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  House of the Dead
Uwe Boll, USA/Germany/Canada, 2003
Rating: 3.0

Posted: October 16, 2003

I'm not gonna waste your time by detailing the plot in House Of The Dead. If you've seen the popular Sega video game, you've pretty much got it. No, really, that's all there is. Some partygoers arrive on an island, but the party is deserted and replaced by a mass of zombies. The zombies then terrorize said partygoers. Got it? Great. You know, if I were to tell you this story around a campfire, it would be more of a success than the film. All of the ingredients are here: Zombies. Machine guns. Naked chicks. Clint Howard. And yet, somehow, it never achieves cohesiveness. One day after the film, I'm still wondering what went wrong.

First, I realize that when I pay to see a movie based on a video game, I should not set my sights too high. But man, like casual sex with Alan Sargent's girlfriend, it just seemed like a sure thing. The one thing that drives a wedge into the heart of this film is the annoying video game segues. That's right: actual scenes from the video game itself. Later, during a zombie massacre, these video game snippets are interspersed into the action. When a character shoots a zombie, we get to see the scene from the video game in which a zombie perishes. Look, we get it, okay? House of the Dead is a video game. Super! Gotcha! Just make a horror film, why don't you? Give the audience some credit. Must my senses be assaulted with perpetual commercialism even in a pseudo-zombie film? What is the world coming to?

Yes, the acting is terrible, and the characters are little more than zombie-chow. But kudos to Jurgen Prochnow as Captain Kirk (I know, I know), who shoots zombies with an M16 with a green laser sight! I dig the change. Ever since the Terminator, always with the red lasers. If you can overlook the video game edits, there are some pretty engaging, if occasionally over-stylized, action sequences here, with humans dispatching zombies with previously mentioned machine guns, with grenades, TNT, and when all else fails, the martial arts. Yes, martial arts against zombies. Where's Steven Seagal when you need him? Of course, there's the always-fabled keg of gunpowder in there as well. Yes, the camera occasionally does inexplicable, Matrix-style slow-motion 180-degree shots of the carnage, but hey, who am I to object? For what it is -- a Saturday afternoon monster movie -- House almost makes it. Almost. It needs an X factor, something to make up for its deficiencies. A point of light so radiant that all else will be forgotten.

The stunning Ona Grauer is that point of light. She alone prevents this film from total failure on all levels. Forget Monica Keena! Ona Grauer is the real deal: Excruciatingly beautiful, heaving bosom, frequent running and jumping in slow motion...I think it's fair to say that here, friends, is the greatest actress ever to grace the silver screen. As the movie unfolded, and Ona's wardrobe dwindled down to a skimpy black tank top, I didn't care about zombies, or who lived and who died. There was only Ona. She becomes the undeniable focal point of the film, the sole reason to keep watching the screen.

So where does that leave us? Well, the search for a decent post-Romero zombie flick continues. This, needless to say, ain't it. If you can stand the commercial assault on the senses, there is a horror movie buried in here, but its most appealing features (Save for Ona Grauer) never see the light of day. But I will say this, anger the critical cognoscenti (no, I don't know what it means either) though it will: It is a better film than 28 Days Later, because it never tries to be more than it is. I salute the zombie carnage here, even if it is sprinkled with far too many awkward video game snippets. In life, you gotta take away what little pleasantries you can, and House of the Dead is no different. If sitting through a below average horror movie is the price one has to pay for Ona Grauer, well, then, so be it.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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