J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Death House: The Cast is Killer, but the Movie is Dead


Abandon all hope, because you are in for some half-baked Nietzschean platitudes. It is not the Nazi and Satanist mass murderers who are the real bad guys in this subterranean super-max prison. It is the lab coats who want to move humanity beyond good and evil. Alas, this film makes you wish you could materialize Nietzsche out of thin air to tell the filmmakers what a hash they have made of his philosophy, like Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall. For some reason, a who’s who of horror also parades through B. Harrison Smith’s enormously problematic Death House (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

Toria Boon and Jae Novak are FBI special agents who have just apprehended two of the most notorious terrorists at-large (foreign in his case, but she collared Sieg, a home-grown Neo-National Socialist), or so they have been told. However, they quickly start to suspect they have experienced Death House’s brain-scrambling technology first-hand before. They both committed horrible crimes to accomplish their objectives, but Doctors Eileen Fletcher and Karen Redmane assure them they shouldn’t concern themselves over the eggs they had to break to cook up a tasty law & order omelet.

It turns out Boon and Novak chose the wrong day to get brainwashed at Death House, because a full-scale escape attempt will trigger a complete lock-down. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as locked down as it should be. This puts the bargain-basement Mulder and Sculley in an awkward position, but instead of making a break for the surface, they head towards the “Five Evils” housed in the bottom-most level.

So, basically, Harrison builds towards a climax wherein the Rudolf Hess-like Giger, the Elizabeth Bathory clone, Balthoria, and Crau, a freak who looks like Michael Berryman from The Hills Have Eyes, because he is played by Michael Berryman, help regulate the world, because you can’t good without their borderline supernatural manifestations of evil. Blah, blah, blah, whatever.

Indeed, Death House is so well-stocked with horror-specializing character actors, it is trying to get other people to call it the Expendables of horror. However, the film scandalously squanders much of their talents. Dee Wallace and Barbara Crampton have some moments as Fletcher and Redmane. Sid Haig chews plenty of scenery as the Icicle Killer, but his character conveniently disappears after his big scene. There is also Tony Todd playing a serial killing farmer in utterly baffling, completely unrelated wrap-around segments.

Frankly, Tiffany Shepis and Debbie Rochon have such inconsequential cameos, the film’s marketing does not even bother to mention them. On the other hand, prominent use is made of Adrienne Barbeau’s name, yet her only participation is narrating a training video Boon and Novak watch. At least the great Kane Hodder tries to give fans their money’s worth as Sieg.

For what its worth, Cortney Palm and Cody Longo are reliably bland as Boon and Novak. This film just craters so thoroughly, not even Hodder can save it. It is all just rather messy and eh. Not recommended, Death House releases today (11/6) on VOD.

Labels: , , , , , , ,