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House of the Dead (2003)
No philosophy, but fast-paced and fun.
This is a movie after a video game. I don't know the game, so I can't say how faithful it is in respect to the game. I know one thing: I enjoyed this movie. It's not a philosophy class; who would expect that from a video-game adaption? And it's also not "Return of the Living Dead" either.
But it is a fast-paced, hyper-actively-cut movie with neat effects, just 90 mins. of mind shutdown. The director mixes in the fast scenes also pictures from the video game; I like that, although this seems to be my Minority Report on that effect. When you rent this movie, what you expect is a shallow Zombie-action movie with Splatter elements; and voilà! What you get is a shallow Zombie-action movie with Splatter elements.
See it; enjoy it; perhaps see it again; but don't expect Whiskey from a Water bottle. As a video-game adaption this movie is IMHO not bad; and that's all this movie wants to be, so I won't discuss why it fails so extremely in being a stage version of Tolstoi's "War and Peace".
Der Runner (2000)
Good ideas, excellent actors, too low budget
Germany in the future: in the EU state, there is a corporation called "Lifecorp" that gives out credit and a payment date. When the creditor cannot pay in time, he is killed and his body recycled.
Jan is addicted to gambling, and his debtor gives him one last chance: 400,000 EUR or death. Jan goes to the "Lifecorp" pawn shop, gets the money, pays back - and even wins big in a "last game" with the casino owner. With enough money to repay, he goes back to "Lifecorp" - but the enigmatic Michelle Reuter (Sonja Kirchberger) has other plans, and he discovers his payback time to be expired. Not wanting to give away his body, he runs away; these people not wanting to fulfill their contract are called "Runners" (hence the title) and are hunted by the police as well as Lifecorp.
The idea was good enough for a major box-office hit. The actors were light-years ahead of the "Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten"-"actors" normally seen in German private TV, almost everyone of them starred in some films before or after. Everything /could have/ worked, and "Der Runner" is not a bad film.
However, it's not that good, neither. Pro7, the TV station that produced it, did not afford the necessary editing to the story; and you see very often that it's ultra-low budget.
Which is a shame considering everything else was good. The actors are to be regretted for having to work under such circumstances; but they did a good job, nevertheless.
The movie Stephen King would deny ever writing the book for.
James Herbert is a genius. For me, he is, apart from Clive Barker, the very best British writer today. He is like how Stephen King should be. He does not make compromises; he tells a story, and it's not oh-so-bad-forces from oh-so-far-away, but his heroes are anti-heroes, his world is black and rotten. His books have inspired many a writer and director so far. Also, he takes a theme and varies it in different books; the denying sceptic from Haunted can also be found in Moon. What I want to say, read his books; they are no mainstream, but books like "The Fog", "The Spear" and "'48" will be different and stimulating reading.
That said, let's review "Haunted". Haunted, the first in the series of anti-hero David Ash (second being "The Ghosts of Sleath"), one of his best (and best-selling) novels, is set in modern-day Britain. The title has more than one meaning; apart from Edbrook Manor being haunted, David Ash himself is by the ghost of his evil older sister, Juliette, who drowned when she fled from the sudden anger of David after torturing him again; since then, she tortures him in his dreams - and found ideal companions in the Muriell family.
David, himself, has a drinking problem, and is one of the best investigators of the "Psychic Institute" with a reputation to expose frauds. He denies the existence of ghosts, but not of para-psychic phenomena. As he enters stage, his driving license is lost. Again.
Enter the Mariell family - prankster Simon, upright Robert, and schizophrenic Christine, stewarded after the deadly car accident of their parents by crazed Tess Webb. Having made an arrangement with evil Juliet, they order an investigation of the Psychic Institute in order to torture David. Dead all of them, Christine and her dog incinerated after Simon locked them in the cellar, Robert died trying to save them, Simon hanged himself within the week of their deaths.
That is the reason for Davids experience in the book, revealed at the very end of a suspenseful Fantasy/Horror tale. The torture starts subtle, and becomes more and more blatant, at the end leaving David questioning his sanity and being saved by nanny Tess alone.
If you watch the movie to view a mediocre ghost story, the lacking of all of the above may not disturb you. If you watch it to view what you read in the book - given all the deficiencies dramatisations have -, you think wine and get stale water.
