House Of The Dead Review
2004 has turned out to be the year of the zombie. The success of Resident Evil and 28 Days Later two years ago has brought us the surprisingly good Dawn Of The Dead remake, the British comedy smash Shaun Of The Dead and, less impressively, last month's Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Due in December is the Australian movie Undead, in which flesh-eating ghouls run amok in Queensland. We've also heard the excellent news that zombie maestro George A Romero has finally begun production of his fourth Living Dead movie, Land Of The Dead.
And now here's House Of The Dead, which opened in American cinemas last October and has been belatedly given a British release with so little publicity that most moviegoers probably aren't aware it's been showing here. Like the Resident Evil films, House Of The Dead is based on a popular series of Japanese video games, in this case a trio of zombie-themed lightgun shoot-em-ups from Sega. They're good games by the way. Out of all the titles I bought for my Dreamcast console, House Of The Dead 2 was my second favourite, ahead of Sega Bass Fishing but behind Crazy Taxi. Unfortunately, out of all the films I've seen which are adapted from video games, House Of The Dead ranks rock bottom, far beneath even the Tomb Raiders and the Resident Evils, which are pretty poor to begin with. This is an atrocious excuse for a horror film, an incoherent, headache-inducing mess compared to which Alien Vs Predator looks like a masterpiece.
The first half hour is not that bad, or at least it's bad in a fun way. A group of teenagers travelling to a deserted island for a weekend rave charter a boat skippered by the unfortunately named Captain Kirk (Jürgen Prochnow). Kirk and his creepy first mate (Clint Howard) warn the kids that the island is cursed but the boys are too busy drinking, puking and talking about sex to pay attention while the girls are too engrossed in taking their tops off for no reason. God forgive me but I enjoyed this stuff. Deliberately or not, it captured the dumb, trashy feel of a 1970s exploitation film. While all the other new zombie films have taken George A Romero's trilogy as their inspiration, I wondered if director Uwe Boll had modelled his film on the work of Lucio Fulci, the Italian splatter movie king who made Zombie Flesh Eaters.
He hadn't. Once the kids arrive on the island and the zombies attack, all the fun drains away. For all Lucio Fulci's faults as a director, he knew why audiences paid to see a film called Zombie Flesh Eaters and he duly delivered zombies and gore. Uwe Boll hasn't got a clue why anyone might want to watch House Of The Dead. There's little blood and barely a moment where you get a close look at a zombie. Boll is too wrapped up in trying to prove he can overdirect the action scenes even more frenetically than Paul WS Anderson or McG. Since the entire last hour of this film is wall-to-wall action, you can imagine the numbing effect.
In one sequence, Boll whips his camera around each of the half dozen survivors in Matrix-style bullet time, one after another, as they fire their guns. This takes up minutes of screen time and counts as one of the most extreme cases of directorial self-indulgence I've ever seen. Even if the film had built up any momentum, this would stop it dead and to what purpose? Bullet time was cool when The Matix was released in 1999 but more than five years have passed, the effect has been copied by every action hack in Hollywood and not only has it been parodied but there have been parodies of parodies (the Charlie's Angels gag in Shrek). Does this sort of flashy camera trick add anything to a horror film anyway?
If you can believe it, this isn't the worst House Of The Dead has to offer. Even more irritating are the split-second clips from the video games that Uwe Boll keeps inserting into the film, apparently at random. Is this an artistic touch? Is Boll ironically commenting on his own film? Or is it, like the large Sega banner hanging behind the DJ's booth at the rave, just cynical product placement? Since this film's American release last year, Boll has been chosen as the director of four more video game adaptations, including Alone In The Dark and Far Cry, so obviously video game publishers have been pleased with his work. They may have good reason to be. House Of The Dead made me want to go home, take my Dreamcast out of mothballs and give the game another play. The trouble is, I wanted to walk out of the film to do it.