MAY 14, 2007
I usually defend the good doctor Boll, but even I fail to enjoy much of the first film in this series. There’s some insane charm to be found here and there, but for the most part it’s just an exercise in endurance. His subsequent films have been better, however. And bless him, he's just so batshit insane that I can't help but love the guy.
But since the first one actually went to theaters (and made a bit of money to boot), the fact that House of the Dead II went DTV gave me the impression that it was a true travesty. Shockingly, that cannot be further from the truth. Not only is it much better than the original, it’s better than several other, non-Boll related zombie movie as well. Realizing no one expected much from them, Director Mike Hurst and writer Mark Altman really stepped up to the plate here (not to mention that the DP on the film is none other than Ray Stella, who was camera operator on a little movie called HALLOWEEN. You can’t get higher genre cred!). It’s no Dawn of the Dead, but goddamn if it isn’t one of the more entertaining recent zombie films. The acting is more or less decent, the story is fast-paced (though not to the point of confusion, as in the first film), and the zombies actually act like zombies.
Strangely, it plays out like a video game! There’s a prologue that you don’t really need (I have noticed that many games, including the zombie-heavy Dead Rising, only show their prologues if you neglect to hit start right away), little bits of story delivered in between fairly non-stop action, a door that is blocked, human villains… the only thing that’s missing is a big boss.
But actually, what makes the movie work is the humor. There is some truly great stuff in here. A rather mean attack on the first film is one highlight (“Your boyfriend saved you with an immortality serum? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”), and an A+ (and somewhat subtle) Cheney joke is another. And most of the characters are likeable, especially Ed Quinn’s hero. Even Sticky Fingaz is pretty good (in his transformation scene he displays some pretty damn impressive pantomime). And Emmanuelle Vaugier… is not much of an actress, but that’s not why she keeps getting hired for horror movies.
There’s also a hefty bit of randomness thrown in throughout the film. Why does the entrance to the football field have a huge sign reading “NO SUNFLOWER SEEDS”? Why does everyone call Ellie Cornell (who apparently survived the first film) ‘Sir’? Why would a modern dorm room have a Static-X poster??? But it all adds to the movie’s unexpected charm.
Look, it’s not going to win any awards (unless there’s an award show honoring 2 year old straight to video sequels), but you can certainly do worse. I can think of at least 5 other recent zombie films, theatrical and DTV, that a lot of people really like and yet don’t have half the zombie action as this one. Kudos to everyone involved for taking what may have been the least requested film of all time and making something pretty good out of it.
What say you?