Cheesy movies. For me, it has been a passion to find cinema gems that are somwhat….flawed. It’s usually what makes the “B Movies” that draws me in. Some have bad acting, terrible dialogue, poor effects or lighting, a musical soundtrack performed on some cheap 80s keyboard, dumb or exotic characters. Some are beautiful if you look. Almost all B movies are so because they all incorporate a scenario or a plot so surreal, ridiculous and/or exaggerated that they become either a fantastic look into human creativity or a shoestring budgeted disaster. It’s the difference between Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odessey” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode 1”, comparing “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “TombRaider”, etc. There’s something about a cheesy B movie that draws you in, though I must stress that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My opinions on the films I review are strictly mine. I will try to bring a balance of the good, the bad and the ugly with each movie I present here. I don’t recommend all of these movies, some are quite painful to watch. It is the price I pay to enjoy a good popcorn film. Sometimes you have to watch a lot of garbage (and I’ve seen some serious garbage) to find memorable or underrated gems that sparkle. Today’s review is not exactly a gem, but more of a punching bag.

My film to review is the infamous 2003 movie “House of the Dead”, based on the popular video game and directed by the infamous Uwe Boll. One thing I will say for this film is that it tried to ride what would soon be the zombie craze that has become part of the pop cultural landscape today. It may have even helped fuel the trend by being so terrible fans would demand better zombie films be made. It came out a year after better zombie films “Resident Evil” and “28 Days Later”, but is a complete textbook case of how NOT TO MAKE A ZOMBIE FILM. To call it the worst horror/zombie movie is a matter of opinion, but trust me it is a very inept work by Boll.

I tried. I really tried to like this movie. How can you screw up a movie about zombies, the easiest genre of horror films to make? Apparently reviews for the film were so bad, Danish theatres refused to show the movie. It’s pretty bad when an entire country boycotts the film. But let’s run through the bad first (SPOILERS):

1) The movie opens with Rudy (played by Jonathan Cherry) narrating about the horror and revealing that everyone is dead. Then film goes into a flashback to show the movie. Already, less then two minutes in, all suspense has been killed by telling us who dies. The big thrill of ANY zombie movie is watching the characters struggle and fight to survive. Who will live? Who will die? These are what keep us on the edge.

2) The acting and improved dialogue is simply terrible, and the characters are mostly unlikeable. It’s tricky doing teen/college kid horror films, because the movie makers think that teens and college kids are a bunch of drunk whores and morons that make fun of everything. Teens trying to be funny with their improved merriment are very obnoxious. I’d rather that horror film characters should be modeled after the smart, mature people in John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness”. Sure, they died just as quickly, but they seemed like sensible people trying to solve a mystery, and you actually gave a damn when push came to shove supernaturally. As for improving dialogue in a movie, that should be left to people who know what they are doing. There are two sins to B movies that will kill your film: Being boring or having unlikeable characters. If your teen bunch of victims aren’t likeable, nobody cares. Nobody emotionally invests any interest. The movie will limp on to the closing credits.

3) Another, albeit lesser, sin is to have a villain(s) that is unmemorable or ineffective. The villain (in whatever form it takes) is crucial to helping the audience invest itself emotionally into the film. Castillo is an old spanish conquistador who blasphemed against creation by trying to cheat death (How did an old spanish conquistador find his way to the northwest coastal region near Seattle is too much to contemplate). He had potential, creating zombies to help explore the secrets to immortality. But everything is presented in such an amatuerish way. Rudy, having been captured, angrily asks “You did all this to become immortal! WHY?”. Castillo responds “To live Forever”, thus giving us what could very well be one of horror cinema’s most retarded pieces of dialogue ever. The villain becomes a joke, but if you actually sat through the movie to get to this point, well… deserve a medal.

4) One small note about the zombies. Having them be superfast and strong is all well and good (zombies come in all shapes and sizes after all), but if you are going to have them leaping about, try to hide the equipment that launches them. The whole design behind the movie’s technical details is shoddy.

It’s a shame “House of the Dead” becomes a cinema cautionary tale, there were small elements wihin I actually liked or was looking forward to. It was supposed to be a prequal to the story in the arcade game on which the movie was based, and I appreciate the creative story origin Boll tried to spin. Producer/Writer Mark A Altman did such a fantastic job with the 1998 comedy “Free Enterprise” with William Shatner, I expected his geeky wit and humor would lighten this film. But his style is misplaced here, and the usual Star Trek/scifi jokes fall flat. I have a special place in my heart for Uwe Boll. Yes, this film is a disaster from start to finish, but Uwe is a showman unlike most. He is a master of promoting himself and his films and can laugh with those who make fun of him. He is also a master producer, using German tax laws to help his films actually make money (or prevent investers from ever losing money) even when they bomb at the box office. I also enjoy his later bad films adapted from video games like “Alone in the Dark” and “In the Name of the King”, 2 guilty pleasures of mine. On the subject of making movies based on video games, Uwe Boll made the statement that “Every time anyone plays a video game, they become the main character, and the story developes around how they play”. I must certainly agree with his philosophy on this, even if his video game stories don’t always work. I also have had the biggest crush on Ellie Cornell (who plays Officer Casper) ever since I saw her in 1988’s “Halloween 4”. She doesn’t get a lot of movie roles, and is not a big name, but she’s always played smart, sensible characters.

I should give small kudos to veteran actors Clint Howard and Jurgen Prochnow, two fine talents who had interesting characters that were wasted in a less than stellar script of a sloppily made film.

Abandon hope, ye who watch this dreadful movie. It is truly an embarrassement that should have ended a few careers, but there is one bright shining thought. The sequal, “House of the Dead 2”, also produced by Mark A Altman, brings back Ellie Cornell’s character, Casper Jordan, despite her being overwhelmed by a zombie horde and having her legs cut off in the first movie. Why, you ask? Because I can garantee that half the meager audience that went to see the first “House of the Dead” were fans of “Halloween 4”, and we H4 fans…..well, we luvs us some Ellie Cornell.

About the Author

Jon Hodges
Jon Hodges
Jonathan has enjoyed doing community theater since 1989, and has been involved with shows in Van Wert, Wapakoneta, Waynesfield and Fostoria as well as Lima Encore. He is a judge for the Northwest Ohio Film Festival. Jon feels that the human imagination is one of the greatest adventures to share, and it is always fascinating to see others bring something to life. The second greatest adventure to share is a good dose of chocolate.