House of the Dead Review

Presumably, the bad rap movies based on video games get are thanks to one man. Uwe Boll. What a hero. He singlehandedly ruined a cash cow that had served audiences with rather poor adaptations. A stench lingered over the likes of Max Payne and Hitman: Agent 47 not just because they were poor ideas but because Boll had tanked the niche by making sloppy features like House of the Dead. He would revitalise himself with Postal in later years, but nobody can look beyond the two classics of the so-bad-its-good genre. The damage was done. House of the Dead set a fascinating bar that managed to lower the art, compact the form and create a brutally fun time for all the wrong reasons.

Lessons are to be learned from this fascinating bit of film. House of the Dead marks itself out as a studious piece of how not to act, direct or write. At a time when Resident Evil was a popular, marketable box office feature, it only made sense to adapt other franchises to the big screen. But this is 2003, a time of horrendously dated techno music and strange animations to pair with it. Razorburner create an opening track that sounds, for legal reasons, a bit like The Prodigy’s Firestarter, but not as good. It is a flood of vague imagery that will clamour for placement in a now-dated time. It is too choppy and unsure of itself to be enjoyed, serving more as a guideline of what not to do than anything else. A techno music video with bits of action added in.

For instance, do not edit the film with freeze-frame after freeze-frame to introduce characters, with narration explaining obvious moments that sully these characters and their desire to head to raves. Naturally, it does not take long for House of the Dead to devolve into titillating action that hopes to utilise sex as a selling point rather than the invariably solid setting Boll has on his hands. Worst of all is when Boll actually gets to the action and the thrills, they’re just so dull. Horribly edited, poorly written, all the usual tropes of the Boll feature, but incredibly dated and terribly shoddy. At the very least though, Boll has assembled decent performers and they are truly, truly trying. It all feels a bit Scooby-Doo at times, especially when the villains and zombies are revealed. They look like they’re straight off of Spooky Island, with poor makeup and effects to boot.

Boll is a rare beast, that much cannot be contained by one feature film. His tenacity and directing display here are on a level that would not feature in his other films. The headache-inducing millisecond cuts, the shaking camera and the proud SEGA banners at a rave of all places make House of the Dead a massively odd feature. Not as gory as first expected, which is a tremendous letdown more than anything, but when it shows up it does shine somewhat. If it weren’t for the freeze-frame spinning to introduce characters the audience had spent an hour with then it would have been golden popcorn entertainment. It still is in parts. There is something within House of the Dead that prevents it from being a complete bust. So bad it’s good? Perhaps. But Boll is on another level of consistency in that sub-genre of fun.

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