A bunch of sex-crazed Seattle Gen-Xers with a thirst for alcohol and techno music hire a fishing boat to take them to a mysterious island hosting the rave of the century. From a large banner hanging over the stage, we learn that this remote bacchanalia happens to be sponsored by SEGA. Yeah, the video game maker. And what a coincidence ... SEGA is also the creator of the brutal first-person-shooter video game House of the Dead (and its two sequels) that has people roaming through a mansion blowing what little flesh remains off of rotting corpses. You know where this is going, don’t you?
After an early dose of gratuitous breast nudity, the killing begins when zombies crash the party and their nubile victims join the ravenous undead. Not lumbering brutes, these reanimated corpses are fast, agile and surprisingly good swimmers, at least until they get shot in the head. It’s up to the boat captain (his name is Kirk, get it?), a well-armed officer from the harbor patrol (what was she expecting to encounter, Vietnam?) and surviving ravers surprisingly proficient with all sorts of weapons (hours of playing video games, no doubt) to mow down legions of zombies and destroy the laboratory where mutated blood is being used to bring life to the dead. Along the way, schlock director Uwe Boll strains to look hip by tossing in pop culture references ranging from George Romero and Rain Man to Scooby-Doo, Scarface and The Lord of the Rings. It all adds up to one huge mess that would have gone straight to the shelves of your local Blockbuster if there weren’t video games to be mass-marketed.
Friends look out for each other on the island. Early on, a clueless couple has been left alone at the deserted rave and their buddies, aware that they are in mortal danger, brave zombie-infested woods to save their lives. Similarly, Simon says of his fallen cohort, Greg, “We can’t just leave him out there!” In the heat of battle, characters come to one another’s rescue. Several people sacrifice themselves for the good of the group. A young man who has been scarred with acid expresses insecurity about his appearance, but is reassured by a girl that he is attractive and brave.
A 200-year-old myth (which provides the back story for the science fiction of the present) shows a banished Spaniard, shackled in the belly of a ship, talking about the Almighty with the ship’s captain. The captain tells him his wicked experiments are an abomination to God, which inspires the prisoner to reply, “What has God done for you or me? There is no God. There is only me.” The captain proclaims God’s mercy on him. We learn that the prisoner has developed a formula for reanimating dead tissue and has, in the centuries since, been using it on himself to achieve immortality. Kirk’s first mate offers Cindy a crucifix, explaining, “It’s for your protection.”
Having been offered a crucifix for protection, Cindy replies, “It’s okay, I’m on the pill.” Sexual activity is limited to amorous twentysomethings writhing, kissing and groping each other fully clothed. In one case, a couple making out in the woods is attacked by monsters before they can get very far. There is, however, a significant amount of breast nudity in the early going. One girl at the rave is topless. We see a home video recording of another later on. A girl goes for a swim at a secluded beach. She strips to a thong and is shown otherwise naked for the next few minutes. Dancers wear provocative outfits. After her boyfriend vomits on her, Cindy must wash out her blouse—an excuse for more frontal nudity.
Most of the human deaths are surprisingly restrained. Not a lot of gore. The victims are simply swarmed by zombies. An exception finds a young man bleeding from the mouth before a zombie arm bursts through his back and out his stomach. The undead, however, bite the dust in large numbers and extremely graphic fashion (usually to the tune of gangsta rap or loud techno music). Creatures are hacked with axes and shot at close range. Others get picked off in hails of automatic weapons fire. Blood sprays. Limbs fly. Heads explode or get crushed underfoot. Grenades and dynamite take out more still. Some of the evil dead are more human than others, including those adolescent party animals who haven’t decomposed much in the past few hours (perhaps all of that alcohol helped to preserve them; we don’t know). Regardless, seeing people forced to kill their zombified friends is more disturbing than watching them whack a faceless corpse. For example, a rabid Cindy attacks her peers and is sent flying by a blast, then put down for good with a bullet to the forehead. A man’s hand is impaled. Another has his neck broken. Elsewhere, a man is hanged, a zombie tries to drown a woman, a boy’s face is severely burned, a man gets stabbed in the face, and a sword fight ends with a girl being run through and her foe being decapitated.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Beer is the beverage of choice. Guys drink it on the way to the rave. Couples carry bottles of brew with them as they prepare to have sex. Upon arriving at the deserted party, Greg and Simon are so single-mindedly drawn to the unsupervised keg and other booze that they don’t worry a bit where everyone is or why the place is trashed. Kirk drinks from a flask and smokes cigars.
It’s hard to know which is worse in House of the Dead, the cartoonish dialogue, the actors saddled with it (Ron Howard may want to think twice about casting brother Clint in any more of his movies) or the cheesy makeup and special effects. Not that the filmmakers care. This is low-budget stupidity from start to finish. Even the so-called “rave of the century” looks less like Woodstock ‘94 than it does a remote radio station broadcast that lures drivers in with the promise of a free bumper sticker and a 1-in-5,000 chance to win a set of Michelins. It’s straight-to-video cheap, but Boll and company know what the target audience for a low-budget zombie horror film wants: Sex, alcohol and mindless violence. And they give it to them.
The first 10 minutes is loaded with breast nudity, yet includes a whopping 20 seconds of expository character “development”—sentence-long descriptions of five disposable pals heading toward their doom. That illustrates Boll’s priorities. Arriving on the heels of sexual titillation is lots and lots of bloody mayhem that plays out much like the video games that inspired it. Slow-motion gunfights. Action that pauses so the camera can spin 180 degrees for a different angle. As the shooter walks down a dark tunnel, creatures pop into view from the wings and are picked off as they do. Throughout the film, scene changes are signaled by showing several seconds of actual video game footage straight out of someone’s Xbox. It may be helpful to think of House of the Dead as a 90-minute, R-rated commercial for the equally obnoxious interactive version being played by millions of teens and preteens. And a lame one at that ... on a bigger screen. I found myself looking around for the game pad controlling the action so that I could hit “quit” and just go home.