Death House Review: Hell is a Sentence That Should Never Be Commuted
Innumerable horror icons fail to save this film from execution.
First of all, I really wanted to love Death House. Since hearing Kane Hodder speak enthusiastically about this movie at a convention, I waited impatiently for its release. When you hear all of the names of horror icons appearing in this film, what horror fan would not be excited?
Despite pre-ordering the DVD, I rented it just to watch it a few weeks early. I watched it, and then watched it again, and then some of it for a third time. I didn’t want to just like this movie because of its cast. Unfortunately, despite the extreme hype and promotion on social media for this film, as well as my numerous viewings, I just can’t bring myself to say I loved Death House.
A sizable issue with this film is it erroneously being labeled as “The Expendables of Horror.” Whether this is just some fan or website journalist’s choice of label, the film ran with it and decided to use that to push this project. That claim alone contributes to some of the disappointment and frustration. Coincidentally, in some interviews, Hodder himself said he disagreed with that title for the same reason I am about to explain. For the most part, you only see some of these icons for a split second and in non-speaking roles. If they do speak, it’s a sentence or less.
When one thinks of "The Expendables of Horror," you would expect they’ll be on screen throughout the movie or at least a good portion of it. In Death House, that is not the case. Besides Dee Wallace, Kane Hodder, Barbara Crampton, and, to a lesser degree, Bill Moseley, if you blink, you may miss out on seeing the many other big names used to promote this film. One could possibly ignore this misleading factor if there was something grander to take its place.
Tony Todd’s opening and closing scenes, where he references ‘The Farm’ sparked a few questions: What is it? Where is it? What happens there? Those questions remain unanswered throughout the movie. Despite numerous viewings, I could not connect his two parts to the rest of the movie.
This will occur again in the shower scene with the two agents. Granted, it provided the gratuitous nudity that most horror movies possess but it dragged on way too long. Another is the green screen moment. Our agents and Crampton’s avatar stand before victims that have been created for the criminals. The scene does not contribute to the flow or purpose of the movie, and honestly, if it was left out, it wouldn’t change the film. Cheesy attempts at humor when the lead Doctor mentions his work being Oscar-worthy just hinders the movie instead of enhances it. Were these just filler scenes to lengthen the movie or boast how many horror icons can be in one single movie?
Early after entering Death House, our female agent is walking down a long corridor with security guards for almost a minute without any dialogue. Could they not have included some discussion, possibly about this elusive farm? The interaction between the agents, primarily the female one and the staff at the prison, played by Crampton and Wallace, was cringe-worthy.
I thought the real action would kick in once the prison lost its power. After a guard has an explosive jammed into his stomach, he winds up in the prison infirmary. Lloyd Kaufman’s ridiculous character, despite informing the rest of the medical crew that something is inside the guard, reaches in like he’s delivering a baby and yanks out something only to have it detonate, resulting in the power outage.
From here on in, it was just a mash up of scenes, flashbacks, awful CGI, and extreme darkness. Granted, I get that it is set in a facility that is experiencing a loss of power, but for the sake of the audience, the use of some lighting could have been instrumental in assisting with the enjoyment of this movie.
One can argue that darkness increases the suspense and horror of a situation, but for this viewer, it was just frustrating as you couldn’t make out the action sequences that clearly you could hear occurring. It's also worth mentioning the extraordinary number of flashlights that were used in this movie, but despite that, it was still unbearably dark.
When our agents decided it was a good idea to free-fall down an elevator shaft, shooting while they descended, and landing without a scratch, any hopes of truly liking this movie were erased. I want to reiterate that I watched this movie more than once. I had such high expectations for this film and it was truly a letdown.
By the time we witness Sieg confronting the five evils, three of whom do not speak, I had lost interest. Admittedly a huge fan of Kane’s who always welcomes his unmasked roles, his CGI death was just over the top. That’s not to say that his acting was poor, quite the opposite, but the decision to incorporate CGI for his death and a few other scenes was just maddening.
If you’ve grown up watching horror, you’re going to see some of your favorites, albeit briefly, in this impressive ensemble. Some of the music and the dedication to the late Gunnar Hansen at the end were bright spots, not to mention that his holographic cameo during Leatherlace’s scene was a nice touch to honor the horror legend.
The unnecessary scenes that did not contribute to the storyline paired with poor dialogue and delivery by main characters, as well as unexplained references and excessive dark moments, all made for a disappointing end product for this horror fan. The premise was a good one but it needed to be executed successfully, and it sadly falls short in this case.
Despite the vast list of horror icon names and the hype surrounding its production and release, Death House is a hodge-podge of things, all of which fail to blend cohesively to produce a quality product.