Lewis took the story to 1928, and Prof. Dr. David Ash is not the borderline-alcoholic borderline-failure haunted man we know and love from the books, but a stable, successful teacher. Instead, we get incest in the Mariell family - if Herbert wanted incest, he would have put it into the book. Apart from that, we get cardboard characters where Herberts book stressed on the discovery of the characters and character development, and shallowness where Herbert delved into the deep. The delicate effects of Herbert that left Ash wondering whether he hallucinated, or whether all was simply a normal circumstance, are totally left out (and where they are, they are totally unmotivated - Ash being not the subject of their torture, and we ask ourselves why nanny Tess keeps her secrecy - plot holes where Herbert put delicacy). The fire in the wine cellar where Christina, Robert and the dog died, for example - in the book, David extinguishes it, and stops seeing it - but still /hears/ it and /feels/ its heat, one of the finest effects in the book - is totally low-budget SFX in the movie. Kate Beckinsales nude and sex scenes are enjoyable and lead to the (male) viewer's strong identification with David - the character development of Christina is totally left out (which I am sure Beckinsale as an actor would have been capable of). When David discovers that Edbrook is a totally different world than the outside, and is not what it seems, this is done step by step adding suspense the movie lacks.
All in all, this movie adds to the B-grades Kate Beckinsale made between "Much ado about nothing" and "Underworld" - why? She's intelligent, educated, a much better actor than Catherine Zeta-Jones and many others, why is she selling herself so cheaply and does movies like "Van Helsing"? You would think she could chose between much better scripts.
The movie itself has good actors, and the story of Herbert is excellent, but the script is catastrophic. You could only guess whether it aimed at a mainstream marked that would find Herbert too complicated, or it wanted to soften the hardest things about Herberts black-in-black world here - the movie did neither become a popular mainstream success, nor did the script use the potential even "Haunted, light version" did offer.
A little more money on the effects - and a few well-placed additional effects - would not have harmed. So, I hate to say that, this is a great disappointment.
Ghost Ship (2002)
Decent mix, but nothing special.
Take the "Dark Castle"-Company, (in)famous for their more or less acceptable rip-offs; use "Death Ship (1980)" as basis; add a very large bit of "Event Horizon (1997)" and spice it with the Andrea Doria (sunk in a spectacular accident, but without many fatalities, in 1956). Put it through a meat chopper (rough) and add a soaked bread roll. Fry with some fat and burn it on a DVD; that's "Ghost Ship".
The movie is a decent mix; something to have a nice evening with, but nothing special. The story is OK; as a mix of Event Horizon and Death Ship, there should not be very much to go wrong. A salvage crew aboard the "Louis and Clark"... sorry, "Arctic Warrior" gets sent out to get an Italian ocean liner (with strong resemblances to the "Andrea Doria"); finds out that the ship is infested with ghosts that died in an atrocity some 40 years ago (not Nazi atrocities, but close enough; the sub-machine guns were German MP38/MP40 (falsely known as "Schmeissers")) and that are hungry for their souls. Sounds familiar? Sounds familiar. (Hey, that's no spoiler; you'll know that much after seeing the trailer.) The movie is amusing; not dramatic, not horrific, and neither terrific nor terrible. You may rent the DVD in the mid-to-low-price subject, and I'd spend 10 to 15 Euros maximum on it if I were to buy it (if it includes German and English language versions). The atmosphere works OK, and the soundtrack may be the best of the movie. Only then-14-year old Emily Browning cast a lasting impression on me. As it may be the identification figure for the intended audience, no wonder there.
Sometimes the movie felt like "Event Horizon light" (or "for adolescents"). Where Death Ship and Event Horizon alike thrilled the viewer from one horror climax to the next, using the fear of the unknown as well as leaving much to the imagination of the viewer, nothing alike is to be found in "Ghost Ship". On the bright side, after discovering that its director is Steve Beck (Thir13en Ghosts), I braced myself for a MUCH worse movie.
However, what annoyed me most was that sometimes, the directors of cheap rip-offs are decent enough to pay some hidden homages to the movies they copied from; nothing here. As Death Ship is a real sleeper and Ghost Ship copied even the poster from it, this leaves the stale aftertaste that Beck hoped to get away with no one noticing that he got the idea with the literal "soul-catcher" (German "Seelenverkäufer", for a derelict rust-bucket of a ship) from 1980s B-movie by Alvin Rakoff; a pity, that movie deserves to get some attention (and a good DVD).