Rob Abrazado (flatvurm) wrote,
Rob Abrazado

House of the Dead double feature

Okay, so...while I'm sitting here in front of the computer and apparently on a roll, let's see if I can knock out a Video Game Movie Project writeup or so. When last we left this saga of entertainment, I had interrupted the previously planned sequence with a viewing of Max Payne. That done, I switched back to the regularly schedule lineup, House of the Dead and House of the Dead 2. These movies were based on a light gun game, notable mostly (at least in my own mind) for having you gun down swarms of mutant frogs that jump out of a fountain. I found the game more or less enjoyable; I kinda dig the light gun game genre as one of the (very) few things that motivates me to play coin-op games any more. One thing that set it apart from others of its ilk (again, in my mind) was that it took multiple shots to bring down even mooks in the game. As such, you get treated to a lot of flesh and body parts falling off as you gun your opponents down. You know...good, clean fun. There's a storyline, of sorts, but...come on, it's a gun game. You're a dude with a gun, and you shoot things. There's not much else to the game.

Anyway, the movies.

The first House of the Dead is yet another video game movie offering from the man I've come to regard in my travels around the 'Net as possibly the most hated person in the movie industry, Uwe Boll. Of the entirety of the Video Game Movie Project, Boll has probably directed about a third of the films. Despite the warnings of failedoptimist, I actually didn't find this movie so bad. It would be, I think, sort of misleading to call it a horror film, as it was never really that scary. In a way, it sort of suffers in the same way that the first Resident Evil did for not being either really a horror movie or an action movie. That said, though, it actually doesn't share Resident Evil's discomfort in its limbo. Possibly this is because it leans more toward action, and so it doesn't require that the audience actually...well, really care about what's going on. (Which is probably just as well.) I actually applaud the film for acting as something of a prequel for the video game, in that it actually added backstory to a pretty plot-light universe. Not a bad thing, in my opinion. One effect of this, though, was that the movie basically didn't have anything to do with the video game it was based on, though that didn't stop the whole thing with being intercut with scenes from the video game itself. This mostly took place during action scenes, so it's not like you'd notice that anything was off, but it was still kind of a strange choice. It pointed out overtly that certain sets and layouts were lifted from the game, but when the film is over, there's a weird disconnect that takes place in realizing that the movie, in fact, takes place some time prior to, and has nothing to do with, the events in the video game. So it goes, big deal.

The movie basically breaks down like this: It starts out with about 15 minutes of really unpleasant young adults gathering to attend a rave on a remote island somewhere, frequently exposing their naked boobies for very little reason, and in one notable instance, vomiting on one another. Then we go into about 15 minutes of...well, nothing much happening at all. Which is...I guess...suspense? After that it's pretty much a solid hour of people doing lots of running around and shooting things. And once in a while, something blows up, though not as often as you might think. Mostly everyone dies, a fact that is laid out for the audience in the opening lines of the film. And...that's about it.

There were a lot of ups for this film, I thought. It did what it did fairly well, in that it was basically a zombie survival flick and, well, that's what people were doing. The plot wasn't needlessly complicated, and in fact I felt that, as far as video-game-inspired stories go, this one really wasn't so bad. The only thing that really made me push the button was that everyone involved in the zombie crisis suddenly became incredibly well-versed in both armed and unarmed combat, which was a neat trick for a bunch of rave kids. The soundtrack was also pretty decent: predictably mostly rave-style electronic dance music, which actually makes makes a great backdrop for a gunfight montage, as I was to learn. Once the really serious shooting started going down, we definitely entered more of a hip-hop flavored area of musical selections. Also we entered "bullet time."

Ah, the bullet time. So...this movie came out in 2003 and made extensive use of the slo-mo wraparound technique made popular in The Matrix several years prior. And it actually came out pretty well, if repetitive. By "came out pretty well," I mean it wasn't done in a budget way, like, say, the parodying of that kinda stuff in Deuce Bigalow. In fact, I'd say the camera effects in this movie were across the board pretty cool. The creature effects...not so much. Creature effects were about on par with the first BloodRayne movie. But I was actually pretty impressed with the other special effects in the film, so I give it a few points for that. That makes it even weirder for me, by the way, that they insisted on inserting a few frames from the video game into pretty much every scene in the movie. It made things seem pretty cheap and cheesy, when in fact this movie wasn't as cheap or cheesy as that video game intercut technique made it seem. Strange, no? That we'd want the movie to somehow seem of lower production quality than it actually was? Well, no one knows the mind of Uwe Boll. And perhaps, for that, we should be glad.

Overall, I give this movie one thumb sideways...almost up, even. There's actually some good that can be said about it, and it wasn't a total waste of time. That said, there's still plenty bad that could be said about it, and it's not going to win any awards, so...I'd say you're safe enough skipping this one. In closing, I'll just mention two things. One, the lead was played by a guy named Jonathan Cherry, who I don't know from anything else, but who I must say, makes an excellent budget Orlando Bloom. Two, here's my candidate for possible best line of the flick: "Guys, check out this book. It looks pretty old. Maybe it can help us." Yeah, that...that pretty much came out of nowhere.

House of the Dead 2 (subtitle: "No Guts, No Glory") surprised me firstly by not being a Uwe Boll film. It surprised me secondly by starting off looking markedly worse than the first installment of the series. Sure, I didn't like any of the characters in the first movie, because they were basically all just bratty, unpleasant kids. But at least I believed they were bratty, unpleasant kids. The sequel film featured some pretty bad acting and farcical implausibilities right from the get-go, so I was already feeling let down only a little way into the film.

The sequel is loosely connected to the storyline in the first film, which I give it credit for. It also makes an attempt to tie more strongly into the video game by making the fictional organization AMS a big player in the film. (AMS is the organization to which the video game protagonists belong. The organization makes a token appearance at the end of the first film, but is the main protagonist presence in the second, alongside a military unit called only "special forces.") That said, the connection to the video game is pretty much still just nominal.

This film is, again, something of an action/horror hybrid, though probably tips more toward the horror end than the first movie. This movie, rather than taking place on a remote island, actually takes place mostly on a college campus in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak there. We track a special forces team and the AMS agents working with them as they make their way through the infested campus, somewhat looking for survivors, but mostly looking for a pure sample of zombie-lisciousness that they can take back to the lab. Hijinks ensue. And by hijinks, I of course mean lots of death, dismemberment, and madness.

The sequel was pretty much inferior to the original in every way. It made less sense, it was less fun to watch, and it was overall of poorer quality. For example... Well, over the course of watching all these movies, I've noticed a fondness for hip holsters with thigh straps involved. They had them in Tomb Raider, they had them in Resident Evil, and I'm sure they show up in any number of portrayals of contemporary military accessorizing. I think these look cool. There's just something about that getup that says, "Don't fuck around. I mean business." In House of the Dead 2, they also had these, but somehow they managed to come up with outfits for the agents that still looked stupid. I mean...just take any SWAT gear and load up some holsters with thigh straps, and you've got a cool-looking outfit. But, no, they had to give AMS some kind of cheap-ass-looking plastic piecemeal body armor getup overlaying blue jumpsuits, and they look nothing like the badasses they're supposed to be. They look like dorks.

I've mentioned that I give the movie credit for, in its way, picking up its plot seed from the first movie, and I do; I score this as a win. They even took it a step further, though, and had the AMS agents being commanded by the government agent in the first movie. They even, and I can't stress how much a coup I thought this was, got the same actress to play the character, which always scores points with me. Where they unfortunately fell a little flat was that...well, not to put too fine a point on it, that character died in the first film. :) This was, amazingly, never addressed. Like...not even a token attempt to deal with this, like, "Oh my God, I thought you were dead!" "No, luckily I blah blah blah." Nope. Just..."Hi, I'm still here, and I'm really pissed at zombies, by the way, for eating my fucking legs. Now go out there and burn them all down get me a blood sample!" So it goes.

Overall, I have to settle on a thumbs-down for this one. It somehow fell short of the original, and while this is a common problem among sequels, the bar was not, in this case, set especially high by the first installment. The fact that they managed to follow up on a Uwe Boll film and then do a worse job really says something, I think. I give ups for following up on the existing storyline and at least putting in the effort to keep things going. I have to ultimately give a negative score, though, for not making any goddamn sense. No guts, no glory.

In summary, I'd say House of the Dead surprised and somewhat pleased me by not being a complete piece of crap, and it lent what could be construed as a foundational backstory for a relatively plot-light video game, so I give it credit for that, for cool camera effects, and a bitchin' soundtrack. House of the Dead 2 surprised and disappointed me by being worse than the first movie, for screwing up the holsters-with-thigh-straps look, and for...well, look. I know you're part of a franchise and all, and you're just following previously laid footsteps, but come on. You're called House of the Dead -- wouldn't it be nice for your movie to know...A HOUSE?! And while the movie clearly started off poorly, I will admit that things did pick up after a bit, and there was a nice, semi-enjoyable stretch along the middle. By the end, though, we've basically just dissolved into total incomprehensibility, and it's hard to walk away feeling good after an experience like that. The first movie, while I'm definitely not placing it on any "must-watch" list, can, in my opinion, be easily tolerated. The second one may as well just be skipped.

And that's it for this installment, everybody. This would have been the end of the project, were it not for the late addition of a surprisingly pleasing underdog, Postal. Until then, everybody. Ciao!
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