Ladies and gentlemen, I present you one of the biggest marketing gimmicks, one of the most outstanding examples of manipulation towards film audience in cinema history: Death House.
First things first: I couldn’t write a spoiler-free review of this abomination against humanity, since whoever reads my blog (and this post specifically) needs to understand they have to stay away from this bastard of a movie. My previous Everything WRONG with reviews (about Alien: Covenant and Truth of Dare) revolve around two films I consider to be, respectively, an example of what’s wrong with horror franchises taken too far and an example of everything wrong with dumb Hollywood PG-13 products – I refuse to call them movies, since they’re basically production campaigns to self-finance themselves, with no artistic merit whatsoever.
Death House, on the contrary, is an independent horror flick, very different from the two mentioned before. Although I’m very keen on indie horror – I actually believe independent and foreign filmmaking are saving cinema from Hollywood lack of creative flair, for the most part – Death House has nothing, absolutely nothing, creative nor imaginative about it.
Basically, this is a combination of scenes (again, I’m not going to give Death House the honour of being called ‘a movie’) marketed as “the expendables of horror”, where all the big horror names from the 70s, 80s and 90s come together: Tony Todd, Gunnar Hansen – may he rest in peace, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Dee Wallace, Barbara Crampton, Kane Hodder, Michael Berryman… however, besides a couple of them (Hodder, Crampton and Wallace), everybody else appears here as a cameo. And this is the first of a long series of tricks the hack director – Harrison Smith pulls off towards the unaware audience.
Before delving into all the shit Death House is filled with, I need to assess the director. Obviously I don’t know Harrison Smith personally and he might be the sweetest guy ever in real life. However, the only reason he makes movies and the only reason these flicks have big names in them is that he has loads of connections in Hollywood. Simply put, this is the horror version of Movie 43: Smith convinced all of his star friends to participate to this project (I’d be interesting to know if they got paid… because I honestly think they didn’t!) and hired two random people as the main characters in Death House.
In fact, Death House is really about a couple of rookie FBI agents (played by Cody Longo and Cortney Palm… yes, two unknown actors) who are brought to a maximum-security prison that is built in such a way it goes down to the centre of the Earth. As a power breakdown occurs, the agents find themselves fighting through a labyrinth of horrors while being pursued by a ruthless army of roaming inmates. As they fight to escape, the agents push toward the lowest depths of the facility where they learn a supernatural group of evil beings is their only chance for survival.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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All of that, however, starts to get in motion much later into the runtime, about halfway through. In fact, this manipulative marketing gimmick begins with Tony Todd randomly kind of torturing a girl in some fields nearby the prison. This opening scene serves no purpose, it’s entirely unrelated to the rest of the ‘story’ and features some of the worst gore I’ve ever seen: basically, Todd’s character is touching the girl’s belly which, for some unexplained and inexplicable motive, makes it bleed…? This is one of the main traits of Death House: the violence makes no sense, not just in the Italian-gory-movies-from-the-70s way, but it really is unclear what causes harm in Death House, what makes characters bleed and die. It’s baffling, actually.
After this very stupid opening sequence, the two agents are brought to the facility, where a scientist played by Dee Wallace regurgitates exposition about the most dangerous inmates, the way the prison is layered, the purpose of their treatments, which is to cure evil (what the fuck?!).
Immediately, the audience is treated to the atrocious acting by the main characters: the FBI agents aren’t just unlikely, they’re also obnoxious and annoying. The dialogue is so badly written I thought I mistakenly downloaded a porn movie and, at one point, I was just waiting to see some explicit sex scenes to play out. Alas, it wasn’t a porn… because a porn movie usually has a better story, better acting and better production values than this turd.
Anyway, during the first 43 minutes of Death House, we as an audience only get to see clips – through camera footage or dream sequences, I guess – of these messed up criminals being… well, messed up. And this is where most of the big-star cameos appear: Danny Trejo is onscreen for like two seconds and then he dies in a hilarious way; Sid Haig, who seems extremely depressed to be part of this, like he really was forced by his fellow actors to join the party; Camille Keaton features in a segment that’s just embarrassing… that’s probably why she wore a mask; and so on, you get the point.
Yet, from the first scene Death House looks terribly lit: the sequences in broad daylight are overexposed, whereas the ones in the dark are underexposed. What the hell, who gave a camera to this moron? Seriously, give a mildly intelligent toddler a camera and you’d probably get a better executed footage! In terms of production values, Death House seems to be the result of Uwe Boll and Uncork’d Productions having a deformed baby! It’s ridiculous.
