Death House


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Death House
"There's the potential for some real fun here, but having set up this structure, Smith fails to do anything with it."

In the crowded horror film marketplace, a lot depends on names. They may not pull in audiences from outside the genre, but horror fans are known for their loyalty, and names like Adrienne Barbeau, Barbara Crampton, Kane Hodder and Lloyd Kaufman guarantee that this otherwise unremarkable effort from B-movie director Harrison Smith will find an audience. Will it be a happy audience by the time the film is over? Perhaps. Each of the star cameos offers up a measure of entertainment tailored to appeal to a particular set of fans. It's heavily referential but not in a way that feel unnatural or intrusive. If you're not looking for this type of entertainment though, you'll soon wonder why you started watching.

Toria (Cortney Palm) and Jae (Cody Longo) are special agents - or so they're told - who have proven themselves sufficiently impressive in training to be granted a tour of the Death House, a high security facility where scientists conduct experiments on serial killer behaviour using hypnotised homeless people as victims. Crampton gets a chance to return to the scientist role she handled so well in last year's Replace and delivers what is by far the best performance in the film as she introduces them to some of her favourite subjects, including a trio of men obsessed with Satan. During the first half of the film there's enough going on to suggest a plot and a sufficient amount of wit to balance the outright horror. After our heroes get stuck in an elevator as the security system is hacked and all the prisoners freed, however, things go rapidly downhill.

Copy picture

Palm and Longo are likeable enough in the central roles. She has a Seventies science fiction style paranoia kick going on, which is understandable given that they've both had memories erased. He's more a Nineties video game type and doesn't care as log as he can line up the next shot. Together they try to escape from the facility - which, of course, is what the prisoners are trying to do. And amid rumours that a group of killers so evil they have achieved immortality is dwelling in the basement, it turns out that the only way out is down.

There's the potential for some real fun here, but having set up this structure, Smith fails to do anything with it. There's a bit of shoot-em-up style action, a couple of fights, and a series of vignettes in which we encounter horrors too familiar to have much impact. Only one, involving cannibal creatures, succeeds in putting across much distinctive character, but it lasts barely five minutes. We spend most of our time running round the corridors before a final confrontation that echoes Hellraiser: Inferno in its attempt to present evil as a source of enlightenment - a scene that would feel overlong even if it didn't come across as having been written by a 12-year-old who's overdosed on Nietzsche.

Derivative and uninspired, Death House may have its moments but it has far too little in between to justify the 95 minute running time. It has been billed as 'the Expendables of horror.' It's too bad that comparison applies not to the stars, most of whom we see only briefly, but to the quality of the script.

Reviewed on: 02 Nov 2018
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Death House packshot
Two agents tour a facility experimenting on serial killers on the same day that its security system breaks down.

Director: Harrison Smith

Writer: Gunnar Hansen, Harrison Smith

Starring: Tony Moran, Dee Wallace, Adrienne Barbeau, Barbara Crampton, Kane Hodder, Sid Haig, Lloyd Kaufman, Bill Moseley, Felissa Rose

Year: 2017

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US


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