Teen zombie horror
Trivia This flick apparently has cameo zombie appearances by many leading members of Sega Japan.
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House of the Dead (2001)
29th Oct 04
When the rave of the century gets overrun with zombies, a group of good looking teenagers take refuge in a nearby house and try to make it through the night in one piece.
The first time I ever clocked House of the Dead - the video game - was in the year 2000 in Amsterdam. I don’t remember much about the trip to Amsterdam I’ll admit, it was Amsterdam don’t forget, but I remember my friend and I pumping a small fortune in guilder into that machine to get to the end. We’d gathered quite a crowd by the latter levels, as you do when you’re rolling through a popular arcade game, and I recall it being pretty fast and frantic action. The best thing was though, when it did slow down for the unnecessary plot defining cut scenes you always had the option to shoot the screen to jump to the next bit of action. All I can say is that it’s a crying shame you couldn’t do that with the film because there are a great many times you want to, believe you me.
House of the Dead - the movie - starts with a bunch of unlucky teenagers rushing to get to the docks to catch the last boat to the secluded island where the Sega sponsored rave is being held. And for a crappy horror movie the group have quite a complicated dynamic. Simon is the brains of the outfit, which is why he’s going out with a stunning blonde named Cynthia, whereas his buddy Greg has cotton wool between his ears but is blessed with Calvin Klein model good looks. Those looks work for Karma, who’s all over him like a rash from the opening reel, but Greg’s too dumb to notice because he only has eyes for Alicia. Alicia is Rudy’s ex who she split up with so she could spend more time studying fencing (which obviously comes in useful later on) and Rudy’s taking it quite well because he’s already pulled Liberty, a foxy oriental dancer who favors wearing stars and stripes cat suits to these kind of gatherings. Rudy and Liberty are already at the party, though, and the main ensemble haven’t got there yet so I’m really getting ahead of myself. Sorry about that, I just wanted everyone to understand who everybody is.
So Simon, Greg, Cynthia, Karma and Alicia excitedly arrive at the dock only to discover that they have missed the boat by fifteen minutes. Damn, what are they going to do? Well, after a bit of colorful negotiation they manage to talk a fisherman named Kirk (and he’s the captain, so that amusingly makes him ‘Captain Kirk’) into ferrying them across. En route our hapless teens find out the locals call their destination the ‘Island of Death’ from Kirk’s first mate, Salish, who’s fairly suspicious of them and really doesn’t want to be going there at all. Still it beats jail, which is where they’ll be if Lieutenant Casper from the naval police catches them since, unbeknownst to our heroic teens, Kirk’s not a fisherman after all.
Anyway, when they all finally arrive at the island, the place is deserted. The guys are surprisingly thrilled, more beer for them they muse, but the girls rightfully insist they try to find everyone. After a brief search and a fleeting encounter with a zombie or two, they end up finding Rudy, Rudy’s new chick Liberty and Rudy’s mate Matt all holed up in a nearby creepy old house.
After a touching reunion between Rudy and Alicia, our unlucky protagonists put their heads together and decide that getting off the island as fast as possible is the best plan and so they head back to the boat. Unfortunately, the zombies have beaten them to it. Both the boat and the beach are overrun with the living dead. Everything looks lost, in fact, until Captain Kirk turns up with a sniper rifle and opens up his own can of whoop-ass on the undead hordes. And it gets better, it's now that Kirk owns up to actually being an arms smuggler and hilariously confesses to having a crate full of automatic weapons with him. Pretty handy, you have to admit. Breaking them out and heading back to the house for refuge, the movie descends into a comical zombie action feast where the teens blast their way through wave after wave of excitable zombies with remarkable proficiency for a bunch of teenage kids. In fact, Kirk breaking out the artillery is pretty much the turning point of the movie since from here on in the pace rarely falters. Action fan or not let's face facts, no matter how badly choreographed an action sequence is (and believe me, some of them here are just plain awful), it sure as hell beats listening to a bunch of forgettable teenage actors throwing painfully inane dialogue at each other.