After 43 minutes of exposition, terrible-looking clips, awful acting and annoying characters, the plot is set in motion by one of the guards being attacked by a monster-kid that kills the guard and place an electronic device into his chest. Why did it happen? Who is the monster-kid? How does a maximum-security facility can be so easily broken into? None of that matters, according to Death House, because this shitshow doesn’t give a fuck about coherence nor sensical plot. The guard is then taken into the medical centre, where Dr Lloyd Kaufman (of Troma Entertainment fame) tries to save him, even though any remotely intelligent human being would know it’s too late. Look, I met Kaufman in real life, at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017: he’s always smiling and joking around, being very offensive in a funny way (like his movies). Here, however, you can sincerely see the look of disgust and sadness in his eyes, as if he’d rather be punched in the face by Mike Tyson than being in this atrocious chapter of indie ‘filmmaking’.
I felt sorry for him, and I felt even more sorry for Barbara Crampton: she’s assigned with quite a big role in Death House and she even gives a good performance. It seems she was the only one who tried in Death House and that’s just sad: it’s sad a good actress and a great cast, filled with iconic horror legends was wasted on such shitty, abominable material. I mean it, I love most of the actors here and it’s a shame they have nothing to work with: in fact, the few who gave a shit (like Crampton and Hodder) seemed even more out of place than the rest of the cast.
Back to the story. As the device placed in the guard’s body is released, the power in the prison breaks down, letting all the prisoners escape from their cells. The two agents and Dee Wallace figure that their only chance of making it out alive is to go to the bottom of the prison, where some supernatural beings are held captive. Meanwhile, through shaky-camera, stroboscopic lights, fake and unconvincing gunshots, the inmates try to escape, led by Kane Hodder’s character.
We need to stop for a second and talk about Hodder’s character. He’s immortal, for some reason, and how do we get to learn that? He gets shot by another inmate and falls to the floor with a huge hole in his chest: however, he immediately stands back up and the hole has disappeared. Why? What the fuck do I know?! In Death House things occur so randomly that you really can’t find reasons for any of that. I mean, just because Hodder is substantially immortal in the Friday the 13th and Hatchet movies he shouldn’t automatically be immortal by default! Anyway, Hodder then takes the lead and convinces everybody they have to go down to get out of the facility, even though it’s clear to whomever has a higher IQ than 45 that the easiest way out is up.
As the three main characters – should I call them props? – try to reach the bottom of the prison, the criminals led by immortal Kane Hodder do the same. They slice their way through prison guards that are as easy to kill as any random goon in a superhero flick, during the course of a few scenes that are shot through nauseating shaky-cam and underexposed colour grading, so that you can’t make out what the hell is going on. Besides, the gun-fire sounds like freaking Birdemic: it’s loud and fake to the point my ears started bleeding and asking me to stop torturing them.
In the meantime, Dee Wallace and the two agents move down level by level, until they get to the almost-skeletons (that’s how I call them): prisoners who feed upon each other and have barely anything human left in them. This is probably the only scene in Death House I genuinely found well-done. These ‘creatures’ look scary and their mumbling is both creepy and depressing. Unfortunately, even this moment is ruined by the dog-poop level of writing, as they start attacking Wallace and the agents right after they said they don’t have any will to live anymore. I mean, did the writers forget what they just wrote in the script two lined before?!
Then we get some other boring action, intercut with Dee Wallace and immortal Kane Hodder regurgitating other exposition, which really is unnecessary considering how simple and flat this plot is.
After that, there’s the ending.
Trust me, you’ve probably never seen a dumber, more ridiculous ending than Death House’s: Wallace and the agents reach the bottom level of the prison, where they meet the supernatural creatures, played by Bill Mosely (why Bill? Why?! Did you need to send your grandkids to college?) and other horror icons. The design of these immortals is laughable: they have suits that seem to have been found in a yard sale, enhanced (so to speak) by some CGI laser shit that makes them look even cheaper and more retarded. They speak out some bullshit about the balance of good and evil in the world, something the writers probably took from Wikipedia, and the kill Hodder’s character – because he’s immortal, but not super immortal.
There are a couple of pointless and nonsensical shots and then this atrocity, finally, ends.
So there you have it: one of the most disappointing, falsely advertised, trickily marketed horror ‘movie’ of all time, Death House. I’m sorry the names of such great and inspiring horror legends is now connected to this pile of steaming socks, and I’m sorry I didn’t publish this review in time to save more people from this eyesore.
The beauty of cinema, and the beauty of this job – reviewing films – is that you can always find points of connection and points of discussion: everyone is entitled to their own opinion, which is why I usually don’t get mad when people think some movies I love are boring or bad, nor when people like movies I find terrible. However, I genuinely believe nobody should like nor enjoy Death House: if you do, then you should try and rewatch this abomination without the love for these stars in the back of your head. You should go in with a slightly more critical approach, since this is honestly a big mid-finger to anyone who loves horror and cinema.
I never say this in my reviews, but this time I will: don’t buy, rent or watch this crime against humanity. Don’t let the people behind this project have the money you worked for and earned with sweat: they didn’t put any effort in making this piece of shit and they didn’t even try anything good or creative, other than working on an effective marketing campaign. This is a middle finger to you all, give them a middle finger back!
Death House 2/10