Worst or “Worst”: House of the Dead

And now, going along with our theme, a hive mind of bad video game movies for your viewing pleasure.

A Christmas morning present if ever there was one! Modern movies can be this bad! Thank you Santa, I mean, Mr. Boll. May you reign long and without forgiveness.

For what they say is true. Modern movies just don’t suck like they used to. Films used to be passionately bad, defying all good taste and jumping head first into their personal idea of art and sense. Now, they stumble into badness almost against their will. They are bad not because they defy the basic laws of filmmaking, but because they lazily fumble within the rules. The best bad movies are anything but lazy, and as we know from a director who was willing to personally enter into a boxing match with some of his most vicious critics to defend non-existent honor, Uwe Boll is no lazy guy.

Enter House of the Dead, the dose of the decade for the competence-flu, not simply bandaging the wounds left by bad movies refusing to go all-out with their badness, but instead fully and zestfully plumbing the inner regions of the decade’s corpse to fight the competence to the core and inject its own strain of viral ineptitude in the process. It develops its own cinematic language in a cohesive way by actually attempting to tackle a new kind of cinema, and its vision is wholly lunatic. Other films are generally inept in the way a book or a play might be inept, but not House of the Dead. It is inept in a deeply, perversely, vehemently cinematic way. Even at the start, when we are introduced to a ten year old’s idea of noir dialogue by way of late ’90s high school drama, the tacky commitment of the still shot images as they take over the screen from the ground up is on hand to tie the droopiness of it all together in a tight bow of badness.

From there, we learn that a group of people are on their jolly way to an island rave located somewhere either near Seattle or in the near-by tropical Caribbean. People…I can’t comfortably call them youths so let’s go with the more generic “people”, although with Boll at the helm I am not sure this word is any more applicable to the characters he gives us. These people attend what the film informs us is a rave, but, again, Boll’s grasp of language is interesting to say the least. If he has any sense of audio-visual irony, it is at its most enticing when he uses that “r” word and shows us a handful of people vaguely standing there swaying back and forth on a beach. And then he has the gall to inform us it is the sort of thing these kids would travel by sea to get to. What a kind, charitable reading of today’s young-ins he must have.

But, as tends to happen in the murkier regions of Seattle, Florida, there is an old curse afoot, entrapping the island under the whims of an old timey pirate prisoner who is now undead, and the most creative manifestation of this curse is to fill the island with zombies and attack anyone who shows up. Really? But, you know …it’s in video games, right? Speaking of which, Uwe Boll’s investment in the aura of the medium of video games was at its all-time most heated with House of the Dead. It really is diabolical here in a way his future films, more restrained and concerned with the tepidness of cinema, have not hinted at since. He goes so far to openly break down the illusion of reality as to flash video game imagery on screen, something we take to be a tick until it emerges as a far more spastic, schizophrenic melding of the two mediums. The climax of the film, although not nearly its conclusion, is a shoot-out that rolls along with the unending charisma of a five act play, although it constructs its own medium not quite theater or cinema. It cannot but be operating on its own level. A level, by the way, that renounces just about every rule of basic film vocabulary and continuity editing you could imagine to effects that bounce back and forth between irritating and enticing by the millisecond, although it is never less than striking.

The clips from the game begin as mere jagged inter-titles, but before long, the film morphs into an out-and-out exploration of how video games and films are different, and how they are the same. It is sickly, sure; nothing about this exploration amounts to anything, but the way in which Boll believes it does is a cosmic, hallucinogenic pleasure, nothing less than his take on the enlightened (party of one, himself) and the rest of the world. Slowly but surely, the film moves from “zombie movie” to “zombie video game that happens to have wandered in front of a camera”, and watching Boll’s mind tick and process with utter self-conviction is an unearthed tomb of cinematic joy within blood-letting distance from the reigning maestro of the unkempt ego, Ed Wood. I do not know what to refer to this style as, but it is clearly a style that really enjoys being around itself. Even more, it may be the style of someone coming to understand all that being a director entails, hating the job, and rewriting the rules on his or her own terms. Hey, it ain’t exactly the French New Wave, but one suspects that Boll might take Godard in a three-round slug-fest too.

If it wasn’t so spoken for that Boll can’t not go without his lovely video game idols, we might even think the awfulness of the film is an intentional critique of the repetitive, hyper-sensitive idiocy of video game narrative. But if that is the point, Boll may be the most unflinchingly unrevealed psychotic genius to ever grace the cinema. The final act of the product hides in the body of film, sure, but it is nothing more than a beleaguered facade. Shots pan with the unblinking, unthinking commitment of a teenager watching The Matrix for the first time; that is, only when the shots aren’t repeating each other in Boll’s ludicrous madman’s ball of a two-step editing technique. We ought not go to those regions of analyzing whether Boll really is a genius so easily though, for a safe, unaltered return becomes the privilege of the strong. We should be thankful, regardless of his intent, that Boll has the sort of commitment most filmmakers can’t even dream of. Most video game movies have the misfortune of being tepidly bad. House of the Dead, however, wouldn’t dare. It is proudly, aggressively bad, and essential cinema.


So how good is it really?: 0/5 (unremittingly, it would seem)

But how “good” is it?: 5/5 (a golden child, it would seem)


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