Uwe Boll. The German born filmmaker got his start making low budget comedies, thrillers and dramas but never received much attention. In the early 2000s, exploiting a loophole in Germany tax laws to gain financing, Boll began to make a series of video game adaptation. (Presumably because video game titles are globally recognized and easier to obtain the rights to than other highly marketable properties.) The resulting films got atrocious reviews and Boll quickly earned a reputation as one of the worst filmmakers alive. The first of these notorious Boll movements was “House of the Dead,” adapted from Sega's popular series of zombie rail shooters.
Though it belongs to a different genre, "House of the Dead" was basically Sega's answer to “Resident Evil.” The first installment in both series are about special agents entering a mansion full of zombies and monsters. As is typical of Boll's films, his “House of the Dead” draws little from the game. Instead, this film is set on an island called Isla del Morte. Someone has chosen this ominously named location as the site of a rave. The party is soon set upon by zombies. A group of rich college kids hitch a ride with a grumpy smuggler named Captain Kirk, who is pursued by a female coast guard agent, and arrive at the island late. They soon discover the undead carnage that has unfolded there. They are picked off by the zombies and meet up with a team of survivors. The secrets of the outbreak are hidden inside a dilapidated house at the center of the island.
This is but one of Boll's many baffling visual decisions. When someone is introduced, the screen goes black-and-white and a narrator tells you everything you need to know about them. When characters die, the screen flashes red and the camera whirls around them. One death is followed by nearly the entire film flashing by in a frantically cut montage. Often, there are jump-cuts and flashing images, usually during the various zombie attacks. Boll will reuse footage, the same zombies being shot down repeatedly. There are whip-pans, POV shots, and shaky handheld movements. The film looks a lot like Paul W. S. Anderson's “Resident Evil” – it is similarly scored to hilariously out-of-place techno and heavy metal – but it's so random and ridiculous, it actually becomes kind of fun.
a so-bad-it's-good rap song and stretches on for a solid ten minutes. It's utterly inexplicable and deeply hilarious.
More than the video game it's ostensibly adapting, Boll's “House of the Dead” reminds me the most of the B-grade Italian zombie movies made in the early eighties. There attempts to modernize the concept, with the rave and a “Scream”-like horror nerd character, but the film's cheesy DNA is apparent. The behavior of the zombies change from scene to scene. One spits acidic slime, behavior never displayed before or after. Sometimes, they are slow and sluggish, classical shamblers. Other times, they are fast and aggressive, acrobatically leaping through the air. The latter behavior, along with the island setting, reminds me a lot of Claudio Fragasso's “After Death.” The zombie make-up is not as cheesy as “Burial Ground” but comes close. Some of the undead here are lumpy mummies. Others have bike reflector red eyes or are covered with rubbery green moss. There's even some totally gratuitous sex and nudity. This atmosphere of Italianna cheese might've been intentional, as Boll pays homage to Lucio Fulci with several scenes of zombies swimming. (Though they do not fight any sharks.)
When I first saw “House of the Dead,” with its somersaulting judo chops and exploding wells, I genuinely thought it was one of the worst movies I had ever seen. Surely, an utterly baffling, randomly assembled cinematic experience like this is worthy of such a title? I guess I've gone soft with age. Because how can I hate a movie this wonderfully senseless? There's a big difference between tedious bad movies like “Resident Evil,” which suck in an uninteresting way, and enjoyable trash like this, which is too consistently nutty and gleefully dumb to ever be boring. I can't be the only one who enjoyed it. Though it just broke even in theaters, the film must've been popular on DVD. It received a straight-to-video sequel two years later. Strangest of all, two years after that, a “Director's Cut” that re-edited the film as a comedy was released. Truly, “House of the Dead” is the gift that keeps on giving. [7/10]