When an island rave goes horribly wrong, a group of college kids are trapped on an island that’s infested with zombies intent on adding a few more unfortunate souls to their number. Very, very, very loosely based on the arcade video game shooter.
Damnit, I miss the old days of video arcade popularity, when the places used to be all over the place. I mean you can still find the video arcades that dot the long, mostly deserted stretches of Midwestern interstate highways, the ones that beckon to lonely truckers with a pocket full of quarters and box full of Kleenex. Actually, I think those jackoff booths are more popular than good old fashioned game arcades anymore seeing as there is almost always one next to every strip club. Personally I’ve never found the draw to flogging the bishop in a room covered in enough man juice to keep an entire season of Law and Order: SVU going strong. To each their own I suppose. I’m getting off track here a bit though. The arcades I miss are the video game heavens of old. The places you would go to race your friends, compete in rousing games of Mortal Kombat or whatever new fighting game had come out, and, most importantly, test out your shooting accuracy in one of the dozens of light gun equipped shooters that were always coming out a couple of decades ago. I’m talking about the games where you would stand back, away from the screen, and fire away with whatever gun that game came equipped with, anything from Aliens’ carbine machine rifle to Time Cops’ heavy pistol. Those games were always the most fun after you’d gotten tired of trying to control a race car in the notoriously uncontrollable racing games or given up on the near fights that were always breaking out around the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter games. Sure, you could always just mindlessly button mash your way through Ninja Turtle: Turtles in Time, The Simpsons, or, if you were lucky and the arcade had it, XMEN, but the real place to be was among the shooters. One in particular was immensely popular and damn near impossible to beat, House of the Dead. Not that any of the shooters were easy to beat, but House of the Dead seemed determined to make you spend your allowance and more. It was such a pain in the ass and the fact that my buddy and I didn’t smash the fucking thing is a testament to both our will power, and the threatening looking security Nickel City hired to watch over their expensive gaming machines. Still, though it might have taken a while, beat it we did, and it only took us about fifty bucks, a small fortune when we were kids. The day we beat it I swore to never again play a House of the Dead game, so of course I was back to playing it the very next week. I’ll always miss the fun of video game arcades. There’s always Dave and Buster’s if I ever win enough money to afford the place, or Chuck E. Cheeses if I feel like playing a few token games that all smell of urine and feces, but nothing will ever be quite like those old school video game arcades that were like electronic cathedrals dedicated to the gods of gaming. I thought I might get a little bit of nostalgia watching a movie that was based on one of my old favorites. Sadly this was not to be the case.
Our piss poor adaption to an arcade classic begins with a man named Rudy sitting alone among smoldering ruins and lamenting a tragic loss of life that’s occurred beforehand, though he seems more puppy dog sad than actually devastated. Rewinding to the previous day, he narrates an intro for five college kids, his friends, who have just missed a boat to an island rave they were all supposed to attend together, Rudy himself having gone on ahead of them to get the place scoped out for maximum party fun. He gives us a warning that they will all be dead by the end of this story before said story then gets started proper. On the island, Rudy is already in full party mode and just waiting for his friends to show. Back on the mainland, the five friends are able to pay a smuggler to give them a ride, giving him a bit of extra cash to ditch police officers who show up to search his boat, though that doesn’t stop the officers from following them close behind. They manage to make it there right as night is falling, the captain using the darkness to get rid of some contraband on his boat while the five friends make their way to the rave proper at the center of the island. At the site of what was supposed to be a massive rave, our not so bright college kids find that the place is deserted. Instead of deciding to get the hell out of there, they do the much more sensible thing and stick around to discover where everyone went, the torn up shreds of bloodied clothes scattered around not being enough for them to come to a conclusion about what happened. Two of the five stay behind to have some sexy fun and the other three do some exploring, coming across an old, abandoned church where they find some of the other ravers, including Rudy, holed up and terrified. They explain that while everyone was partying a bunch off zombies came out of the surrounding woods and slaughtered everyone except for them. After grabbing one of the friends that stayed behind to get himself some nookie, his female companion having been zombified, they hightail it to the boat that brought the latecomers there, but find it overrun with the undead, only the assistance of the boat’s captain and one of the cops hot on said captain’s tale keeping them all from being devoured. After killing all the zombies in the immediate vicinity, opening up a path to finally get on the boat, the captain tells them about an exiled Spanish priest that was banished to the island a few hundred years prior and is said to still haunt the place. The plan seems simple, get to the boat now that the zombies have been dispatched and get the hell out of there. They instead think it better to run back to the abandoned church and barricade themselves inside for whatever reason. This leads to the earlier stated massacre.
