Throwback Thursday: ‘House of the Dead’ (2003)


It’s Halloween, so let’s spend this month focusing on Throwback Thursday entries that can give us a little bit of A Halloween scare!  Sadly, this week’s film, ‘The House of the Dead,’ directed by infamous hotheaded German filmmaker Uwe Boll, may only provide the frights when you become scared with how much time you’ve wasted in watching it

Even after multiple viewings of “House of the Dead,” I was left largely scratching my head. Was this supposed to be a movie based on a video game, or an attempt at mashing a movie together with an actual video game? Either way, the movie looks okay (far too many “quick cut” shots where you can’t even tell what you’re looking at sometimes), but it executes its plot poorly, is terribly edited, and just leaves you wondering how a movie with such a potentially cool premise went so wrong.

Where to begin… the movie starts out normally enough, although I definitely could have done without the male-model character narrating every little thing down to the smallest detail, as if he was explaining the workings of the world to a five-year-old. Next come the story gaps. Supposedly the “rave of the year” is going on at an offshore island that takes only minutes to get to but nobody owns or has ever explored… anyhow, during scenes of the rave (pre-zombie mayhem) I count about 20 people total, all loosely congregated around one small stage with a DJ and two female dancers. I’m pretty sure I’ve thrown more impressive parties than this one, by the looks of it; if this was the “rave of the year” for these people, then they must be used to partying hard every weekend by going to a study group at the library. Our five main characters show up to the rave late, brought by a boat captain who’s too scared to go take them to the island for $300, but for $1,000 he suddenly doesn’t care anymore. They find the rave deserted and “destroyed” (which means the banner behind the stage is askew and, um… well, that’s the extent of the destruction, actually).

I could go on and on about the lack of detail, but the real sadness of the movie is found in its editing and inexplicable desire to mash parts of the actual House of the Dead video game directly into the movie. “Cut” scenes in between the action are shown as quick blips of the video game, zombies advancing on you, getting killed, and the like. During one particular (anti-)climactic zombie battle (where the 20 or so people at the rave have somehow become hundreds of zombies, that only attack one at a time, of course), each character gets a nifty, 360-degree revolving camera shot right in the middle of their fight scene, which is an okay tactic and would be even cooler if the shot itself wasn’t such a nonsensical disaster. Almost all of the characters have a visibly and totally different weapon in their hands during the revolving-camera shot – weapons that were nowhere in sight immediately before the shot and are magically gone right after the shot! And when the first few characters died, they got a “death screen,” where the movie actually stopped and showed a shot of their face, and then the screen goes red. (Not black for death, but red for… bloodied? Mad? Who can say.) But once again, showing the attention to detail and editing at it’s worst, this tactic is dropped about halfway through the deaths, and the characters that die towards the end of the film don’t get the special screen – too bad, I guess?

I hope you are sensing my frustration with the continuity and editing of the movie because it’s a large part of what makes this movie a hot mess. As mentioned in the first paragraph, this movie was directed by Uwe Boll, who is notorious for taking video games and adapting them into crappy movies. I guess, at least in that regard, he doesn’t disappoint here. The onus of the movie being so haphazard and disjointed has to fall squarely on him, which is a bummer because I think the movie had potential to be infinitely cooler with a better script and someone who knows how to edit. I’m scared to say too much negative about Boll, though, as he has a history of challenging his harshest critics to a boxing match, and I don’t want to get punched-out like the little boxer dude from the Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! classic Nintendo game.

Here’s a fun fact for you, free of charge: ‘House of the Dead 2’ was a made-for-TV sequel, produced and distributed by the Sci-Fi Channel in 2005. In keeping with the tradition of the first movie’s terrible eye to detail and editing, the second movie ignored the end of the first movie, which had two characters survive, and instead said that only one character survived: Jordan Casper, who is some type of Marine/Coast Guard/Special Forces type of person (never really explained who she works for or what she really does). Interesting that she survived, though, because zombies bit off both her legs and she died a nice, painful death in the first film! She was 100%, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt dead, and yet the second movie uses her as the “sole survivor” of the initial “massacre.” And that, my friends, is “creative editing” at it’s finest.

Watching the movie, I got bored real quick. The zombies took far too long to arrive, and when they did, they were nothing spectacular. The characters mad bad choices, so many of them that you stop sympathizing with them and just get angry that they’re so stupid! The action scenes were okay, but not enough to save this sinking ship.  Even the parts of the movie that could have been unique fell flat: for example, the movie is called ‘House of the Dead,’ but when the characters get to the House, they discover it’s…just a regular old house. Nothing special about it, no sinister tie to the zombies, no ancient secrets or curses… just four walls and a door. There was potential for an interesting subplot about the “immortality serum,” but it was abandoned for – surprise! – more zombie killing.

The characters are dumb, the zombies are dumb, the villain is dumb… are we seeing a pattern here? The villain lives on this island with his zombies and is very interested in using live flesh, but he seems content to wait for people to come to his island, even though he is just offshore from a populated area and his island is (somehow) unexplored and largely unvisited. The first few zombies have to be shot in the head to be stopped, but the next several hundred zombies can be shot anywhere in their body to make them go down and stay down. Ugh.

In terms of the editing of the film – well, not much positive to say here either, sadly.  The scenes in the middle and end of the movie are the worst, as it literally goes from pouring rain to no rain right back to pouring rain in mid-scene, in not one but MULTIPLE scenes. The effects aren’t much better, as the “major” battle scene sees the living group kill hundreds of zombies, but not a bit of gore gets spread around, or on the main characters, thank goodness. During the final scenes in the tunnels, the zombies come out of the walls, and they don’t even look like zombies – with their red light-up eyes and being draped head-to-toe with moss, they look more like villains out of a not-too-scary Saturday morning kids’ show.

Unlike “so bad it’s good” cinema offerings like ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space,’ I do not recommend viewing ‘House of the Dead,’ unless you fall into one of two categories: you really, really, really love the namesake video game, or Uwe Boll is standing right behind you.

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Tony Schaab

Tony Schaab is living the dream: author by day, DJ and seasoned event-hosting professional by night. He is a freelance pop-culture writer in addition to being an award-winning author and best-selling review critic, with his book series “The G.O.R.E. Score: A Review Guide to All Things Zombie” being an 8-time #1 best-seller (Amazon Kindle, Pop Culture chart, 2012-2017). Working as a DJ and Master of Ceremonies since 1999, he has performed MC/DJ work for the NFL, MTV, NBA, Wizard World Comic Con, PGA, IndyCar, and countless private events. Tony lives in Indianapolis with his wife, daughter, and two rambunctious dogs. Learn more about Tony at TonySchaab.com and chat him up on Twitter @TonySchaab.




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