Me Liberty or Give Me Death"
You know it's a bad sign when you go to a multiplex in downtown Manhattan and you are one of two people in the stadium-seated, Dolby-Assed, popcorn-encrusted auditorium. It's an even worse sign when the film starts abruptly, with not a single preview before it. And yes, I would say it's even a WORSE sign when a member of the theatre's crack managerial team walks into the theatre 65 minutes into the film, sits across the aisle from you, and goes to sleep.
Yes, folks, this is the film that has gained the distinction of being the "undeclared nap break" film for the multiplex set. When things get just a little too rough at the Customer Service desk or the guests in the Cingular Consideration Zone get out of hand, the polo-shirted and souvenier-hatted exhibitor darlings take off their plastic gloves, kick off their promotional "Lord of the Rings" hobbit feet, and retreat into one of the more sparsely populated and less trafficky auditoriums for some covert on-the-clock shut-eye. "Lost in Translation"? Far too popular -- especially in the East Village! Hmm... "Mystic River"? No way -- grownups fighting makes me think of Mommy and Daddy! Ah -- I've got it. I can stretch out, snore loudly, and rest assured that nothing so distracting as characters, story, or emotional involvement will keep this ass awake if i choose to do my napping in ... "House of the Dead".
First off, let me begin by saying that, as a rule, the Germans are NOT known for their horror films. Aside from "Anatomie" and the effective "Das Experiment", Germany has failed to produce many (if any) genuinely good fright flicks. Perhaps it was their... how shall I say, "questionable" social behavior in the last century that has made them steer clear of the genre and its focus on terror, mutilation, and general cruelty. Although their neighbors the Italians had no such problems overcoming past indescretions... but it is not for me to answer these riddles (rather, it is for me to make sweeping cultural generalizations and make unfounded incendiary remarks.). It is simply for me to say that the next time I see a film arriving in the theatres with the names Uwe and Wolfgang above the line, I am turning the other direction.
You see, "Dead" is a shining example of a stranger in a strange land trying desperately to blend in with the locals, to assimilate seamlessly. You see this all the time these days, since the "horror renaissance" that followed "Scream"; all of a sudden, Australia, Spain, Bulgaria, and other traditionally slasher-deprived countries were turning out movies that kind of looked like their inspiration, but with something just... off. It's often hard to place -- the actors are pretty and American (although there are usually some odd accents in the peripheral characters). The locales sure look like eastern Florida and Seattle. And all that pop music! I mean, that was just Smashmouth I just heard, wasn't it? Or at least, it sounded like it was...
This is when things usually go south. Because no, that wasn't Smashmouth. And these aren't typical American teenagers chatting on about raves and Diet Cokes and Swatches. No, Toto -- you sure as fuck are not in Kansas anymore -- you're in the new Czech Republic, where entire film crews can be rented for $7 a day and Joey Lawrence is top of the pops. Think I'm being harsh? Rent "The Pool". Or "Shark Attack 3: Megalodon". Or "Troll 2", which was actually filmed in Utah but looked like it was made in a foreign country trying to pass as, well, Utah.
So what does all this mean? This means you get a bunch of d-grade actors who took the job because they needed a place to crash for 5 weeks, and "Dude, you can get actual LAP DANCES in Canada!". You get a horror movie that for some reason has more non-diagetic American Flags than the local VFW. You get blaring techno, crappy camera gimmicks, and Clint Howard as the biggest star. Yes, folks, you get... "House of the Dead".
I'll make this snappy: a group of hateful yuppies go to the San Juan Islands off Seattle (um, Vancouver) and end up barely missing a massacre that leaves three people hiding from an army of the risen dead. These hateful yuppies are cheuffered by a hateful German fisherman/smuggler (named, oddly, "Captain Kirk" -- for more on why fisherman are inherantly creepy, read this review), his retarded sidekick, and pursued by a lesbianic policewoman and her nearly-invisible retarded sidekick (named, oddly, McGyvers). They all get the shit kicked out of them.
Seriously -- there are more goddamned Old Glories in this movie than in the entire Oliver Stone Vietnam trilogy. There is even a gratuitous asian raver girl in a stars-n-stripes bodysuit named Liberty. How am I supposed to react to that? I am perfectly happy with, in these questionable times, seeing American flags on everything from infantwear to condoms. But I don't really think we need to take any time or energy during a film about flesh-eating zombies at a damned rave to support our troops. I could even go so far as to pull a "Starship Troopers" out of my ass and dissect this film as a metaphor for Nazi genocide. But I won't, because it's late and I have a birthday party to get to. Instead, I'll stop ranting and get to the details.
The movie has two speeds: agonizingly slow (used during absolutely unneeded exposition/filler scenes) and attention-deficit manic (used for everything else). The fight scenes are the cinematic equivalent of a sugar-dosed 6-year old taking 25 toothless, sticky-lipped minutes to tell you a decade-old knock-knock joke -- wrongly. Every single character is granted his/her own 360-degree mid-air spin shot. Apparently in Germany they don't have GAP commercials, else the director might have known that this technique was passe four years ago. Satellite, Uwe!
The lead, Jonathan Cherry (best known as "the guy who dies" in "They" and "Final Destination 2"), is unwatchable. The rest are just as bad, except Ellie Cornell (of "Halloween 4 &5"), who basically does the whole "if I pretend the other actors aren't there, maybe they'll go away" routine, Enuka Okuma (who is saddled with the unfortunate name Karma), and Will Sanderson, who is just darned cute (I know. I'm weak.). The "rave" that is the inciting incident for the ensuing dramatic action is sponsored prominently by SEGA -- a gigantic banner bearing their logo is hanging above a few topless chicks on the "rave stage" (for more about why I hate movies with raves in them, click here). The filmmakers actually use footage from the video game upon which the film is based during the fight scenes. This was a very stupid idea. The characters reference George Romero's Dead Trilogy. Also a very stupid idea, considering how this movie pales by comparison. The villain is Spanish (convenient) and, even in the 1800's, had the whitest teeth I've ever seen. He at least hangs himself while shirtless and screaming at God. There are two inappropriate make-out scenes, one involving a former underwear model who has just had half of his face burned off (nothing says "kiss my face" like acidic zombie vomit). There are moss zombies that look like lost footage from "Labyrinth". Someone utters the line "This book looks pretty old. Maybe it can help us." The survivors are rescued by an openly German helicopter.
And according to the credits, Robert Redford operated the generator. The Sundance Kid himself feeding gas to a power supplier. What could be more American than that?