Review contributed by panelist Psycho Alex.
DR. MOREAU’S HOUSE OF PAIN is about as flawed as a movie can possibly be. It is enjoyable only in carefully moderated segments of viewing, and any enjoyability is derived only for two reasons: one, it’s stupid, and stupid things are funny; and two, it’s fun to imagine that, if this thing I’ve just seen is any evidence, one could take a cheap camera, a script written on napkins, a thousand bucks, and a few hours, and make a movie that good, hard-working people can pay for at Blockbuster Video.
Anyway, let me explain what warrants the above rant. DR. MOREAU’S HOUSE OF PAIN, is, in short, an alleged sequel to the classic ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU tale. The film is set in what I guess is the era of gangsters and dames, though the dvd cover annoyingly omitted any hint of that. This sequel chronicles the heart-warming story of a young boxer searching for his missing brother, who went to Dr. Moreau for medical help (don’t ask why, because I doubt anyone, the filmmakers included, has an answer). The boxer, along with two girls, follows a violent and trashy stripper to a vague building inhabited by depressed scientists and irritable freaks. People then either bicker, have sex, explain genetics schemes, or die during the next hour. This whole mess is brought to us by Shadow Entertainment and directed by Charles Band, who was apparently a mainstay director for Full Moon Entertainment-- and Dr. Moreau screams “Full Moon.”
For those of you not familiar with Full Moon, it’s a production company that almost exclusively turns out cheap horror films. Some have achieved a relative degree of notoriety— PUPPET MASTER is a full-fledged franchise, for example. But neither Full Moon nor Charles Band have a problem with horrible actors, inane scripts, and Halloween masks passing as FX. I guess you could see it all as a charmingly homemade and determined affair. Band manages to throw some awkward slanted-angle camera shots in there, and he washes his sets in colors-- though this isn’t quite SUSPIRIA. When the fake-breasted stripper with the leather whip appears in the film’s first five minutes, you get a good idea of the level of artistry Band is aiming for.
The running time is under 80 minutes and even that is too long. You know you have a problem when a movie full of graphic nudity and violence is boring after 10 minutes. There is so much that’s wrong with this movie... I could write a book on it. (If I do, please buy my book). Let’s begin with the title. It’s a House of pain? The place looks more like a factory, but not even a good factory. There is a giant smokestack, though I cannot understand what the doctor and his pals are doing in there that would cause a heavily pluming smokestack. But that’s all really the least of my concerns. The acting and dialogue are almost on an Ed Wood level. It’s that bad. Here are a few samples of classic lines:
“My surgical skills might have been a bit sharper if you hadn’t have cracked my skull open.”
“I told you you were gonna die tonight. Why didn’t you believe me?”
“When the procedure is complete, you won’t be the masterpiece anymore, will you?” “No, but I’ll always be the hunter-killer.”
“God made you perfect, and you take that for granted. But what if the doctor took away your face?”
Yeah, I know. As far as acting goes, it’s not so much that the actors are consistently horrible-- some, such as Dr. Moreau and the boxer, even do a descent job of hamming it up. But any chance they have at good acting gets sabotaged by the script. It’s the sort of script in which the boxer’s brother-- the main freakin reason any of this happens in the first place-- can be forgotten as a character half-way through. It’s the sort of script in which purple goo comes out of a guy’s mouth when he dies. It’s the sort of script in which, when anything remotely amazes the male lead, his eyes open as he mutters, “Jesus Christ.” This occurs constantly throughout the movie. Our hero begins the film trying to talk like Sam Spade, but that act doesn’t last too long.
The swanky detective music makes matters worse, as it is grossly out of place relative to the narrative content. Anyway, I think any issue of era, along with screenwriting prowess, gets thrown out the window once we’ve entered the house... or factory... whatever. Let’s talk about what’s going on in that house. Dr. Moreau is being held captive by several of his “manimals,” specifically an oafish dog-thing, a horny, whining pig-thing, and a nympho tigress-thing. The manimals want Moreau to make them human again, and they need to kill people to use the bodies for the transformation. Each manimal makes frequent noises in line with his or her respective animal.
There’s also another alcoholic scientist of dubious ethnicity and his hideous daughter, but I don’t even want to take the time to describe their roles in the story. The pig, the dog, and the frequently naked woman-- these characters make the movie. The pig is a small, conniving villain, and the dog is his stereotypically large and dumb sidekick. The pig wins the award for being one of the most completely annoying characters in the history of cinema. He is the visual and aural equivalent of being poked in the eye for an hour. There is nothing scary or intimidating about this character; he is merely unpleasant. At least the female creature provides ample nudity, but don’t get me wrong, her character will only win you over if you have some serious psychological problems.
DR. MOREAU’S HOUSE OF PAIN is entertaining only as a failure or for camp value. It is a horror movie in the same way that an elementary school play is theatre. The scariest thing about this film is the misleading front of the box, which looks genuinely menacing and disgusting. I must give this movie perks for originality and sheer unusualness, and the silly ending is actually not too bad, but the endearing qualities do not make up for the miserable content.
This movie has nudity, violence of the hand-punching-through-the-head variety, and a screenplay that belongs in the fireplace. It’s trashy. If you enjoy that sort of thing, or have an interest in grotesque pig masks, I guess this movie’s for you.
RATING: ** (out of four)