Tuesday, February 19

Some quick thoughts on Zombie Death House (Death House) (1987)

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A down-on-his-luck Vietnam veteran (Dennis Cole) working as a driver gets framed for murder by a mafia boss (Anthony Franciosa) for resisting to kill an innocent man. After a paid-off trial resulting in a sentence of death, the vet is sent to prison and begins to witness fellow inmates mysteriously becoming blindingly animalistic and gravely ill. It soon becomes apparent a government contractor (John Saxon) paid off a guard to secretly inject an experimental serum into prisoners to see if they could survive being turned into unthinking war machines of extreme strength. Eventually, everyone in the compound is accidently infected with a trace of the sickness and must fight for freedom and an antibody after the prison is placed under armed quarantine.

Ultimately, the identity crisis this quickie helmed by legendary character actor John Saxon suffers is more interesting than the resulting feature. True to their name; the film's distributor, Action International Pictures, was primarily known for their cheap action with a side order of tits n' ass output. So oddly, considering how robust the horror video market was, AIP decided to grace this action/horror mishmash with this totally generic VHS cover seen over at VHS-Ploitation. With such a bland cover, it's not hard to see how Death House became so obscure and why Retromedia decided to change both the cover and title for their DVD seen above.

This conflict runs deep into the film itself. Judging by this unconfirmed factoid on the IMDB, Saxon may have not originally intended to include much of any horror aspects into Death House but was forced to by producers. This would explain why the feature rests firmly as an action drama with just a few scenes of mild raging "zombie" prisoner carnage. The problem is, these fleeting tidbits are kinda cool and wake the film up temporarily, and you're compelled to keep sitting there just to see if the next zombo kill will be bloodier (prepare for disappointment).

The whole idea of crazed, rotting inmates vs. non-crazed mates vs. soldiers never comes near the greatness of the images that conjure in your head while watching, and as the last reel commences you've found its been a "watchable" waste of time and concept. Although Death House is quite fleet of foot and manages to cover its meager twists well while Saxon's direction doesn't particularly stand out from the army of other bargain video wonders from the era. Ehh, not worth going out of your way to see...

1 comment:

Paul Freitag said...

Agreed -- it's an odd mess. I sought this out when it came out on VHS (it was tough to find for whatever reason) due to Saxon's direction and remember just being pretty confused by the whole thing. I'd love to hear a Saxon commentary on it, though.

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