I’ve been hearing a lot of people describe Death House as “The Expendables of horror.” But that’s not really a fitting description of the movie — it’s more like The Expendables meets Cabin in the Woods meets Total Recall meets Resident Evil meets Coma meets Dante’s Inferno meets Avatar meets Cube meets Hellraiser. Granted, that sounds like a big fat mess of a movie and … well, I suppose that’s exactly what Death House is. But unlike a lot of contemporary genre movies that like to act like they’re more enlightened and socioculturally relevant, at least this one has the good sense to embrace its own stupidity and keep the blood and guts flying — and if you’re a fan of 1980s horror, you’ll definitely dig it, if only for the nonstop cameo appearances.
Death House starts off with Tony Todd carrying this random white girl through the desert while a whole bunch of Wilhelm Screams emanate from a nearby sewer and he drinks oil out of a water tap. Then he starts digging around in her stomach and yanks out a handful of guts but apparently it was just a dream sequence or a mirage or something.
Then we cut to a cameo of Kane Hodder giving some broad in a Nazi uniform a handgun so she can shoot a mother and her young child at point blank range. Then we find out the Nazi broad is actually a double agent who proceeds to shoot Kane in the kneecap and then Dee Wallace shows up as a scientist in the titular Death House — it’s this blacksite prison where a whole bunch of CIA scientists try to turn serial killers and cannibals into upstanding citizens by socking VR goggles over their heads and trying to LITERALLY inject them with liquid morality — and then DANNY TREJO stumbles on set so he can bash an old lady’s skull in and then this woman in a cheap knockoff Leatherface mask carves up a whole buncha’ dudes on a grainy VHS tape while Dee makes this one chick watch a hologram of her daddy yell at her over and over again.
Then Barbara Crampton shows how they keep all the prisoners subdued by erasing their brains and hooking ’em up to IVs of cocaine and meth and she explains how Facebook is actually a means of spreading CONTAGIOUS mental illness. Then the narrator tells us Eisenhower built the whole thing back in the 1950s and one mile underneath the building they’ve got the absolute worst psycho killers ever in the history of anything, including immortal Nazis, vampires, Russian child murderers and, uh, Michael Berryman. Then Sid Haig gives another double agent a lecture about — well, I’m not 100 percent sure what the hell he’s talking about, honestly — and this eight-year-old Nazi stabs a security guard to death.
Of course, that’s our cue for a power outage. And that can mean one thing, and one thing only: PRISON RIOT CITY. Without giving away too much of the movie, let’s just say it doesn’t take long ‘until we’ve got about half a feet of severed body parts and intestinal juice on the floor. And just you WAIT until we get to the part where they show us all the prisoners with their skin ripped off … that one’s one of the best gopher guts grossout practical effects vomit-a-thon I’ve seen in quite some time.
Let’s take a look at the highlights of Death House, why don’t we? 42 dead bodies. Seven breasts. Two pairs of exposed buttocks (one male, one female). Throat slitting. Multiple exploding heads. Wooden stakes to the neck. One prison riot (that goes on for about 40 minutes.) One mass gassing. Heads roll. Faces roll. Arms roll. Legs roll. Intestines roll. Gratuitous blood drinking. Gratuitous Nazi toddler attack. Gratuitous Hannah Arendt references. Gratuitous razor hook eyeball gouging. Gratuitous mutant fetus eating. Gratuitous nu-metal soundtrack. Kung fu. Chainsaw fu. Taser fu. And, of course, the thing more or less responsible for this movie existing in the first place … some serious genre-actors-in-need-of-new-agents fu.
Starring Cortney Palm as Agent Toria Boom, who spends the entire movie doing her best Milla Jovovich impersonation; Cody Longo as Agent Jae Novak, the guy who can’t remember where his tattoos came from while he’s taking a shower with a colleague; Dee Wallace as Dr. Eileen Fletcher, who says “Technology is the new God, software is the new dogma” and never wonders aloud if turning psycho murderers into unkillable transhumans isn’t the wisest use of taxpayers’ dollars; and Kane Hodder as Seig, the psycho Nazi killer trying to become immortal or something who has one of the greatest lines in the history of B-movies: “I will fuck you in hell.”
Written by the late, great Gunnar Hansen and B. Harrison Smith, the latter whom also directed the movie.
Yeah, Death House a movie with some obvious problems — the CGI effects are terrible and the final act loses a LOT of steam — but at the end of the day it’s still a fairly fun, nostalgia-baiting B-tier genre offering that isn’t afraid to wallow in the red stuff and white meat. And let’s face it: is there anything out there that’ll make you pine for those bygone VHS glory days more than watching Sid Haig stabbing hippies and Bill Moseley giving Kane Hodder Lovecraftian lectures while wearing a spacesuit?
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director: B. Harrison Smith
Writer(s): Gunnar Hansen, B. Harrison Smith
Stars: Cortney Palm, Cody Longo, Dee Wallace, Kane Hodder, literally everybody who was in any horror movie made between the years 1980-1989 who’s still alive
Release: VOD (iTunes) — Nov. 06; Blu-Ray and DVD — Dec. 11
Studio/Production Co.: Entertainment Factory, LLC
Length: 95 minutes
Genre: Splatter, Slasher, Retro, Nostalgia