House of the Dead 2 (DVD)
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Starring Emmanuelle Vaugier, Ed Quinn, Sticky Fingaz, Victoria Pratt, James Parks, Dan Southworth, Sid Haig, and Ellie Cornell
Directed by Michael Hurst
Distributed by Lionsgate
House of the Dead is a movie whose reputation precedes it. Rarely is a film so hated among genre fans. We're a really forgiving bunch after all. We love movies that are bad, and some of our most favorite flicks could be considered horrendous by some film standards. It seems the focal point of all this hatred is director(!) Uwe Boll. He didn't stop with the original House of the Dead under his belt; Boll has also blundered out the mind numbingly bad Alone in the Dark, and the ridiculous Bloodrayne, single handedly wrecking plenty of possible film franchises and making gamers around the world pray for his cinematic demise. I've always said that if Ed Wood were alive today, Uwe Boll would be his favorite director. So, the question beckons: are these franchises really ruined beyond repair? When it comes to House of the Dead, producer and writer Mark A. Altman answers with a resounding NO. As a means to make amends with the genre fans he has opened up a new House. The good news? It's semi-blood soaked, filled with zombies, open for business, and dare I say it, it's actually not a bad visit!
The first question of the day is what to do with the abysmal storyline of the original? Continue it or scrap it and start over? If I were behind the series I would have scrapped it altogether, but Altman does a fairly competent job of taking whatever good was in the first film and linking it to this sequel. After the events of House, Rudy and his reanimated big breasted buffoon of a girlfriend were brought back to AMS headquarters and tested for the zombie virus. Both were clean, cleared, and let go. So what's a couple to do after surviving a zombie tussle? They had back to Rudy's dad, Dr. Curien (Sid Haig) for even more testing. What's become of Rudy is anyone's guess, but his girlfriend has developed signs of zombification. Fascinated by her living death, Curien believes that her blood contains the secrets of immortality and quickly begins testing it on other cadavers. Jackpot! Zombie outbreak! AMS is having none of that though. They're aware of the newest outbreak and are determined to stop it once and for all. Headed up by a returning and newly legless Ellie Cornell, a new team of scientists and soldiers are sent to the scene to get a blood sample from the original zombie (see: big breasted buffoon) in hopes of developing a cure. And the game is on!
Based on a videogame from the Sega Corporation, House of the Dead 2 tries its hardest to deliver fans a great film that is both respectful of the source material and fun for zombie film nuts. It's riddled with references taken directly from the game and nods to other -- better -- zombie movies. Altman and crew must feel really bad about the original House because several times during this film it is pointed out how stupid it was. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. The movie sucked bad. Do we really need to be reminded of that? You have a good thing working here. Let's concentrate on the task at hand, shall we?
House of the Dead 2 plays slightly uneven due in part to some of its humor. The film switches gears from time to time, going from tongue-in-cheek to straight horror on the fly. It mixes the two styles fairly well, but I would rather have seen one or the other. Everything else works just fine, however. The acting is way better than I expected, but the true star of the film (and rightly so) are Robert Hall and his company Almost Human, who handled the make-up F/X. The dead run the gamut between freshly killed and rotted out, and both look great, I just wanted to see a bit more of them. This may not be a Romero film, but we're in dire need of some signature zombies here. You know, the ones that are so cool looking that they deserve some extra camera time. There are a couple that pop up now and then, but all in all the zombies are seen mostly in groups and not individually. Maybe next time.
The DVD extras are a bit on the standard side, as well. We get some deleted and extended scenes, a lively commentary with Altman, and director Mike Hurst, and a 15 minute making-of featurette. Also of mention are the DVD's insert liner notes. In them Altman explains that what you're about to watch is in its "pure, uncensored, and uncut glory: head explosions, nudity and dismemberment, all in tact as it should be." This instantly made me check the back of the DVD. It says Rated R. Hmmm. Then I watched the featurette. During it I was informed that forty gallons of stage blood was used and there was lots of violence to be seen. Mind you I had watched the film when it appeared on Sci-Fi so I was ready for my as of yet unseen violent goodies. I pressed play and waited for the splatter to fly. Here, uncut, are my thoughts while watching: "Oh look! Tits! Hey, more tits. Tits and Bush! There's a couple more. Headshot! That didn't look much different. Tits again. Minor splatter. Zombie tits. Same headshot I saw on TV. He grabbed an axe! Can't wait to see what was cut from here. Nothing. What the fuck?" Maybe I'm just jaded, but I didn't find House of the Dead 2 to be much more violent than the cut I had originally watched on TV. Sure the nudity was OK, but that's really not what I wanted to see. I wanted the promised head explosions and dismemberments. In the end, I have to say I felt slightly cheated.
Will this sequel erase the bad memories of the original? It should as it's superior in every way. In fact, House of the Dead 2 comes really close to being a classic modern zombie film, though the lack of gore really hinders it. We're set up for a third entry in the series and according to the featurette, Mark is already cooking one up. Hopefully the third time will be the charm. In the interim, at least we have a four minute appearance by Sid Haig.
Audio commentary with Mark A. Altman and Mike Hurst
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