Good ole Uwe Boll. You can always guess a movie is going to fall between shit and absolute shit, occasionally falling into the “How’s this man still allowed to make movies” territory. Whether it’s Postal, BloodRayne, Blubberella, or his magnum opus to terrible film making Alone in the Dark, the man has proven his god stricken lack of talent to make anything resembling a decent movie, or at the very least his very real talent to piss off the last few fans he has by telling everyone to go fuck themselves when he can’t get the crowdfunding he needs to make some other awful movie. Seriously, Boll makes Ed Wood look like a god send, he just trades in space ships on strings for poorly choreographed Matrix martial arts moves and awful dialogue. What kind of awful dialogue? I don’t even know where to begin in all honesty. Every other line that came out of these peoples’ mouths seemed to have been written by someone that’s never actually been in a real conversation. Some of the better examples:
- “Guys, check this book out. Looks pretty old, maybe it will help.” Gee golly Mr. Whiticers, I think there’s even writing in it too.
- “Why did you want to be immortal?” “To live forever.” Really? I would have never guessed you wanted to be immortal so that you could live forever. Thanks for clearing that misconception up for me.
- “It’s so quiet.” “Yeah, maybe a little too quiet.” Are you serious? Did you actually just say that? This line has been made fun of for so long even the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie made fun of it. When the same movie that has Vanilla Ice rap battling while guys in giant turtle suits fight other guys in giant monster suits makes fun of an overused line that your movie uses seriously, you have failed.
Those are just some of the more choice lines in the flick, but trust me, a lot of what comes out of these peoples’ mouths is just downright awful. The dialogue in House of the Dead was stuff you wouldn’t even hear from the video game that inspired it. Uwe Boll movies aren’t known for their amazing dialogue, but House of the Dead takes the cake as some of the worst. It’s kind of a sad thing too considering I didn’t think the actors were all that bad. In fact it’s quite the opposite, the actors were great, each playing their given part rather well. Among some of the more notable ones were Jonathan Cherry as Rudy, Cherry, who was recently in the phenomenal WolfCop as paranoid Willie, had a great cynical nature that played well for his character. David Palffy, who played Anubis in Stargate: SG-1, played the eerie former priest Castillo that controlled all the zombies on the island, he was a creepy as hell character ruined only by the dumb things that came out of his mouth. Jurgen Prochnow was the smuggler/captain that takes the college kids to the island only to be stuck on there with them. Prochnow, who’s most famous role was in Das Boot but has appeared in dozens of films, was, above all, an asshole in this movie, and thank god his mannerism’s showed it because if you would have had to go off of the dialogue you would have thought the man to just be an 80’s cartoon villain from Captain Planet or perhaps a warning tale out of an old McGruff the crime dog commercial. It was such a shame to get good actors and then bog them down in poor dialogue, but I was at least grateful they were there as it took the movie from being an absolute waste to just barely enjoyable.
