Thursday, August 19, 2010

Turdsday Movie Review: House Of The Dead (2003)

House Of the Dead has the dubious distinction of being in the top 100 worst movies on and has been universally panned by critics and dubbed by many as the worst horror movie ever made. Is it really that bad? Well, frankly, yes. But I still think Fear Dot Com is worse.

Director Uwe Boll has absolutely no clue how to create tension or suspense. House Of The Dead is never scary or thrilling, it’s just plain inept.

The delusional German has pleaded in numerous online interviews that the photography, editing and sound are all very good in House Of The Dead. I wouldn’t argue with him. Technically, the film looks and sounds fine. But, of course, in making those observations Uwe has completely missed the point of what makes a good film.

Take for instance, a scene where the main protagonists emerge from the woods and have to cross a clearing full of zombies to reach the house of the film’s title. They have to get from point a to point b, probably thirty yards or so, and they have to get past the zombies to do so. It’s a simple set up that’s similar to hundreds of set pieces in other horror and action pictures. A competent director would concentrate on the adversity and struggle to get from point a to point b, never losing sight of what the protagonists are trying to accomplish. Uwe Boll, however, whips out "bullet time" camera tricks, introduces a plethora of continuity errors (which are screamingly obvious if I manage to notice them), and has his protagonists aimlessly running around in circles fighting the zombies. The scene descends into complete and utter whatthefuckery, as Uwe totally looses sight of what the scene is about. There is no tension. There is no suspense. You’re just left wondering "what the hell is going on here?!"

The film continually suffers from Uwe’s inappropriate use of everything from helicopter stedicam shots to the bizarre mix of techno and rap music. Uwe has obviously learnt the technical aspects of film making but hasn’t got the faintest idea on how to use them to tell a story.

With all that said I think I need to stick up for the poor actors in this sorry film. Much of the criticism of House Of The Dead has included the panning of the performances. I truly feel sorry for these actors. Given the material, and the incompetent director, their performances aren’t that bad. Most make the best of a very bad situation and can rightfully plead ignorance when explaining why they got involved in a Uwe Boll picture given this was his first big English language film. This, of course, can’t be said for the more established actors who have signed on for subsequent Uwe Boll projects.

Epilogue – How Does Uwe Boll keep getting work?

Given that House Of The Dead is so bad and Uwe Boll’s follow ups (including Alone In The Dark and Bloodrayne) are reportedly not much better many people are asking how does Uwe Boll keep getting work? It’s an interesting question that I’ve wondered myself. Like many mysteries, there has to be a logical explanation.

Firstly, I think one has to concede that, whilst Uwe Boll is a hopeless director, he’s not a complete idiot. He understands brand recognition and has tapped into an arguably undervalued pool of brands: video games. Uwe picks up the film rights to various video games relatively cheaply. This guarantees Uwe brand recognition for his movies and subsequently guarantees him an audience. Typically, the sorts of people that pay to see film versions of video games won’t bother to investigate who’s responsible for making it and will enter the cinema (or video library) blissfully unaware of the fact that they’re about to be Bolled.

Secondly, Uwe is effectively self-employed. House Of The Dead was produced by his own company using money from small (presumably German) investors. The major studios are not lining up to have Uwe make their movies. He is, for all intents and purposes, an independent film maker. I think that’s something people loose sight of given the kind of movies he makes. House Of The Dead was distributed by Artisan who are not a major distributor. In fact, last time I checked I think they may have gone out of business.

Thirdly, there are supposedly favourable tax laws in Germany for film production. I’ve not been able to find any information in English that adequately explains them but there are alledgedly some tax breaks for German film makers and investors.

Lastly, because Uwe is technically competent, and fairly resourceful, his films do look OK. This means a good looking trailer can be pieced together from the mess that ultimately becomes the Uwe Boll feature film. The trailer for House Of The Dead looked like it could have been a OK movie. This helps him market his artistically bereft movies to an unsuspecting public.

I watched House Of The Dead out of sheer curiosity. I had been warned by numerous reviewers just how bad it was, but I just had to see for myself. Now that I have, I won’t be watching any more Uwe Boll movies. It’ll be interesting to see how many more turkeys Uwe manages to produce before everyone else vows the same.


  1. That's a fair question about how Boll keeps making films. It'd be one thing if his films were low budget indies that he scraped money up to make one every year, but look at his track record - 'House of the Dead' is the only movie he's ever made that made money. And that was just enough to cover the production budget. 'Alone in the Dark' cost $20m and made $10.5m. 'Bloodrayne' cost $25m, made $4m. 'In The Name of the King', clearly his biggest movie - at least $30m - made $13m worldwide. And 'Postal' cost $15m and made around $200k. Now maybe his DVD sales are enough to cover these gaps, but it's hard to imagine. That's four movies in a row that underperformed.

    I may not like him as a filmmaker, but I'd love to have him as a producer.

  2. I wasn't aware of those numbers, thanks Craig.

    I must admit, my "investigation" of German tax law was not exhaustive. So I don't know what the deal is over there. But I've read a number of articles asserting it's Germany's tax laws that makes it possible/viable for Mr Boll to continue making bombs. So it must true, right?

    There's really no other logical explanation.