Director – John Saxon
Cast – Dennis Cole, Anthony Franciosa, Dino Paskas, Dana Lis Mason, Ron O’Neal, Salvatore Richichi, Michael R. Long, Rickey Pardon, Jim Golff, Joe Zimmerman, Carl A. Watson
Release Year – 1987
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I had never heard of Zombie Death House before I came across this flick, but based on the fact that it came directed by horror actor John Saxon(The Evil Eye, Black Christmas, Cannibal Apocalypse, Blood Beach, Tenebre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, From Dusk Till Dawn) and had a cool poster, I figured “What the hell?” and gave it a watch. I went in expecting “cheeze” and I was given much of it, and while this watch suffers from many faults it still comes off a mediocre zombie watch for those who would like to see what Saxon can do as a director.
In this film we follow Derek Keillor(Dennis Cole), a former Vietnam veteran looking to make a new life for himself after the war. He takes a risky job as a vehicle driver for a mob boss, and after the mob boss’s mistress falls for Dennis his world crumbles. He is framed for her murder, and sentenced to death. Little does Dennis know, death has a new meaning at the prison he is sent to. A renegade general has begun a study of making soldiers harder to kill by pumping them full of toxic chemicals, and is using the death row inmates at the prison as test subjects. The experiment gets out of hand, and Dennis must now battle the undead if he wishes to survive the prison and clear his name.
If you are a devout fan of cheezy zombie films then this one may work for you. The production level is fairly low, and it shows with the audio quality and actor performances. John Saxon is definitely a much better actor than he is a director, but he managed to still give us some positive elements in this film. His execution of the zombies was good, and we get plenty of good live-action gore to go along with that. The sets used in the film were OK, and the jail setting provided some nice creepy lighting and gloomy cinematography and left us with a nowhere-to-run scenario(always a good thing) when the carnage gets going. At times I felt that this film’s pacing was slowing down, and with a low-production value it just tends to happen when some non-interesting scenes are going on, and there are quite a few of those.
Story-wise I enjoyed this flick, mainly because it brought the zombie sub-genre to a jail, something I really had not seen before. The overall plot is quite simple, and does not really offer anything “new” or “unique” to the genre, but nonetheless the zombie action thankfully makes up for that. Watching Dennis Cole remain vigilant in his fight to secure his freedom and save his name was awesome to watch, especially with his world crashing down around him. The rest of the supporting characters were OK in their usage, and we really did not get any useless characters, which surprised me given this film’s low-production value. Usually in these films we get characters thrown in simply to keep the audience entertained, but everyone in this film served a purpose. Like I mentioned earlier, I did have some problems with the pacing at times, but it was naturally expected when I saw the type of film I was getting into. Much like From Dusk Till Dawn, this film starts off unlike a horror film. The first act consisted entirely of a gangster crime drama and we did not get any relevant horror action until about halfway through the film. Also, be aware that this flick does tend to stray away from the zombie element at times, and focuses more on everything else that is going on around the film. I honestly expected more zombie action from a film with the word “zombie” in its title, but sadly that is just not the case. The zombie action is well enough, and to some that may make up for it.
Overall, this is a mediocre zombie film that comes with a low-production value but manages to give some OK zombie action. It is rare that we see a horror film directed by a well-known horror actor, and John Saxon does what he can with what little he had.