Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
January 1st , 2009

House of the Dead: Funny Version

House of the Dead: Funny Version
Directed by Uwe Boll
Written by Dave Parker, Mark Altman
Starring Jonathan Cherry, Jurgen Prochnow, Clint Howard, Tyron Leitso
Produced by Uwe Boll
90 mins
2008's not every day that I actually cheer for a new Uwe Boll film. In fact, with the sort-of exception of Postal it's never actually happened. I say sort-of, of course, because Postal can best be described as the best of a bad lot, but that's neither here nor there.

This is, however, a cause for some minor celebration as Lions Gate realizes that House of the Dead is a screaming load of crap, so what better use for a screaming load of crap than to spend ninety minutes mocking it openly?

Seeing as how this sucker's been out for the last five years, a plot recap may be redundant, but just for the new folks I'll go ahead. Basically, there's a rave being held on an island out in what I'm guessing is the Pacific Northwest, and it's going to be the event of the century, if the drunk brain-damage cases who serve as our heroes and heroines are to be believed. When they finally get to the island, they find a whole lot of nothing...and then, zombies. Thus, the party animals who came for the rave of the century are in for the fight of their lives, aided and abetted by a weapons smuggler, his thoroughly goony sidekick, and a federal agent.

Now...House of the Dead by itself isn't much of a movie. Sure, the whole psuedo-wire-fu thing they were doing was kind of fun, but any resemblance between the game and the movie is, apparently, entirely coincidental. The game's storyline was, admittedly, thoroughly Japanese nonsensical, but Boll managed to find a way to make it even LESS coherent by introducing things like lunatic Jesuits.

Sure, Boll's version had plenty of hot chicks, and that improves just about anything (straight guys in the audience, tell me you didn't like the whole Liberty / Tyranny thing), but where Boll's vision was so sorely lacking was that there wasn't a whole lot of dead until maybe the last half-hour or so. I wanted to see zombies getting shot from like minute one, and I was gravely disappointed. Thus, the addition of the funny improves things greatly, and as is the case with probably every film he ever did, there's a surprising superabundance of material to work with.

I hate to admit it, but this was a good movie. Sure, the movie itself sucked out loud, but the addition of the funny actually managed to make the movie itself look BETTER. This is weird. I can't believe I'm ascribing Uwe Boll to a really good idea that I'd love to see more of, but I'm afraid that's the case. I would LOVE to see more bad movies do this kind of thing. I would love to see more movies in general do this kind of thing. Even if it's just a separate track or something, the addition of these funny little pop-up-video-esque nuggets is clever and fun.

The ending may well be one of the film's saddest jokes, but we came here for the funny.

The special features are actually quite well populated, and include audio commentary tracks, a behind the scenes featurette, a special feature on all the aforementioned hot chicks involved, and English and Spanish subtitles.

All in all, okay, it's true. This is an Uwe Boll movie and Uwe Boll movies still suck. But one thing is crystalline clear--that when you add the funny, you make up for a whole lot of problems.

Dance of the Dead

Dance of the Dead
Directed by Gregg Bishop
Written by Joe Ballarini
Starring Jared Kusnitz, Greyson Chadwick, Chandler Darby, Carissa Capoblanco
Produced by Ehud Bleiberg, Gregg Bishop
87 mins

Okay, I admit freely that you've been just a little bit hoaxed, kids. I deliberately set this up so that I would cover this one, the last in the lineup of eight films that comprised the Ghost House Underground series, last. That's right--from the beginning you've been hearing about the Ghost House Underground series in what I had hoped would be from worst to best based on synopses and trailers and such.

Sadly, this didn't work out near as well as I'd wanted it to--Dark Floors ring a bell for anyone?--but in retrospect, I got pretty close. It seems like I've gotten down to the nitty gritty here in Dance of the Dead, the one film I had the most hope for in the entire franchise.

And on the surface, it looked like I'd made the right choice. How could I go wrong, with a horror-comedy hybrid about a prom night attacked by zombies? How could I go wrong in a movie that features lines like "We're the sci-fi club. We're here to rescue you."? How could I go wrong with a movie that might more appropriately have been titled Prom of the Dead?

How, I ask you? How??

Considering how often I laughed during the first ten minutes, I thought it wouldn't be possible to hate this movie.

Considering how many cliches they trotted out--after I saw the biology teacher lay into some kid, I just KNEW that poor dumb bastard was going to get torn open by the end--I thought this was going to be a great ride.

And indeed, this was a TRIUMPH. The one great and shining light in the Ghost House Underground series is "Dance of the Dead". This is the high point of an otherwise lackluster crapfest with only a few half-decent movies to separate it from being a total waste of time and effort.

With a cemetery groundskeeper that makes the guy from Dellamorte Dellamore look like a high-strung candy ass, fantastic lines throughout, a liberal soupcon of comedy and plenty of good scares, Dance of the Dead makes the entirety of the Ghost House Underground series look like a sick old woman.

Even better is that they started the action off fairly early. Many zombie movies will take up to an hour to build to the zombie apocalypse part of the program, but not Dance of the Dead. No sir, we've got a full-blown zombie apocalypse within the first twenty minutes. And for a film with a nearly ninety minute runtime, that means nigh-on seventy minutes of sweet zombie ass-kicking action. Featuring great moves like "severed arm down the throat" and plenty of zombie backyard wrestling.

You can't beat that with a spiked baseball bat.

Oh, there are problems, sure enough. They've halfassed the Romero standard a bit here--zombies should NOT be coordinated enough to drive a pizza van, and there's a little bit of running involved, something that's irked me for some time, not to mention post-Romero mutterings of "brains"--but this is an admittedly minor gripe and certainly should not be permitted to get in the way of enjoying this sweet nugget of zombie joy.

Even better will be the bizarre discovery just before the halfway mark. I will not spoiler it for you but it's utterly unlike anything I can previously recall. Seriously. Like NOTHING else before it.

I actually reached a point writing this where I realized that talking about it further would just be repetition. This is a truly excellent movie, and makes me genuinely happy that I sat through five pieces of crap and two halfway decent titles so that I could get THIS wonder in my DVD player. If you take nothing else away, take this--THIS. IS. AWESOME.

The ending...well...the ending is as good as the rest of the movie, frankly. As good as the previous parts were, I was half expecting the ending to be crap just to balance out the universe. But indeed. The ending was full of laughs and loss and explosions. It was a thing of beauty.

The special features include audio options, director and writer commentary, English and Spanish subtitles, a making-of featurette, a behind the scenes featurette, an effects and stunts featurette, a short film called "Voodoo", and trailers for Dance of the Dead, Saw V, Punisher: War Zone, Trackman, No Man's Land: Rise of the Reeker, Dark Floors, Brotherhood of Blood, The Substitute, Last House in the Woods,and Room 205.

All in all, I've already said it, folks. This is an absolute triumph. Dance of the Dead is the undisputable very best the Ghost House Underground series has to offer, and the lone chunk of possibility that, if they do this again next year, we might just get another one.