House Of The Dead (2003)

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The Uwe Boll era was pretty strange. Starting off as a director of thrillers and action movies, from 2003 to 2011 or so, he exploited a German tax law designed to stimulate local film production and made a run of films based on computer games. At the same time, the internet was completing its dominance of every aspect of our lives, so precursors of sites like this and huge forums were popping up all over the place. All those snarky internet people needed something to mock, and Boll was the perfect candidate – his movies were sort of cheesy, plus he was foreign and a bit odd.

The high point of his fame was 2006, when he challenged his harshest critics to a boxing match, and handily beat them all. Now, “Raging Boll” (as it was christened by its betting site sponsors) worked in Boll’s favour, as the critics (including Rich Kyanka, head of somethingawful.com) came across as whiny babies afterwards, talking about how the mean man had bent the rules or not fought the toughest guys and had committed the cardinal sin, taking it seriously while they’d all thought it was a bit of a laugh. I’d mocked him as much as anyone before that, but afterwards I developed a sort of grudging respect for the man; and now, long after the hype has died down, the tax law has been repealed and he’s back to making “normal” movies, including at least one (“Rampage”) which managed to get positive reviews, I’ve decided to revisit him as part of ISCFC’s season of video game movies.

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“House Of The Dead” is the game with the light-guns attached that you’ll see in arcades, and is pretty much you shooting an uninterrupted stream of zombies, with the occasional super-zombie to off as well. It is, it must be said, not the most narrative-driven of all games, and while the movie has half a go at telling a story, they realise why people would go and see it and give us plenty of what we want. A group of wealthy young adults are off to a rave, handily sponsored by Sega (House of the Dead’s owners) but miss the transport to its island location. They hire a battered old fishing boat, crewed by Jurgen Prochnow and Clint “Gentle Ben” Howard (?), and set off for the rave themselves, pursued by some cops who think Prochnow’s a smuggler (he is). Anyway, they get to the rave and wouldn’t you know it? A bunch of zombies, disturbed by the wealthy partying idiots, have killed pretty much everyone there. So, it’s the original party-goers, four other survivors, Prochnow, Gentle Ben and the cop against an absolute ton of zombies.

Boll has captured the spirit of the game by having basically no characterisation – each cast member could be described comfortably with one word (“slut”, idiot”, “jock”, “pervert”, etc) – and, in a move I think is having a laugh rather than being cheap, uses bits of the computer game as special effects when the remaining ravers are walking down a moss-covered tunnel shooting at zombies. There’s computer-game-esque bits all through, too, like the “rotating camera” trick around all the main characters when they die, fading to red. Awww! Plus, the zombies in this are easy to kill, much like their game counterparts. I mean, watching people shoot zombies sounds like fun, but when you’re on the tenth straight minute of them stood outside a house, mowing people down, it does start to get a bit samey. Even seeing zombies gurn for the camera every time the scene changes begins to grate too.

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I think the comedy attempts fall a bit flat, but…he’s trying! And it never really slows down, either, so you’ve not got tons of time to be bored. The zombies look fine, and it’s definitely not a cheap-looking movie, and while the plot is a bit non-existent, it is (and I hesitate to say this about an Uwe Boll movie) fun. Prochnow gets the best line, as one of the ravers says “Shoot it!” and he growls back “What do you think I’m trying to do, you fucking moron?” It’s not said enough in movies. Oh, there’s also surprising nudity from future “Smallville” star Erica Durance as one of the ravers. I felt bad for her having to disrobe for this movie.

Here’s the thing. Boll suffered more critical abuse than just about any other director I can think of, but much like another mockery recipient, Ed Wood, I don’t think it’s all deserved. Like Wood, there’s some odd casting (Prochnow and Howard for Boll, Lugosi and Tor Johnson for Wood), but there’s enthusiasm and love for genre movies too. I don’t think Boll is great, necessarily, but if you look at the main producers of genre fare over the last decade like The Asylum, SyFy Channel and Nu Image, his back catalogue starts to look pretty good. I did not expect to ever write that sentence, but the world has gotten worse while Boll has stayed the same.

Rating: thumbs up

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