kind), often shoddy looking zombies, and a heavy use of Matrix-style camera movements that work great in a big budget action movie but look out of place here. German director Uwe Boll, already knee-deep in another video game monster (Alone in the Dark), places loud techno music behind every scene of zombie action. This is great if you're trying to get your mack on at a dance club but works less successfully while viewing exploding monster heads. But hey, give the guy credit for at least trying something new -- even if it doesn't succeed.
Does House of the Dead rank anywhere near such seminal classics as Romero's Night of the Living Dead trilogy, Dan O'Bannon's comedy/horror spoof The Return of the Living Dead, or Stuart Gordon's gory Re-Animator? Not on your undead life. Yet taken on its own low, low, low level merits, House of the Dead should provide horror buffs with a few unintentional laughs and an equal number of splattered zombie brains.
House of the Dead is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Artisan has done an above average job with this title. The picture is clean and free of any major defects, save for a few inexplicable scenes that seem excessively grainy in comparison to the rest of the film. Otherwise the colors and black levels (there's a lot of 'em) are all solidly rendered and very well defined. This isn't a great transfer, but not a shabby one either.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround (English), DTS 6.1 ES (English), and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English). The Dolby Digital 5.1 track does a great job of utilizing both the front and rear speakers during many sequences. Bullets, explosions, and squishing bodies ring loud and clear through all five speakers, while the sub woofer rumbles loudly. All aspects of the mix are free of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
House of the Dead shockingly includes a few extra features that will please all twenty-three fans of the film. Starting off the disc are two commentary tracks, the first by executive producer Mark Altan and the second by director Uwe Boll, post-production supervisor Jonathan Shore, producer Shawn Williamson, and actor Jonathan Cherry. Both commentaries provide information on the shoot/production, the concept, how they filmmakers got the rights to the game, the special effects, et cetera, et cetera. This is nothing too exciting, just your basic commentary tracks and nothing more.
Next up are two fairly short featurettes: "Stacked for Zom-Bat: The Babes of House of the Dead" and "Behind the House: Anatomy of the Zombie Movement." "Movement" is by far the more interesting of the two, a sort of mix between an EPK promo for the film and a quick look at some of the filmmaker's zombie influences (including interview clips with zombie master George Romero and make-up guru Tom Savini). "Zom-Bat" follows the actresses as they partake in a paintball game with zombies in preparation for their roles in the film. Har-har.
Finally there are three deleted scenes, each presented in full frame, some storyboard comparisons ("Night at the Beach," "The Catacombs," and "Storming the House"), a trailer for the film, and a bonus gallery for other Artisan DVD titles.
Though House of the Dead may not rank nearly as high as other zombie classics, I have to admit that I was more than entertained by this cheese ball of a horror film. Artisan's work on this DVD is far better than the film deserves.
House of the Dead is found guilty of shameless plugging (yank out those damned video game clips already!) but released on bail because I was mildly entertained and humored, which is all I was hoping for when I popped the disc into my player.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track by Mark Altan
* Commentary Track by Director Uwe Boll, Post-Production Supervisor Jonathan Shore, Producer Shawn Williamson, and Actor Jonathan Cherry
* "Stacked for Zom-Bat: The Babes of House of the Dead" Featurette
* "Behind the House: Anatomy of the Zombie Movement" Featurette
* 3 Storyboard Comparisons
* 3 Deleted Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer
* Bonus Trailer