For reasons unknown, the wonderfully named Mindfire Entertainment decided to do a third movie in the “House of the Dead” franchise; then, realising that literally no-one cared about the name any more, just removed all references to the game from the script they were developing and gave it a different name, saving themselves a few $$$ (sadly, after developing this and the magnificent “DOA: Dead Or Alive” in 2006, they got out of the filmmaking business for good).
Dean Cain is Lt Bobby Quinn, leading a small group of soldiers to discover what happened to a military research outpost in Cambodia. He finds zombies and a tank full of scorpions; but when the last surviving guy at the base blows it up with a grenade, everyone dies.
Almost. Quinn wakes up in the middle of his own autopsy, back in the USA, and discovers that he’s dead. No pulse, no nothing – and he cuts something out of his arm, one of the scorpions on its way to his brain (probably, it’s sort of handwaved away to explain why he’s the only non-evil, intelligent undead guy). Unfortunately, the rest of his team weren’t so lucky, and they’re all just mindless zombie killing machines; so Quinn, while trying to avoid getting arrested (and occasionally craving raw red meat), tracks down all the guys from his old team and kills them, along with all the new zombies they’ve created, being sure to squash the magic scorpions too.
The very obvious and enormous quality gap between this and part 2 is immediately apparent. The dialogue is easy and natural, the jokes – real, actual jokes – come thick and fast, and the people Quinn picks up are strong actors, and funny too. First up is the cook at the Army base Judson (Guy Torry), then there’s a local bartender Holly (Susan Ward), who’s also a huge film nerd and supplies the movie with most of its in-jokes. The great Colleen Camp pops up briefly as a local housewife who takes a shine to Judson, too, and there’s turns from some great “That Guy” actors, including Peter Greene, Armin Shimerman, John Billingsley and Ellie Cornell (who was also in the first “House of the Dead” movie).
It’s absolutely crammed with movie references. We’ve got people named after movie directors and actors who played James Bond, someone telling Quinn his story has “more holes than a Michael Bay movie”, and maybe the cheesiest of them all, “I smell dead people”. Their 80s fancy dress during the second half of the movie is a particular delight too.
It rips along, the special effects are great, it’s an enormous amount of fun and is right up there with the strongest of the SyFy Channel original movies – Cain and Ward especially are brilliant, with an easy chemistry. It feels like it was made by a funny group of people at the absolute top of their game, who were allowed to get away with a lot as long as they provided a bunch of zombies getting blown up; which makes looking at the main creative people on this film an odd experience. This was director Patrick Dinhut’s first movie, and he’s only done one more since (in 2012, again for the SyFy Channel); and the writers also wrote the two “House Of The Dead” movies, which indicates the guy who directed part 2 must have cut all the fun stuff out of their script. Or they weren’t trying. But it certainly makes the terrible-ness of that movie way more difficult to understand.
Put this at the top of your SyFy Channel viewing list. If you have one, which thinking about it would be pretty weird. Just pop it on, it’s loads of fun.
Rating: thumbs up