This article was updated Oct. 9, 2003 at 3:45 p.m.
Most videogame-derived movies have failed because attempts to graft conventional character/story onto purely sensory original material didn’t take. But director Uwe Boll’s German-financed, Vancouver-shot, English-language bigscreen version of popular Sega game “House of the Dead” really makes no attempt at character or story development. There’s establishment of premise, introduction of cannon-fodder leads, then action, action, action — making “House” as close to vidgaming as cinema has gotten. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on just how much 14-year-old boy you’ve got in ya. More hectic than scary, but for sure not dull (and perhaps preferable in its frank cartoonishness to pretentious fantasy behemoths like “Daredevil”), this loud, dumb, bloody effort should have a long home-viewing shelf life among its youthful target demo. Theatrical runs are likely to be much briefer, with some territories requiring gore trimmed before pic can get an “R” equivalent.
Framed by sole survivor Rudy’s (Jonathan Cherry from “Final Destination 2”) gloomy voiceover recall, feature has a quintet of hotties dismayed at missing the last boat from Seattle to “the rave of the year” on a San Juan Island dubbed “Isla del Muerte.” They bribe Captain Kirk (Jurgen Prochnow, doing a roadshow Ahab) and skittish first mate Salish (Clint Howard) into ferrying them via fishing boat. Meanwhile, one skinny-dipping lass and her boyfriend are first victims of as-yet-unseen marauders.
Once landed, the comely kids find the rave site trashed and ominously unpopulated. Several set off to locate where the party’s moved to, leaving Cynthia (Sonya Salomaa) behind — to her great misfortune. Meanwhile the others have discovered a creepy old house, as well as the few rave-slaughter survivors hiding inside. One shows video footage he’d shot of that prior party melee — which reps pic’s one disappointing, “Blair Witch”-style cheating of a major setpiece.
Upon their return, Cynthia has already converted into a zombie. The survivors make a fruitless attempt to re-board the fishing boat, only to discover these undeads can swim — as well as run fast and jump very far. Captain Kirk is still alive, however, and the wealth of weapons he’s smuggling prove quite useful. He also relates the legend behind Isla del Muerte, told in sepia flashback.
Group decides to make for the aforementioned house, involving a prolonged graveyard battle aping familiar vid-game, “Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger”-style FX.
Action is intercut with flashes of the Sega graphics, underlining the sense that “House” means to amplify — rather than layer a story onto — the game’s cartoon carnage. Pop-culture references are rife, from “Scooby-Doo” to George Romero. Unlike latter’s original “Living Dead” pics, however, gore in “House” is mostly too silly to be stomach-churning. There’s not enough character identification to create real suspense, though most thesps maintain an admirably straight face. Suggestions that pic doesn’t take itself at all seriously are clear in the outre nature of the action. Still, dialogue badly needs wit; it’s dirt-dumb without signaling overt ironic intent.
Hyperactive lensing and editing, lurid coloration, soundtrack of surprisingly conventional orchestrations and intermittent rap-rock bombast all do their intended bits. Overall package is glossy-professional, with no subtlety achieved or desired.