CAPSULE: HOUSE OF THE DEAD (2003)

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DIRECTED BY: Uwe Boll

FEATURING: Jonathan Cherry, Ona Grauer, Clint Howard,

PLOT:  Teenagers go to the Isle of the Dead for the “rave of the century,” but ravenous

Still from House of the Dead (2003)

killing machines from somewhere within the zombie genus spoil the party.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Uwe Boll’s weirdest idea is to periodically insert brief, totally unrelated clips from the House of the Dead video game into fight scenes in the House of the Dead movie.  It’s not enough of a gambit to make this into a truly weird movie, but combined with the film’s transcendental, comic dumbness, it’s enough to make it an interesting curiosity.

COMMENTS: I think the people who have voted House of the Dead into the IMDB bottom 100 movies are too hung up on little things like believable characters, continuity, acting that doesn’t embarrass the performers, and dialogue that respects the intelligence of the target audience.  Those are fine qualities in, say, a movie about a poor seamstress who falls in love with a consumptive poet in 19th century England, but they’re just window dressing in a movie about pumping as many bullets into the heads of as many zombies as possible in 90 minutes.  Uwe Boll understands this, and, with an honesty that proved too brutally revealing for the 2003 movie watching public to handle, he delivered an experience in House of the Dead that’s the equivalent of sitting in front of a video game screen for an hour and a half, watching blood spatter, without even having to frantically press buttons for the gory payoff.  I could say many uncharitable things about the inessential technical qualities of House of the Dead, but I can’t say that I was ever bored watching it, or that it reminded me of any other film in existence.  The unbelievable seven minute centerpiece alone should save it from being listed among the worst movies of all time.  Set to a relentless rap/metal metronome meant only to pump adrenaline, not generate suspense, it features photogenic, scantily-clad teens grabbing a cache of automatic weapons and slaughtering legions of living dead extras while Boll experiments with Matrix-style “bullet time” effects.  Blood spatters; heads explode; college girls in low-cut, skintight American flag jumpsuits reveal ninja-quality melee skills; grenade blasts fling bodies through the air; guns inexplicably change from rifles to pistols in the blink of an eye.  All the while, video game footage flashes onscreen, complete with health bars and “free play” notices.  There’s an energy and misplaced love of brain-dead action moviemaking here that’s brilliant, in its own way.  It’s as effective a parody of the first-person shooter mentality as will ever be committed to celluloid.  Add in shameless gratuitous nudity and pepper with headscratching verbal exchanges (“You did all this to become immortal.  Why?” “To live forever!”) and you have a movie that is unforgettable in its stupidity.

If you gave this exact same material to a competent hack like Michael Bay, he would work it over, smoothing out the rough patches of dialogue and continuity errors and polishing it to a dull, marketable, mediocre sheen.  Given a modicum of acceptable storytelling and a surface appearance of competence, audiences wouldn’t feel so insulted—although the joke would be on them, since at bottom the result would be just as dumb.  I much prefer the rough-hewn, all-too-human character of Boll’s work, which is at least interesting in its flaws.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…cheese of the purest stripe, bafflingly bad to the point of being oddly charming in its brain-dead naivete.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

2 thoughts on “CAPSULE: HOUSE OF THE DEAD (2003)”

  1. I have to agree with the masses on this one. I will be adding Mr. Boll’s ‘House of The Dead’ to my worst horror films of the decade list. I usually cut zombie films more slack than other horror sub-genres, but not here. The clips from the video game throughout the movie are just a ridiculous addtion. It must have looked much better in his head than the final result on screen did. Like many horror films, there are abnoxious and annoying characters you can’t wait to see die. But I must say, this one was extra irritating. The dialog is beyond bad. You mentioned Michael Bay (one of my least favorite directors on the planet) and that is appropriate since they seemed to be going for more of an action thing than a horror thing. There was little to no zombie mystique. Just mentioning Romero’s name isn’t going to legitimize this mess. It was all shooting and more shooting. And the surviving ravers sure were acrobatic and athletic and were able to perform all sorts of incredible feats. I guess that was a nod to the video game. Except of course you never get to be athletic in the game, it is a first person shooter. Perhaps it was a nod to another video game?! What kind of rave of the century was this anyway?! There was a few portable toliets, a stage and a tent or two! I would rather watch a Youtube video of some 16 year old playing House of Dead on their Xbox than watch this film ever again.

  2. I know my opinion on House of the Dead is a minority one. I agree that if you consider it as a horror movie, it deserves to be ranked among the worst films ever. Looking at it as a weird-ish curiosity, though, I find it’s more interesting than that. The movie is so relentlessly dumb that it very nearly works as a satire of pop-culture. With its ridiculously huge piles of exploding zombie heads, spent bullet casings and loose boobs, coupled with an absolute minimum attempt at storytelling, it’s almost as if Boll is saying “I have so much contempt for you as a culture that I believe that you will find this entertaining.” Now, I’m fairly sure that Boll didn’t mean this interpretation, but I don’t consider the artists’ intention to be very relevant when deciding on the value of a work of art. I never found it boring, and that’s the main thing!

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