Starring Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, Dee Wallace, Bill Moseley, Barbara Crampton, Cortney Palm, Cody Longo
Written by Gunnar Hansen, Harrison Smith
Directed by Harrison Smith
The highly anticipated Death House, starring almost every well-known horror actor alive, has been in the works for the past few years and, when I first read about it, it sounded like the ultimate hardcore horror movie. Death House is currently playing in limited theatrical release and it does not disappoint. The film was written by horror icon Gunnar Hansen, best known as Leatherface in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and directed by Harrison Smith. Hansen passed away in 2015, but appears digitally in Death House.
Special agents Toria Boon (Cortney Palm) and Jae Novak (Cody Longo) are being given a tour of a secret prison made up of nine levels, known as Death House, when the power goes out. Quite literally all hell breaks loose as the power outage unleashes the worst criminals to have ever walked the earth. There are three men who all claim to be related to Satan, including Bill Oberst Jr. who gives a standout, humorous performance. Sieg, played by Kane Hodder, is on a mission to reach the ninth and lowest level of the prison where a group of mysterious inmates known as the 5 Evils are on lockdown, and he is prepared to destroy anyone who gets in his way. The 5 Evils possess supernatural abilities and have committed the most heinous crimes known to man. Bill Moseley plays Giger, one of the 5 Evils who describes himself as “God, the great and terrible,” in one of many references to spirituality and the continuous struggle between the forces of light and darkness.
The mind-blowing cast includes Dee Wallace as Dr. Fletcher and Barbara Crampton as Dr. Redmane. The doctors are performing some pretty gruesome human experiments in the prison that could have devastating consequences for humanity. The film also features Adrienne Barbeau as the Narrator, Sid Haig as a sadistic killer, and Tony Todd as a very special kind of farmer. Not all of the performances are standout, but the bloody pandemonium and creative writing make this a damn good movie worthy of becoming a cult favorite. Death House is much more than just another slasher film and makes some profound statements about the universal balance of good and evil and the revelation of self.
The only thing I find more impressive than how thought-provoking the storyline is are the special effects. With CGI used only for things like flying laser beams, all of the blood-soaked effects are practical and they are badass. In a time when a lot of filmmakers don’t want to bother with practical effects and everything is CGI, Death House brings the blood and gore in a way that’s revitalizing for the genre. Featuring decapitated heads, ripped out intestines and even skinless things screaming into a microphone that sent chills up my spine, the practical effects in Death House are extraordinary.
Death House contains several easter eggs and, combined with the powerful cast of genre villains and in-your-face practical effects, the film is designed for multiple viewings. I enjoyed it even more the second time around. This film was Gunnar Hansen’s dream project and it’s obvious that everyone involved invested a lot of time, skill and love in bringing Death House to completion. I think Gunnar would be proud.
I had very high expectations for Death House and they were certainly met. The gripes I had with the film were minor and the rest of what it had to offer more than made up for those small issues.