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Zombie Death House (1988)

DVD Cover (Image Entertainment)
Genres:
Horror, Prison Film, Zombie Film
Director:
John Saxon John Saxon
Starring:
Dennis Cole Dennis Cole
Anthony Franciosa Anthony Franciosa
Dino Paskas Dino Paskas
Dana Lis Mason Dana Lis Mason
Ron O'Neal Ron O'Neal

4.2 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Flesh-eating zombies go on a blood-mad rampage when mad scientist John Saxon uses prison inmates as unwilling test subjects for his new experimental drug. TV stalwart Dennis Cole must fight the mob and an army of the living dead to rescue pretty Tane McClure and a batch of cute tykes from certain disembowelment. --Amazon
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Review by Chad
Added: January 09, 2005
Zombies in prison is the running theme behind tonights feature film. The madness starts when Derek Keillor (Dennis Cole), a Vietnam veteran, goes out looking for a job. He ends up finding a job as a chauffeur for Vic Moretti (Anthony Franciosa), a higher-up Mafia fellow, and Vic's ex-movie star wife Genelle Davis (Dana Lis Mason). Things work out smoothly with this new job, up until Vic finds out that Derek and Genelle have a little thing going on on the side. Infuriating a Mafia lord is never a good idea, as Derek soon finds out... Vic murders Genelle and sets it up to look as though Derek was the one responsible. Derek is sentenced to the electric chair for the crime, and is sent to death row ("the death house") to await execution. While there, he runs into Vic's brother Franco (Michael Pataki), an inmate who just so happens to run the prison due to the guards fear of Vic. Franco intends to make the remainder of Derek's life a living hell, but things are about to get nasty for everyone in this prison. Colonel Burgess (director John Saxon) is working on a chemical known as HV8-B that will turn humans into super-strong, super-resilient zombies for use in an upcoming war. Burgess decides that it would be best to test this chemical on prisoners; after all, if the untested chemical kills them, it won't really matter too much as they're going to die anyway. The chemical works a bit too well, and these super-strong zombies manage to slaughter off a few guards. The resulting chaos allows Derek to grab the keys from a deceased guard, allowing him to escape his cell and let the other prisoners out of their cells as well. Meanwhile, Burgess has sent biochemist Tanya Karrington (Tane McClure) into the prison in order to find an antidote for the chemical, but of course, he didn't mention that anyone entering the prison will not be let out due to the disease being highly contagious. This leaves us with a few sets of people, all of whom have their own goals... the zombies want flesh, plain and simple. Derek wants Vic Moretti brought to the prison so that he can have his revenge. The prisoners want their freedom, and have the prison guards as hostages. Tanya is busy trying to find a cure, while Colonel Burgess is attempting to cover the whole thing up before setting off bombs that would blow up the entire prison.

I wanted to like this movie, I truly did... I'm a sucker for a zombie film, and the whole prison theme usually manages to be interesting to me as well. The problem with this film is that it doesn't quite know what type of film it wants to be, with a lot of genre mixing to be found (Mafia, crime, action, drama, romance, prison, zombies, horror, thriller). The mixing of numerous genres can work out if done properly, but here, it just came off as being boring due to neither aspect of the movie getting ample time to work. The moment that a storyline in the currently-running genre will get entertaining, it'll switch over to the next and go through all the motions of building that one up... then when it gets to be entertaining, another switch. You'd think that with the zombie storyline being the main thing behind the plot, they'd at least get plenty of time in the grand scheme of things... sadly, that's not to be, as they seem to just be thrown into the script in order to get this genre mix-n-match thing going on inside of a prison.

The acting is another thing that seemed to be either hit or miss. Dennis Cole (Derek), the star of the show, pulled off one incredibly uninspired and forced performance. It also didn't help too much that his character was modeled after your typical eighties action star, what with the incredible fighting skills along with plenty of one-liners. On the plus side, Anthony Franciosa (Vic) pulls off a great performance as the lead gangster in the film. His brother Franco (in the storyline) Michael Pataki also puts on a good show, though not quite up to the standards that Franciosa had previously set. There's really nobody else that stands out as being either overly bad or surprisingly great, with each other character in the film just hitting that average mark. There's an abundance of your typical eighties prison-movie inmates, with the constant "fresh meat" yelling and whatnot, but these guys are thankfully nothing more than extras.

Overall, the movie did have some entertaining spots, and the basic storyline was great. Sadly, that same storyline seemed to get mauled in the transition from script to film, leaving us with nothing more than a forgettable action film. 3/10.
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