Massive chunks of the movie can unfortunately only be described as lame, so much so that it’s quite hard to know where to start. The rave that they’re so excited about getting too is actually a pretty tiny affair, certainly not worth all the effort the kids go to get there. When it gets trashed by zombies, Rudy’s mate somehow manages to capture it on video while running away and then plays it back to rest of the group when they first team up in the house. The playback is seconds long, which is a shame since that whole party crash could have been a real riot to watch in full. Mind you, if they would have made as big a mess of it as they did with all the other action sequences, it’s probably no great loss. The undead, when you do see them, are a bit wild for my liking. You haven’t seen a bunch of zombies move so fast since the new Dawn of the Dead although to compare the two movies is a bit of an insult. They run, they leap, they snarl maniacally and all that jazz, but then they get very graphically blasted to pieces by our teenage heroes. Not skimping on the blood and guts surprised me and I thought this was weird and oddly inconsistent. The movie bounces between lame, Buffy style action to very gory heads being blown off type of stuff. Gore like that surely guarantees an R rating and therefore negates the obvious mid-teen target audience. I guess they thought that through about as much as the action choreography then the zombies seem to mull around waiting for their turn to attack rather than just surging forward as we’d expect. At least this keeps zombie close ups to a minimum though, because when we do see them in the flesh it’s obvious how lame the make up attempts are. However I’ve not ruled out the possibility that the zombies didn’t cut it for me because they have no traditional zombie movement to speak of and as such you get the impression that they’re just guys in suits. That’s the kind of film this is.
The movie and the game share very little in terms of plot, although there are many occasions where footage from the game is used in the film. Sometimes it’s effective, like through the photo negative opening credits, but at other times a quick clip of the game is used to link unrelated scenes, a bit like the spinning bat symbol in the original 60s Batman TV series. That’s not the only time the game is referenced though, in the middle of the big action sequence when the heroes break for the house, there are several embarrassing attempts at bullet-time photography which look distinctly video game like. There’ll be a fast cut and the camera will spin around one character, but the camera will be low and pointing upwards thus only catching the actor, trees behind and nobody else. That is a pretty cheap bullet-time rip off in anyone's book, but it’s even more cheesy when characters die since we’re then treated to a similar spin round sequence but with blood dripping down the screen. I mean, really.
Jurgen Prochnow (who you’ll either remember from Das Boot or Beverly Hills Cop 2 depending on how cultured you are) seems to be having loads of fun hamming up the role of Captain Kirk. Clint Howard as his first mate also gets the joke, but the rest of the cast don’t and turn in totally bland performances. I suppose the script is half to blame for that, Dave Parker of The Dead Hate the Living fame sticks his foot in his mouth again with some Romero worship dialogue that will make you cringe. He also has the inability to script convincing empathy dialogue; when one character dies the next either doesn’t seem bothered or totally overreacts by having a ‘I can’t believe they’re gone!’ style tantrum. It's criminal really, all that money and they hire Dave Parker. Well, let’s be thankful that at least he doesn’t reference Bruce Campbell this time around.
All in all, this movie is as bad as you expect it’s going to be. It’s badly staged popcorn fodder and is hilarious but for all the wrong reasons. The big question though is, just how bad is it? Are we talking about a good/bad gore classic like Zombi 3 or Nightmare City? Well, maybe. If you do dig all the bad cheese zombie flicks then you may well really like it. I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed watching it in a ‘this is rubbish’ kind of way, but I don’t think it will stand the test of time too well. My advice is don’t expect too much and rent before you buy. If you want to see a movie that's really good and has some House of the Dead - the video game - influence, get Wilson Yip's Bio-Zombie instead. That's a real hoot.
Versions Only Region 1 DVD, and you can usually pick that up quite cheap because everbody who owns a copy of this flick just wants to sell it.