Doghouse (2009)

NOVEMBER 6, 2011

GENRE: BRITISH, COMEDIC, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

Despite a recommendation from HMAD reader Rob Spalding, the deck was stacked pretty high against Doghouse: it was from the director of Pumpkinhead 3, it stars the "overused in British horror movies" Danny Dyer, and it’s yet another damn zom-com. But I was pleasantly surprised by it; an imperfect but charming take on the “heroes go to a town where something’s not right” plot, infused with a surprisingly solid male bonding tale and even a nicely underplayed metaphorical slant concerning men’s innate fear of women. Add in the nearly all practical FX work and the most colorful group of zombies assembled in a movie since Dawn of the Dead, and you have a winner.

Key to the film’s success is the realistic camaraderie among the six guys, who have gotten together in order to cheer up one of their number who has just been divorced. The plan is to go to one of their hometowns, which is mostly populated by women, and have a sort of “return to bachelor” party, and for once I actually believed these guys were friends. I enjoyed the Hangover movies, but I spent the entire time wondering how/why Phil and Stu were friends in the first place – even though the Alan character was supposed to be the odd man out, I could see him and Phil being buddies a lot easier than I could see Stu hanging out with any of them on a regular basis. But here, even with some minor age differences, I instantly bought them as a unit; even the obligatory “nerd” fit in in his own way.

And because of that, I didn’t mind that they all remained un-killed for over an hour of the film – I was actually starting to wonder if ANY of them would die when the first one got taken out. If I had any real complaint about the movie it would be that things are too hectic by the time any of them die, and thus there’s no time for anyone to really reflect or even PAUSE when one of them goes down. It’s an unusual problem for a horror movie – it’s rare you as the viewer care about the deaths of the characters – it’s even rarer when you seemingly care more than their friends do. They make up for it in the film’s final sequence (involving a rescue), however, and the closing shot again reaffirms the strong bond among the group.

But don’t get me wrong – just because they don’t start getting picked off one by one until the third act doesn’t mean the movie lacks action. Indeed, they’re only in the town for about five minutes of screen time before the first attack, and the pace rarely lets up from that point on. It’s just not body count action – the group runs, gets split up, and then each group has their own little mini-adventures as they attempt to reunite and escape. Even better, there’s not a single anonymous zombie in the movie – they’re all quite distinct and memorable. It goes against Darabont’s philosophy regarding “hero” zombies (the one I usually agree with), but it works here, given both the fact that this is a comedy after all (unlike Walking Dead, which uses humor so sparingly that it’s almost distracting when they bother to include it), and the back-story that explains how they turned in the first place.

They never get in to too many specifics (plus the bulk of the exposition was delivered by the guy with the thickest British accent), but the gist of it is that a certain detergent created by the army has caused the women who used it to turn into “zombirds”. It only affects women, biting doesn’t turn you, and apparently we have to assume that every single woman in the town used this soap more or less on the same day. But in that respect, it makes sense that they’re all in their work outfits, so you have a crossing guard zombie, a hair-dresser, a chef, etc. If you look at the credits, there’s no “zombie extras” credit with a giant block of names – every one of them has a “name” (job description, usually). And even though you only meet one character before she turns (the impossibly gorgeous Christina Cole), they’re all distinct enough to know which one they’re referring to in the listing for “The Dentist” or “The Vicar”.

Of course, this provides the film’s basic metaphor; the title refers to the fact that every one of the guys (except for the divorced one) gets in trouble with his significant other when they head off to join the others at the beginning of the movie. The joke is, their “bitchy” wives/girlfriends (and one boyfriend) are nothing compared to the army of women who LITERALLY want to kill them, and those who survive (we assume) have discovered that they should be happy with what they have and all that good stuff. The sheer number of protagonists keeps it from getting as detailed as Shaun of the Dead, but it’s still a lot more interesting than the usual “Let’s just cast a bunch of diverse looking folks and hope the audience can’t guess which one of them will die first” approach to modern zombie movies, where caring about the characters and/or even having a primarily character based narrative is incredibly rare; even Romero barely bothers with strong characters anymore.

