Death Tunnel (2005)
Starring Steffany Huckaby, Annie Burgstede, Kristin Novak, Jason Laster
Directed by Phillip Adrian Booth
Watching Death Tunnel is like being trapped in a haunted house. And by haunted house, I mean the kind of cheesy attraction your local high school throws once a year. It's phony, riddled with theatre rejects, and isn’t likely to scare anyone over the age of twelve.
Director Philip Adrian Booth sure seems to think it’s scary. In fact, he thinks it’s so ball-shrivelingly terrifying he bombards you with wall-to-wall jump scares, editing tricks, and screeching techno music from the very first frame. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it all had some sort of camp value, but this is a film that desperately tries to play it straight.
Stealing its premise from half-a-dozen 80’s horror flicks, the movie follows five college skanks who have to spend the night in an abandoned hospital as part of a frat stunt. Oddly enough, there are no tunnels in Death Tunnel... only five floors which the girls have to explore. They throw tantrums, wander around in their nighties, and take showers….y’know, everything girls would do when stuck in a grimy, ancient building.
But what starts as a harmless prank soon goes loco when real supernatural forces decide to take over the show. Discovering the old hospital records, the girls realize they look exactly like the hospital’s previous residents and - using every last bit of brain power - deduce that they share a connection with the building’s morbid past. Did I mention this is all - *GASP* - "based on a true story?" Well, I guess you can’t accuse the filmmakers of not keeping up with modern cliches too.
Death Tunnel obviously had a fair amount of money and resources behind it. The production values are above average and the abandoned hospital setting is undeniably creepy. On top of that, the director (who also co-wrote and edited) is actually a pretty skilled cinematographer and shows off his location fairly well. But any shred of atmosphere is destroyed through a constant barrage of flashy, self-masturbatory scare tactics. In fact, it’s so overblown that Death Tunnel doesn’t feel like a feature film at all, more like an extended demo reel made by a bunch of tech-heads. The only thing missing is pointless bullet-time shots.
The MTV editing is all over the place and more than likely to induce seizures before scares. On top of that, the first thirty minutes are told out-of-sequence without rhyme or reason: We randomly cut back and forth between the girls on campus, the initiation party, and events at the haunted asylum, and it’s done with the tact of an Ed Wood movie. If you locked a rabid chimp in an editing bay and left him alone for a week, I’m sure it’d produce something more coherent.
Let’s talk about the cast, shall we? I would say these girls come straight from the Tara Reid School of Acting, but that’s really not fair to Tara Reid, whose performance in Alone in the Dark seems Oscar-worthy when compared to the vacant stares of these five bimbos. Just when you think you’ve reached the breaking point, our token "hunk" enters the picture and - with manic Keanu Reeves-like intensity – manages to downstage all of them. Each actor is bad enough when they’re isolated within the spooky hospital, but when they finally interact we get something that’s on the level of porn filler material.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on the actors, considering the director can’t even pull a decent mood from one of the moodiest locations on Earth. When you get right down to it, there isn’t a single cohesive thing here. Devoid of all structure, pacing, and narrative sense, Death Tunnel is a film that almost feels surreal in its badness.
If Uwe Boll made a movie for Dark Castle, it would be this waste of time.
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