House of the Dead 1 and 2 Film Reviews

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Though it’s not as iconic as Daytona USA or innovative as Virtua Fighter, The House of the Dead is nevertheless one of the most important series of arcade titles in the history of gaming. With machines found in practically every arcade and movie theater throughout all of it’s 16 years, The House of the Dead has remained a fixture in the scene since its debut in 1997, and since then it has gone on to become one of the most popular series of arcade games in the world, featuring four games in the main series and several spin-off titles spanning across dozens of platforms.

With its outstanding success, further attention was brought to the series outside of the video game medium, when in 2003 a film adaption was released, which was followed by a sequel in 2005. After the break we have included overviews of the plots, discuss the negatives and positives of both films and reveal little-known facts about their production.

House of the Dead I

The first film, titled House of the Dead (The ‘the’ in The House of the Dead was omitted from both of the film’s titles) was directed and produced by German filmmaker Uwe Boll, who is infamously known amongst both gaming and film circles for his poor film adaptations of several popular video games including Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, and Dungeon Siege. House of the Dead was released to overwhelming poor reception and poor box office sales, though the film did manage to turn a profit — one of Boll’s few films to do so, showing that interest in a film adaption of the series was still there.

Although it is arguable that the comedic value in The House of the Dead games is created on purpose, the film does a good job at making it feel both purposeful and accidental in terms of not just the presentation, but the setting and characters. The plot revolves around several friends who journey off onto an island for the biggest rave in history (seriously…), but when they arrive, they find nothing but zombies. The characters eventually are lead into a house to make the title somewhat relevant and the history of the island and it’s zombies is revealed through very silly and inconsistent means.

Similar to the games the film is based upon, House of the Dead is not attempting to be scary or even story heavy, but instead is action oriented and fairly mindless. Several of the cast’s personalities are inconsistent and one of the main characters even changes his accent several times throughout the film — Sometimes even mid-sentence. Another character that has a hook for a hand in some scenes whilst in others he does not, and relations between the some are confusing at best. Almost none of them have a purpose in the script, and the ones that do never give motivation for viewers to care, but this works in the arcade nature of the series by allowing the viewer to care more about things as they occur, rather than what will happen next.

Perhaps the most accurate element of the film as an adaption is the soundtrack. Much of it is techno or electronic and fits well with the action on screen. No songs came from the games themselves, but they could be placed into any one of them and fit well. Various snippets of actual gameplay footage from The House of the Dead 1, 2, and 3 are used throughout the film, though the context in which they are used are disjointed at best and completely random at worst. It’s a decent nod to the games in any case. Another nice touch is that some of the deaths are so purposely goofy that animations and effects are even sometimes emulated exactly as they are in the games.

[Peter Moore, the president of SEGA of America at the time of filming and producer of The House of the Dead 1 game Rikiya Nakagawa on the set of House of the Dead]

House of the Dead II

Despite the setbacks of the original, a sequel soon followed in 2005 with the direct-to-DVD release of House of the Dead 2. Displeased with Boll’s adaption, SEGA cut ties with the director and brought in Michael Hurst to helm the sequel, which was produced and co-written by Mark A. Altman, who also co-wrote the original film. Though technically a sequel, House of the Dead 2 is largely a sequel in name only, with only a few superficial connections to the original film. Like the original, it was universally panned by critics and fell into even further obscurity given its dire release and limited run outside of cable television.

The story, setting, history of the zombies and their creation, and all but one of the characters in House of the Dead 2 are completely unrelated to the original film, despite the first ending on an obvious cliffhanger, which is never addressed in the sequel, despite both being written by the same person. The story follows several groups of Special Forces United States Marines as they work to contain a zombie outbreak at a local university after an infectious virus is accidentally let loose, whilst also also attempting to find a blood sample and possible cure to the disease. One character from the original makes a brief appearance in two scenes, having somehow survived the events of the last film despite both of her legs being ripped off by zombies and then being left to die in a decrepit old house that later explodes at least twice. The other surviving characters are never seen or mentioned. Other inconsistencies in the film include the exact nature of the virus that has caused the zombie outbreak and its origins. In the first film, it’s established that the first zombie was created centuries before the events of the film by a man who attempts to create a serum to grant himself immortality, while in the second it is created by Professor Curien, an evil man who intends to take over the world using his work — that is, while also working out of a science lab located in a fraternity college where he works for some reason.

