Friday, February 8, 2008

House of the Dead

There’s a part during this movie where our band of survivors is surrounded on all sides by a swarm of zombies, and they’re left with no recourse but to try to kill every last one of a seemingly endless horde. What we get is a lengthy battle sequence in which lots of guns are fired, people leap through the air in slow motion, people and zombies throw axes and machetes at each other, often in slow motion, and the Asian girl stereotype takes down a bunch of zombies with karate kicks. The overall effect is that of a retarded version of Black Hawk Down.

That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, since there’s quite a few movies that director Uwe Boll openly steals from in this film. He directly swipes the famous scene of Frodo hiding from the ringwraiths in Fellowship of the Ring, and he makes repeated use of the “freeze the action and move the camera angle while people are in mid-air" technique that was already ridiculously overplayed by countless Matrix parodies by the time this came out in 2003. This is the first of Boll’s films I have seen all the way through (I’ve also seen parts of Alone in the Dark, including the most anti-erotic sex scene I have ever witnessed), and I think there may be some truth to the numerous comparisons he gets to old cult director Ed Wood. The main difference is in how Boll actually has a budget to work with, whereas Wood had to pretty much make his films with budgets that would have been eaten up in one day of shooting on a normal production, so he at least had some measure of excuse.

The film, based on the video game of the same title in that both involve people shooting zombies, involves a large group of people that go to an island for the “rave of the year”, and then a bunch of zombies arrive and kill most of the non-essential people. The last remaining survivors get together, and after brief abortive attempts to get away by boat, they arm themselves to the teeth with guns, grenades, and sharp objects and try to barricade themselves into a small, predominantly underground building they found earlier on the island.

There’s a lot of questions one would have about such a film. For instance, when it’s clear that nobody can last for more than a few hours on the island without being attacked by zombies, how were the rave’s promoters able to set the place up? For that matter, with all the islands they had to choose from, why did they feel the best possible choice for their party was an island known as “Isla de la Muerte”? Even if we can get past all the other abominable editing choices, why did we keep having footage from the video game used both for scene transitions and as cheap filler during the action scenes? Why would anyone make a zombie movie with a climax that has the final two survivors get into a sword fight with the head zombie? Did somebody actually get paid to write dialogue like the exchange of: “You created it all so you could be immortal. Why?” “To live Forever.”? Finally, even if this is a movie based on a video game, isn’t it asking a bit much of us to accept the awful voice overs that open and close the film by the main character where he tries to make his voice sound like he’s a grizzled special agent in a video game?

I’d love to say that this is one of those so-bad-it’s-good type films, but it’s not. The ridiculously awful zombie costumes certainly fit that bill, but the completely insane editing, while providing some mild amount of amusement, mostly serves to make the film completely illegible. There’s tons of fast cutting, awkward camera angles, night battles, and hazy filters thrown over the scenes in a seemingly intentional effort to make sure that we can’t actually see what the hell’s going on. Combine that with an ending that all but promises a sequel – one that we eventually got, though without Boll helming it – and you’ve got a movie that you should all steer well clear of.

Rating: *

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