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DVD Review: House of the Dead

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People far wittier and more clever than I have surely written about the myriad of weaknesses in Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead, a zombie film composed of the shadows projected by other films. I’m aware that adding to the conversation about this film is completely unnecessary (not to mention super-untimely… the movie contains a line in which a character doubts that George Romero will complete a fourth Dead film). Those with masochistic viewing tendencies probably have seen this movie and/or are aware of it. Those without such tendencies are probably unaware of its existence or, if they are, aren’t bothered by the fact that they haven’t seen it.

I do have such a masochistic pull towards movies such as this. I enjoy the moving pictures in much the same way a dog enjoys thrown sticks. This poses a problem when baffled friends, well-wishers, and enemies want to know how on earth I could have enjoyed, say, Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes. (I thought it was all supposed to be a joke. Wasn’t it all a joke?) The masochistic pull I feel towards seeing a film that has such an awful smell surrounding it is, most likely, some underhanded way in which I challenge this dog-stick relationship I have with the medium and, thus, play a game of relationship brinkmanship with film. This is no doubt because I am, for reasons I can’t yet fathom, deeply ashamed of being so interested and passionate about the movies.

So, anyway, in this doggish way, I found House of the Dead an enjoyable film as the image was properly exposed, in focus, and, failing that, the audio was intelligible. So there.

Nevertheless, this film is certainly as bad as it is reputed to be. But my mind reels at just calling it bad and moving on. There are certain bad movies that achieve such a quality of illogic and absurdity that one wishes that this quality was the intent of the filmmakers (while knowing that it was not and, had it been, the result would probably be impossible to watch). This is quite entertaining, since it provides a nice mental challenge to try and tune into the logic of the film and just when you think you’ve got it all figured out… the hay zombies show up. These films feel like some sort-of Star Trek mind-trap devised by God-like beings who turn out to be insane children.

House of the Dead is not this bad. It is the worst kind of bad movie: a vapid bad movie. Sure there are some howlingly bad lines in there (“Guys, check out this book. Looks pretty old, maybe it’ll help us.”) and nearly every bad decision that could have been made in the making of this film is represented with gusto. (Who knows why the decision was made to splice in clips of the arcade game the movie is [it turns out] prequel-izing.) But, despite the exuberant nature of the movie’s awfulness, the underlying tone is one of pale, pathetic imitation. Other, better films are, if I’m being generous, referenced and imitated often and in such a one-to-one manner that, in a non-generous mood, I’d say outright theft of intellecutal property occurs more than once during this film’s running time.

In this way, House of the Dead feels like Resident Evil’s little brother. This is bad news for House of the Dead since Resident Evil is pretty piss-poor to begin with. It’s pathetic to watch the movie run through the motions of what makes a successful zombie movie in this day and age, playing the rhythms right, but missing every single note in the process. This isn’t as maniacally fun to watch or to try and figure out as Zardoz or The Keep. It’s ultimately an embarassing experience because you can see exactly what the film’s trying to do and you can see it clearly fail every step of the way. What’s more, what the movie’s aiming for is so lowest common denominator that it never, with one exception*, makes any so bad – they’re funny extreme boners of commercial calculation or pushes itself into any ground untrod by braver films before it.

So, yeah. House of the Dead is a bland awfulness.

Film, I wish I knew how to quit you.

*I’m supposed to believe Sega has a banner ad at a rave? What the fuck?!

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About David Wester