In the case of House of the Dead 2, this is where the similarities with the games end and where frustration begins. The biggest disappointment with the sequel is it’s reluctance to make any connection to the games on which it is supposedly based. Though the original was quite ham-handed in its attempts to add elements of the game series in the film, at the very least they tried. No attempt whatsoever is made in the sequel, however. An example of this is when a group of soldiers enter a campus building and come across an arcade. To most people, this would seem like an obvious place to insert at least a slight reference to the games or another one of SEGA’s series — which would have been easily possible considering that SEGA helped to produce both films — but nothing is done with the IP outside of the film’s title and exactly two superficial references that come up only a few times and are never of any relevance to anything else in going on in the film.

One objectively positive note that can be made about the sequel is the make-up and effects quality of the zombies, which is improved greatly over the original. In House of the Dead 1, the zombies have a very basic design, essentially being long dead corpses, with rotting flesh, exposed skulls, and bodies wrapped in old rags and dirty gauge. Their general appearance is almost mummy-like, with only a few derivations here and there, such as modified pirates or mud men that lie in wait in the island’s marshes. This made no sense within the context of the film’s plot, which implies that these zombies are supposed to be the hundreds of teenagers that came to the island to party. This glaring oversight is addressed in the sequel, where the zombies take on the appearance of teenagers and adults that you would expect to find at a university. The special effects, however, take a noticeable drop in quality in the sequel, with very pedestrian amounts of gore — especially when compared to the first — and some of the worst fire and explosion effects that have ever been committed to film.

Another major disappointment is the lack of any creatures other than traditional zombies in both films. None of the mutants or bosses from any of the games make an appearance here, which is strange, considering that a major plot point in the sequel is that the virus that caused the outbreak is still mutating and the zombies are changing because of it, yet this is only shown to have a behavioral change and in no way affects their appearance of methods of attack.

Closing Thoughts nongamereviews

At one time a third film was planned, but no further news of its release has been heard since 2006, though Mark. A. Altman has gone on to write several other zombie films in a similar vain to House of the Dead, which are said to be in some ways based on concepts and ideas from all three films.

Though House of Dead failed to impress moviegoers and certainly failed to impress critics and many fans of the series, director Uwe Boll remained resolute in his opinion that he had made an adaption that wholly lived up to the experience of playing these games. In an interview with EuroGamer, Boll stated that he found much of the film’s overly negative reception to be reactionary because many people are quick to dismiss both he and his work because of his reputation. He went on to say that many expectations going into the film were skewed, explaining that “House of the Dead is a brainless shooter, where you shoot zombies into pieces. So what are [audiences] expecting from the movie, Schindler’s List?” Boll felt strongly that his film lived up to that singular idea popularized by the series, saying that “It’s a lot of fun, it’s over-the-top action…It’s cheesy entertainment with a lot of gore and a lot of violence, and it’s super-fast.”

But is this truly the case? Well, the House of the Dead is certainly an entertaining film, packed full of action and comedy, though you’ll often end up laughing at the sheer absurdity of the film itself rather than it’s intended jokes. House of the Dead 2 falls short of the original in many ways and ultimately comes across as yet another run-of-the-mill zombie movie that takes itself far too seriously, with no resemblance to the game series in sight. Despite this, it still has it’s moments and fans of the genre still might get a kick out of it. If you can tolerate nonsensical plots, bad acting, silly action, extreme camp, and dozens of bad one-liners, then leave your brain and your shotgun at the door, put your feet up, and enter the House of the Dead.

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