It’s also unusual to have an all-male group of heroes; Cole’s character has a sort of “I can give it as good as I can take it” attitude that might have been fun to play off of for a while, but she gets turned pretty early on. Which is just as well; had she been around, they probably would have made her into a love interest for the divorced guy (Stephen Graham, who is terrific), and given the movie a bunch of boring clich├ęs to play with instead of the far more amusing (and rare for horror) “old friends busting each other’s balls” approach. There’s a great bit where they find out that there’s a certain frequency that only women can hear, to which one of them jokingly asks the gay guy if he can hear it too – it’s not mean-spirited, it’s the genuine sort of loving mockery that only a real group of friends can pull off without offending. If I play back the conversation during a car ride or something with 3-4 of my friends, and 75% of it is probably just jokes at each other’s expense. It’s what we do, dammit!

The DVD comes with a few standard extras, including an extended making of that covers the usual bases but also just ends randomly, without any sort of closing statement (the last words are from director Jake West talking about the music – which is quite good, I must say). A lengthy outtake reel hints that the chemistry among the guys wasn’t just acting; they seem to genuinely get along like old friends even when an actor flubs a certain line for the 5th time (I don’t care if you’re my own flesh and blood; you blow 5 takes in a row I’m not going to laugh anymore). There’s a few deleted scenes of no real use, and a couple of trailers, all of which blow the movie’s best line (I won’t do so, but the trailer’s below if you want to hear it without the 65 minutes of previous context that make it a lot funnier). Sadly, no commentary – West is a fun guy to listen to even on his own, and with a few of the actors it could have been a riot, but alas.

If you’re sick to death of zombie comedies I doubt this will change your mind, since it’s never as laugh out loud funny as Shaun or the recent DeadHeads, nor is there even a lot of zombie action (very few of the zombirds are dispatched for good). But what it lacks in “highlights” it makes up for in admirable (and increasingly rare) good natured charm – I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about enough of unpleasant horror films (I’m not even sure I’m ever going to bother seeing Human Centipede 2), and thus any movie that makes the attempt to make them fun again is a good thing.

What say you?

6 comments:

  1. I must confess that I am no friend of the films from 2000, however, "Doghouse" belongs to the films which I found, actually, so quite entertaining. The idea is moved wittily and the film is entertaining. One can look him...

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  2. It was fun, and made some nods at being not totally sexist, but the waaay over-the-top portrayal of the bitchy girlfriends/wives at the beginning kind of left a sour taste in my mouth. I'm not someone who regularly gets all up in arms about this stuff, and especially not in genre flicks, but the writing there felt really bitter.

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  3. Director Jake West is a bit of a cult in UK Horror circles. You may like his previous gorefest Evil Aliens. His genuine cult vampire movie is Razor Blade Smile, an acquired taste. He also directed a documentary Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide which includes 2 DVDs of trailers each introduced by a horror expert like Kim Newman. It's a fascinating look at British attitudes (of the 80's) and censorship in general and is highly recommended.

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  4. There's actually quite a bit of humour in the human centipede 2, it's pretty black humour but it's there. You should check out the cut version, it's up there with the first one in my opinion.

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  5. This is just going to come off a being a spoiled sport, but I found this movie irredeemably misogynist, and I didn't want to feel that way. In fact, I hate it even more because the premise is quite brilliant and sets up a wonderful opportunity to fuck with and satirize modern gender conventions and anxieties that men hold about women, etc. The problem is that the movie goes for cheap laughs rather than smart satire again and again. I agree that the cast is mostly likable, and I appreciated the nod to 21st century attitudes by including a gay guy in the bunch and not making him feel tokeny at all, and I'm with you that the joke about him hearing the frequency totally plays, and does feel like friends lovingly giving each other shit. But dear god is this movie just savage about women. And the film's best opportunity for some balance is the Noel Clarke character, who is most unrepentant misogynist in the bunch - but no, the movie actually repeatedly validates his point of view and forces the viewer to identify WITH him, rather than satirizing his worldview, or at least undercutting or complicating it. This movie's gross in all the WRONG ways. Okay, now I'm done being no fun....

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  6. I saw Danny Dyer in a play in London while taking a theater class, and our professor did a nice job showing us how he plays the same character, essentially himself, in every film, play and tv show he's ever on. seriously, that is him. it was really funny to meet him in real life and see that he just gets to play himself.

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