Two groups of people will march into theaters this weekend to see "House of the Dead," fans of the zombie genre and fans of the hit video game. I personally expected an excuse for filmmakers to throw teenagers onto an island looking for a party only to instead find shotguns and zombies. And I was ready to enjoy such an excuse, but instead was miserably bored watching one of the worst films of the year.
The movie tries to stay true to Sega's hit arcade game in every way but the plot, which would have been the only rational way to go. Between almost every scene is a quick shot of the pixilated video game. It's interesting for the first few times until it gets repetitive and intrusive. It also reminds the moviegoers of what awaits them in the lobby if they walkout. And sadly, as tiresome as it gets, the quick cuts of the video game are much more exciting than the story we are following.
The movie opens with character named Rudy (Jonathan Cherry) waiting for the arrival of his friends on a distant island off the Seattle coast. The story is told in flashback, and the first we thing we are told is that his friends are all going to die. This would almost be a spoiler but for the fact that some people can survive being impaled through the chest.
So then we see the five friends, still on the mainland attempting to charter a boat that will get them out to the "Isla del Muerte" (Island of the Dead). Listing these characters reminds me of doing so while writing my review of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" a remake of an original horror, but far superior to this trash. And the heroes in this one are: Simone (Tyron Leitso), Cynthia (Sonya Salomaa), Greg (Will Sanderson), and Alicia (Ona Grauer).
They ask the crew of the only boat docked at shore; Captain Kirk (Jürgen Prochnow) and his first mate Salish (Clint Howard), to take them to the island. But Kirk and Salish refuse because, well, who wants to go to a place called the Island of the Dead? But these kids really really want to go to this rave, so one of them pulls out $1,200 (hoping for one hell of a party) and convinces Kirk to seal their fates even though at one point he said "there isn't enough money in the world to make us go back to Isla del Muerte." I guess everything has a price tag.
The group arrives at the island only to find it completely deserted. The lights are still flashing and the beer kegs are still flowing, but all the ravers have vanished. This does not startle the group much as some quickly start filling cups and others hit the tent for the necessary we've-finally-made-it sex. Never at any point does the financer of this trip complain that none of this was worth spending $1,200 on.
At this point there has been ample nudity; a few flashers from the rave that was in full-swing a few hours earlier expose themselves to video cameras, and a girl goes skinny-dipping in--how fortunate for us--clear water.
But we soon learn that the ravers have either been killed or turned into zombies. And that's the thing, there are no established rules in this movie. Some talk while others grunt, and others are completely silent. When the plot requires a quick death, the zombies are fast, able to run, jump through bushes and ambush at will. But when some characters must live a little longer--this unfortunately includes Liberty (Kira Clavell), a surviving raver decked out in a red white and blue swimsuit and is an expert in martial arts--the zombies can only walk which allows the remaining humans to blast them away with Captain Kirk's hidden stash of shotguns and automatic weapons.
It is when the characters first learn that the island is inhabited by flesh-craving zombies, that we learn how atrocious the acting is. When a friend gets killed, the rest look on
in horror with a straight face and quickly get over it. Imagine someone intentionally trying to butcher a line and in the most monotone voice saying, "Oh my god, she's dead." and you've got what the acting is like in this movie.
Not only do the characters show no emotion, they're completely stupid. Lou Lumenick of The New York Post provides a dialogue sample in his review:
First idiot: "What the hell are those things?"
Captain Kirk: "That's why they call this Isla del Muerte."
Second idiot: "These are zombies, pure and simple!"
But I've got a better one that I describe after I mention all the sacrifices. It takes awhile for all of them to figure out they're being chased by zombies, so one of the characters has to draw out a figurative diagram: "We're dealing with zombies, like in a Romero movie." When he gets a puzzled reaction, he finishes: "A Romero movie, you know, the holy trilogy, 'Night', 'Dawn' and 'Day.'" I wonder if George Romero knows that his name is being used in a zombie film far inferior to even his weakest movie.
When they do learn that zombies are after them, they head for the boat that is less than a hundred yards away. Wait, no they don't. "We don't know what's out there!" a character shouts, so instead they take the most illogical path and trot towards a wooden cabin located in the center of the island which is of course surrounded by hungry zombies. At this point, I just wanted all of them to die so I could go home.
The zombies come out in full force at about the time when the audience starts yawning. The zombies look as good as someone who applied K-Mart Halloween makeup and is getting ready to go trick-or-treating. Where exactly did the $12 million for this movie go? The only decent aspect of the film is a bullet-time sequence that is completely unnecessary for what we're dealing with and belongs in a better movie.
Almost every kill is off-screen, a vice that can't be tolerated zombie horror. Movies like "Kill Bill" prove you can go far with an R-certificate, so what's the point of showing a close-up of a screaming character only for the camera to cut away before the fun starts? Let me assure you, it's not for suspense-building purposes.
I don't know what Director Uwe Boll was trying to accomplish. He obviously went for style but used no imagination in the process. The action scenes are trampled by an offensive combination of rap and techno music, and every time the camera would show a character, the action would stop and we'd get a 360 degree pan of him/her firing a round or two into a tame-looking zombie. There's no reason for anybody--especially since they all have weaponry skills--to fall victim to the zombies unless the plot requires them to be fast. So what happens is we get about three different noble sacrifices from characters who simply don't want to live anymore.
Back when the characters had to decide on whether to run for the boat or the doomed cabin, one of them who thought he killed a zombie gets a face-full of venomous spew and it burns off some his cheek flesh. Later in the cabin, he tells one of the girls that he has no reason to make it out alive, because "who will be able to look at me in the face? I belong in the circus!" Gee, and I thought having a war-wound from a weekend of fighting zombies would earn me bragging rights. But no, this kid doesn't think about zombies, he thinks about what everyone will think of him when he returns home with part of his face missing; something many people actually have to live with in the real world. He decides to sacrifice himself.
The action gets mundane as the same clips are recycled and characters are always jumping away from explosions. At one point they encounter a fish tank full of blood and a girl fires two rounds into it. The free flowing blood awakens the dead corpses that litter that ground and then more fighting takes place.
Do yourself a favor. Skip "House of the Dead" and wait until next Friday when "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is released. Marcus Nispel's impressive remake of the 1974 classic delivers some good chills and will surely please horror enthusiasts. But if you chance this, realize that the guy in the multiplex lobby looking over the shoulder of someone playing the "House of the Dead" video game will be having more fun than you will in the theater watching the "House of the Dead" movie.