Plot: A prison known as Death House is populated with the worst of the worst, the kind of criminals that even other criminals are afraid of. This institution uses bleeding edge virtual reality tech to study these killers, so the prison isn’t about confinement, but a deep dive into the psychotic minds within. Although the facility is more or less off the radar, a tour is being provided to two special agents, to observe the work being done and make some assessments. Even with some basic knowledge about the prison, the agents are shocked by the horrors held inside, though the horror becomes a lot more intense when things start to go haywire. Soon the agents are in a desperate battle for survival, forced to endure nine levels of the prison, each packed with violent, aggressive killers looking to slaughter them. Are the residents of Death House going to be able to escape into the real world or can the agents work to suppress the threats, despite the incredible odds stacked against them?
Entertainment Value: This movie boasts a remarkable cast of horror veterans, enough to fill up a dozen slasher movies, but Death House fails to put all that talent to use and winds up a dull experience. The narrative has a world of potential, especially with this ensemble involved, but it feels like a loosely connected series of scenes, rather than a cohesive movie. That is likely due to having to work around the various schedules, but in any event Death House is a disappointment. A few fun moments pop up and there’s some nice bloodshed involved, but no real scares and the visual effects are laughable, some look like a retro video game. I could see this movie being mistaken for a 90s live action video game in fact, with the hokey visuals and stilted narrative elements. I do think this works better than it should thanks to the talent assembled, but even these horror stars can only do so much. The main plot is forgettable and the pace languishes often, as we hope the next cameo arrives soon to break up the boredom. As I said, some scenes do have bright spots and some of the cast is able to make the material work better than others, but Death House is a snooze. I wanted to love this one, but aside from the cast, there’s little here to talk about.
While the movie itself is a fizzle, the cast is indeed remarkable and likely the reason anyone will seek out Death House. But unlike The Expendables, which made the most of the deep ensemble of talent involved, this movie seems content to offer up brief, cameo level appearances for a lot of the performers. This means show up, deliver a few lines or be in a couple scenes, then exit stage left. I wanted to see more interaction between the horror veterans, rather than just walk-through appearances, so I was let down here with how it was handled. The focus is also often on the lesser known performers, rather than the horror legends, which again isn’t great news. Barbara Crampton and Dee Wallace have perhaps the best efforts here and that’s in part because they’re given more to work with, while Kane Hodder has some fun moments as well. But for the most part, all of this talent more or less gets underused and that’s a shame. The cast also includes Lloyd Kaufman, Felissa Rose, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Adrienne Barbeau, Lindsay Hartley, Tony Todd, Debbie Rochon, Camille Keaton, and Michael Berryman, as well as some other well known folks.
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