It wasn’t just the dialogue that was bad either. The story made little to no sense most of the time. The basis of it is sound, a bunch of people on an island rave end up attacked by zombies, most are slaughtered, the rest must try and survive, but after that the film is a mess. For instance, why didn’t they just take the one boat home when they had the chance? They explain that all the other boats have vanished, and the police boat that chased the college kids there has been sabotaged, but the smuggler’s boat is still fine. It’s surrounded by zombies when they first run back, but they spend a great deal of time killing all the zombies in the water around it, then, instead of boarding the boat and getting the hell out of there, they decide to try and hole up on the island, hoping they eventually find another way off. They are standing mere yards away from a way off the island, but decided against using it to escape. It kind of makes the rest of the movie pointless knowing that they could have left the island and didn’t because, well, because I don’t know why. There is no reason they shouldn’t have gotten on the boat after they killed all the zombies surrounding it. They also make a big deal about exiled priest Castillo’s experiments to turn people into zombies, something that gave him immortality because SCIENCE! Then, after they’ve spent the whole movie alluding to his secret, the only thing they give the viewer as an explanation is some kind of worm thing in a red tank. I don’t normally care if the reasons behind why zombies are in a film are explained, to a lot of movies the why isn’t important, but if you’re going to make such a big fucking deal about it then I expect to be given something. Otherwise it just seems like the writers couldn’t figure it out themselves and kind of said “Fuck it” at the end, he granted himself immortality through creating zombie because “reasons.” Then again, there were kind of a lot of “fuck it” moments throughout the film. Some of the more obvious ones I’ve already mentioned like not taking the boat to escape when they could, but there are a bunch more that happen continuously. A few examples out of the many were things like zombies having to hold their breath underwater as if they still needed to breathe for whatever reason, the police that are initially following the captain’s boat talking about staying back so they can’t be seen, it’s open fucking water and they’re only about thirty or forty feet back, I’m pretty sure they can be seen, Rudy having some kind of epileptic fit during a fight where he sees a bunch of scenes from the movie that is never explained, and even Castillo completely ignoring every threat against him like no one wants to kill him to stop the zombies. Things like that were constantly happening throughout the film, people even jump into zombie infested waters after numerous warnings not to do so, seeing the zombies swimming around but somehow not noticing them. Incidents like these were so frequent that the film almost became a joke.
Much like with good actors having terrible dialogue forced upon them, the broken story and absolutely ridiculous moments kill what might have been a great zombie film because House of the Dead has one thing going for it that is a must for all zombie flicks, great effects. The zombies were extremely well done and looked both frightening and repulsive if not a little cheesy every now and again. When I say cheesy, I don’t mean that they were bad or anything like that, they were just over the top at times, showing zombies that had exposed skulls and bones yet too much decaying flesh hanging on them for a zombie that would be rotted enough to have bones showing. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a bad thing considering it looks pretty damn good, and zombie films have never been known for being overly realistic, just giving you a heads up. The gore on the other hand never gets cheesy, it looks downright disgusting, and it’s very prevalent. Some of these people die in horrible ways and you get to see every gruesome moment of their demise. I was really impressed with the effects for House of the Dead, it’s just too bad that the rest of the movie couldn’t have been better.
In the end, House of the Dead isn’t the worst move out there, but it sure as hell isn’t the best either. Should you choose to give it a watch just know that it has almost nothing to do with the video game. There are little nods to the game here and there like video clips inserted in between scenes, an axe flying straight at a character much like the axes you’d have to shoot down in the video game, and the camera panning around a character when they die, the screen going red just like the game. The very end also names one of the survivors as someone very important to the game’s storyline, but for the most part the film is its own entity apart from the video game. I wouldn’t say stay away the film since it does have its enjoyable moments, just don’t expect anything that would do justice to the game.
The Undead Review
Directed By: Uwe Boll (BloodRayne, Alone in the Dark)
Starring: Jonathan Cherry (WolfCop, Final Destination 2), Ona Grauer (Alone in the Dark, Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon), Elle Cornell (Halloween 4: The Curse of Michael Myers, All Souls Day), and Jurgen Prochnow (Judge Dredd, Dark Asylum)
Written By: Mark A. Altman (The Darkroom, All Souls Day), Dan Bates, and Dave Parker (The Dead Hate the Living, ColdWater)
Released By: Boll KG Productions, Mindfire Entertainment, Brightlight Pictures, Herold Productions, and Artisan Entertainment
Release Year: 2003
Release Type: Theatrical Release
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Rotten Heads: Two and a Half Heads Out of Five