Mark Reviews Movies


½ Star (out of 4)

Director: Uwe Boll

Cast: Jonathan Cherry, Ona Crauer, Tyron Leitso, Enuka Okuma, Ellie Cornell, Clint Howard, Jürgen Prochnow, Will Sanderson, Sonya Solomaa, Kira Clavell, Michael Ecklund, David Palffy

MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive strong violence/gore, language and some nudity)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 10/10/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

In its opening credits, House of the Dead proudly announces that it's based on a video game, and it's that questionable badge of honor that the movie continuously parades and flaunts with absolutely no success. The movie panders to the sensibility that a video game movie should try as hard as possible to recreate the experience of playing a video game. The only problem with that is that video games are interactive; movies are not. If they were, the audience would be given light-guns (yes, I admit I know what a light-gun is) when they buy their ticket to shoot along with the cast and have the high scores listed at the side of the screen as the movie progresses. Do you understand now why that doesn't work? A movie is a movie, not an outlet for the most expensive arcade game ever made. I need hardly point out that the script is terrible, both in terms of dialogue and structure, the acting is submerged in ineptitude and borders on pushing the progress of the art back about ten years, and the production values are as imaginative and convincing as those in a second-rate amusement park ride.

Right off the bat, the movie gives hope to those who like to add their own running commentary. A college student named Rudy (Jonathan Cherry) gives us a voiceover prologue to the horror and tragedy that will befall his now dead group of friends. If this was recorded in post production, I wonder how much the experience of making the movie affected his interpretation of the lines. Anyway, his former friends are among the usual brand of college students in a horror movie, so I'll save you the details. There is one who stands out in his mind: Alicia (Ona Grauer), the girl he has an obligatory crush on, who also happens to fence. Is there any question as to whether or not her fencing skills will come into play later? Rudy's already at a big rave party on the mysterious Island of the Dead (Who's the genius that booked that place?), but his friends have missed the boat and now have to hitch a ride with Captain Kirk (Jürgen Prochnow) and his assistant Salish (Clint Howard). No sooner does group arrive than do they discover that the party's MIA and something's amiss on the Island of the Dead.

Did I mention the boat they take to the island is called the Lazarus V? That should give you a hint as to what's wrong on the Island of the Dead, in case the name of the island hasn't clued you in already. Yes, there are zombies on this island, and they're not happy having a corporate-sponsored rave in their backyard. I always thought that a zombie bite turned you into a zombie, but it appears that I was wrong. It's never clear how the zombies' victims turn into the mindless creatures, but I think it has something to do with coming in contact with the mutated blood that a heretical scientist made long ago to keep himself alive. Sure. And, of course, when zombies are afoot, you'd better believe a couple of girls will go topless. One such scene seems to exist only to answer the perverse question, how long can a director make a naïve young actress remain topless before she and we get uncomfortable? Take a guess at who's next? Why the girl who looks like a thirty-eight-year-old porn star with unconvincing cosmetic surgery, of course, and in front of Clint Howard, too. Yes, Clint Howard is in this movie. Who said it's only his brother who casts him?

After the gratuitous nudity is over with, it's time for action. Following with the video game motif, scenes from the video game are awkwardly intercut throughout the movie. Why, though? The actions scenes play out with little variation: a shot of someone shooting a gun followed by shot of zombie being hit complete with unmistakably digital blood spurting out repeated ad nauseam. When one of the main characters dies, there's a weird "game over" moment in which the camera spins around the actor and the screen goes red. Director Uwe Boll might as well have inserted title cards telling us what level the characters have reached. The dull crescendo to all of this is an elongated sequence in which each character is shown doing their thing in slow motion. What's unintentionally hilarious about this sequence is how you can clearly see zombie extras in prime attacking position immediately behind the characters, but they pensively stand by without doing anything. The makeup is cheap and ineffective, consisting of a white base with blood placed in strategic spots. The head zombie (the guy who mutated the blood) has red lines drawn across his face to set him apart.

I've already spent way too much time and energy on this movie, so a few quick final thoughts. I've learned the difference between homage and rip-off is determined by the quality of the movie. This is clearly in the rip-off zone. House of the Dead liberally steals from countless items and even an entire scene from—all of things—The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. You have to wonder, did they even try? And is a moment when a character named Liberty dies while everyone stands by and does nothing meant to be symbolic? If so, is it a commentary of current events or the movie itself?

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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