PICKIN’ THE CARCASS: DOGHOUSE (2009)
By Michael Arruda
Hey, if you pitched your new movie as THE HANGOVER (2009) meets ZOMBIELAND (2009), you’d have a hard time convincing folks NOT to back your movie, because it sure sounds like a can’t-miss hit!
That’s certainly what I thought as I prepared to watch the horror comedy DOGHOUSE (2009), now available on DVD and Streaming Video. It’s a crazy tale about a group of guy friends who rally around one of their buddies going through a painful divorce, and so they decide to take him on a weekend trip to a small village where they can get drunk and have their way with the local women. Problem is, once they get there they find out all the women have turned into man-eating zombies!
DOGHOUSE sounded like it would be a lot fun, a good mix of horror and comedy. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. DOGHOUSE is about as fun as a heaping pile of smoking dog poop. Yep, it’s that bad.
It starts well, with a creative pre-credit sequence that introduces each of the “guys.” These introductory bits are actually funny and give each character individual moments to shine. If only the rest of the movie had been like this. In fact, in terms of characterization, the rest of the movie is the exact opposite. As the film goes on, none of these guys do anything to distinguish themselves from each other. These characters don’t grow, and as a result we don’t really get to know them or even to like them. It’s no surprise then that the film’s trailer relies heavily on the initial pre-credit sequence for its humorous bits.
The guys hire a bus to take them to the vacation spot they’ve picked out, a secluded village named Moodley. Ironically, the bus driver for this group of weekend women haters turns out to be a gorgeous babe (Christina Cole). Anyway, Moodley turns out to be a dump, and worse yet, it’s an abandoned dump. There’s nobody there, which strangely enough, doesn’t seem to faze these guys that much. Sure, they wonder where everybody is, but they don’t seem all that concerned by Moodley’s ghost town status. They walk into a bar— where there’s NOBODY, patrons or staff— and they prepare to order drinks. By this point, I’d be getting back on the bus or checking out the news to find out what the hell has happened in Moodley!
Of course, what’s happened is the punch line of the film, and that is all the women have turned into flesh-eating zombies, and all the men have been eaten, which I guess is supposed to be symbolic of the plight of these guys—and other men, for that matter— being henpecked by “carnivorous” women, at least in the figurative sense. In Moodley, however, it’s in the literal sense.
This revelation comes early on in the film, which usually is a good thing, but here it’s not, as the zombie scenes are by far the worst part of DOGHOUSE. They’re awful. Not awful “cheap,” but awful in lacking any sort of creativity.
Let’s start with the premise. Women have turned into zombies while the men haven’t, due to a virus that affects only women. This makes absolutely no sense, and the movie makes no attempt to make this make sense. Thus begins the movie’s downfall.
I thought DOGHOUSE would be a horror movie with comedic elements, in that a bunch of “guys” a la the folks in THE HANGOVER would be the heroes pitted against a deadly threat of man-eating monsters, but it’s just not much of a horror movie since the horror elements fail miserably. The women zombies are played completely for laughs.
Worse yet, they’re not that funny. They’re never allowed to do much of anything other than chase the men around. As a result, it doesn’t work as a comedy either, because the laughs just aren’t there. It’s not even close to generating the humor seen in ZOMBIELAND and SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004).
The zombies don’t even look good. Admittedly, I’ve seen much worse in several grade Z budget films in the past few years, but compared to the Romero zombies, and the ones in ZOMBIELAND, the zombies here are several notches below in quality. They’re good enough for a music video, but for a feature length horror movie, they’re seriously lacking something.
A huge problem is character development. The whole group of guys is largely wasted, which surprised the heck out of me, since they each enjoyed a strong introduction in the movie’s pre-credit sequence. I didn’t get to know these guys, nor did I grow to like them.
Also, the actors in DOGHOUSE all have heavy British accents. Now, this usually doesn’t bother me, but in this case I have to admit I had a really hard time understanding what these folks were saying, so much so that it really interfered with my enjoyment of the film. The characters speak in rapid fire fashion with heavy accents and suddenly I find myself looking for the subtitles because I don’t know what they’re saying.
DOGHOUSE doesn’t skimp on the gore, that’s for sure. So, if you like lots of bloody scenes involving flesh-eating zombies, then you might like this movie because there are plenty of these scenes to go around. The problem is director Jake West doesn’t do anything creative with these scenes. There’s no set up, there’s no “in-your-face-this-scene-is really cool’ feeling, and so ultimately there’s no payoff. This is how the zombie scenes work in DOGHOUSE: the zombies appear, the men react with a humorous quip or two, they fight off the zombies, usually by throwing objects at them or hitting them with golf balls, and then the men flee, only to run into another set of zombies, and the process repeats itself, endlessly, it seems.
All in all, I was not impressed by Jake West’s direction one iota.
The same can be said for the screenplay by Dan Schaffer. He presents a neat idea with lots of potential but never quite delivers the goods. This is supposed to be a funny horror movie, but the humor just isn’t there. There are like nine guys here, and I think the story would have been much more effective with fewer friends, say perhaps three or four, who we could have really gotten to know better and laughed with more. As it is now, it’s one set piece after another with a group on nondescript buddies fending off hideous- looking women zombies over and over again. It gets old real fast.
And the zombie women are hideous. If you’re looking for sexy zombies, a la ZOMBIE STRIPPERS (2008), you won’t find them here.
One moment that did resonate with me, where there actually was some truth behind the humor, came towards the end of the film when one of the guys laments that among their group of friends, the ones who “played by the rules” and treated women the best were the ones who got screwed over by their women, and so he wonders why the heck follow the rules in the first place? It’s a funny moment.
The cast of DOGHOUSE didn’t wow me by any means. Stephen Graham is OK as Vince, the soft-spoken nice guy who’s going through the painful divorce and is the reason this group of guys gets together for the weekend in the first place. Vince is a likeable enough character, but he’s way underdeveloped and never becomes the central focus of the movie. We saw Graham earlier this year as the sleazy guide Hagamar in SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011). Graham was more impressive in WITCH than he is here.
Danny Dyer is somewhat memorable as Neil, the “leader” of the group, or at least its most outspoken member. He’s the chief woman-hater among them and can’t seem to spend more than five seconds in the presence of a woman without insulting her. Yet, women are attracted to him.
Christina Cole plays the good-looking tour bus driver Candy, and in her few brief scenes, she’s likeable, but she’s hardly in the movie at all before turning into a zombie. Once she becomes a zombie, her zombie scenes like the others in the movie, just aren’t very good.
You know, I’ve really enjoyed the recent surge of zombie movies, even the comedies like ZOMBIELAND and George Romero’s SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2010). But there have been some bad ones, films like ZOMBIE STRIPPERS, for instance. DOGHOUSE is every bit as bad as the worst of these. It’s definitely a movie that sounds better than it actually is.
Don’t waste your time with DOGHOUSE. Watch ZOMBIELAND and THE HANGOVER instead.
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda