Touted as “The Expendables” for horror fans, “Death House” is a huge missed opportunity that revels in its painfully derivative and clumsy premise. Ripping off “Alone in the Dark,” “Cabin in the Woods,” and yes, even “Jurassic Park,” Harrison Smith manages to do absolutely nothing with the plethora of horror stars that show up for the film. Most of the people that are promoted in the opening credits only show up for thirty seconds at a time with glorified cameos, while folks like Kane Hodder take a back seat to the bland, forgettable protagonists we’re supposed to be rooting for. By the time the movie ended I couldn’t even tell you what their names were.
Novak (Cody Longo) and Boon (Cortney Palm) are two federal agents with scarred pasts have been selected to become part of Death House. A secret advanced prison utilizing radical means to locate and eradicate evil, Death House is home to a collection of America’s most dangerous killers, with Neo-Nazi killer Sieg (Kane Hodder) one of the recent additions to the line-up of convicts. Using mind-control gas and virtual environments, Death House maintains order, with leadership including Dr. Fletcher (Dee Wallace) and Dr. Redmane (Barbara Crampton). When an EMP device is detonated inside the facility by one of Seig’s followers, the system shuts down, permitting the prisoners to run wild, murdering anything they find. Panicked, Novak and Boon try to find a way out of Death House, hoping to avoid the most powerful offenders in containment: The Five Evils.
“Death House” is supposed to be one of those big horror films that works as something of a big line up of horror stars for the devoted, but it’s all wasted away on absolutely nothing. There’s only some cheap fan service here and there (an obvious female Leatherface clone called “Leatherlace”), while most of the ninety minute run time is devoted to Dee Wallace’s character explaining and explaining and explaining away the function of the Death House. There are chambers and levels, and AI, and psychos and by the fifth monologue by Dee Wallace, you’ll be aching for something, anything to happen.
Dee Wallace’s character brings the pair of protagonists through obviously CGI’ed environments, all of which never actually looks anything like a prison or holding chamber. The biggest crime is that Harrison packs the cast with a ton of horror heavyweights, and does absolutely nothing with them. There’s Tony Todd, Michael Berryman, Felissa Rose, R.A. Mihailoff, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Danny Trejo, and Lloyd Kaufman, all of whom have almost nothing decent to contribute. When you consider their massive contributions to the genre, it’s disappointing that screenplay has no idea how to utilize them in fascinating roles or characters. It says a lot that even Barbara Crampton is wasted in what is basically a throwaway role. The almost unrecognizable Dee Wallace almost salvages most of what unfolds, carrying most of the film whenever Harrison centers on her and agents Novak and Boom.
Beyond that, most of the film is poorly paced, poorly lit, and incredibly convoluted most of the time. There’s not a ton of clarification on what Seig (the film’s T-Rex) is planning with the Five Evils, and that’s surprising considering the screenplay over explains every minute plot beat to death. There’s a place in horror right now for a movie that takes all the living horror icons and creates some fun monster movie bash, but “Death House” just isn’t it. It’s a dull and tedious missed opportunity.