Monday, March 5, 2007

Death Tunnel (2005)

I was excited to see Death Tunnel after being creeped out by Spooked: The Ghosts of Waverly Hills, a documentary the filmmakers made while shooting Death Tunnel. Death Tunnel was shot at the infamous Waverly Hills Sanatorium, notorious for being one of the most haunted places in the United States (see my review of Spooked for more background). Ghosts and things in the dark scare me, so seeing the ghost footage and hearing stories about the Sanatorium in Spooked really gave me the heebie jeebies. I was hoping to get the same effect with Death Tunnel…after all, it was made by the same filmmakers (the Booth Brothers) and was shot at Waverly; what could go wrong? Everything, apparently…

Five girls attend an initiation party called “Truth or Scare” and are selected to partake in a game. All five of them wake up on separate floors of an abandoned mental hospital with bags over their heads. “Five girls…five floors…five hours,” an ominous voice echoes over the loudspeaker. What started as a set-up by frat boys is quickly taken over by the vengeful ghosts of the institution as each hour a girl meets her death. As the clock ticks down, the body count grows as the girls race to find a way out of the massive structure.

This movie is one big sloppy mess. First of all, there is hardly any character development so I didn’t care who lived or died. Secondly, the film doesn’t set up the premise clearly enough. Sure, I could figure out what was going on, but a little narrative structure could have helped instead of throwing the audience willy-nilly into the “story.” For example, what was the purpose of the initiation party? How and why were the girls chosen? What was the point of sticking them all in a mental hospital? They weren’t given any instructions or goals to achieve, were they just supposed to sit tight? Oooooh I forgot, they were supposed to run around in their lingerie (yup, they were all dressed in lacy little numbers, hopefully so their cleavage could distract from their bad acting) and take showers in the nasty and surely germ infested shower rooms. Seriously, who would get naked let alone shower in a long-abandoned, haunted building? The shower scene alone infuriated me with its implausibility and utter stupidity. Yahhh…let’s show some boobies, even though the character’s actions make no sense!

For being filmed in one of the most haunted places in America, Death Tunnel sure is a snooze. There are absolutely no creepy or scary moments anywhere in the film. It felt like a rip-off of Thirteen Ghosts and House on Haunted Hill, just without any of the tension of the two films. The use of jump cuts and flashy editing techniques are an attempt to scare the audience, but don’t succeed. The ghosts are cliché and their back stories are barely touched on. One ghostly appearance focuses on two women, hand in hand, as they walk through the halls naked. Not an iota of explanation is given for these two ghosts. Apparently, two dead, naked chicks are scary enough without having to delve into their back story.

There are some interesting ideas within the film, such as exploring the sordid past of the fictional asylum they are trapped in (which pretty much mirrors Waverly’s past, with a few embellishments). I wish some of the plot points (what few there were) had been more developed, such as the girls’ connections to patients or employees of the asylum. Waverly Hills has many specific ghost stories and I wish that this film had focused more on those to build tension.

The ending was bittersweet to me...on one hand, I enjoyed it but on the other it didn't add up. It just felt tacked on, like the filmmakers realized their film needed a little more weight and quickly wrote it in. Either way, it in no way made up for the rest of the craptastic film.

Overall, Death Tunnel is a squandered opportunity to shoot a horror film within one of the most notorious haunted places on Earth. It’s sad to think that the creepy location of Waverly Hills was so severely misused with this trite, convoluted, cliché mess of a movie. Stick to Spooked: The Ghosts of Waverly Hills instead of this shallow and laughable attempt at a horror movie.

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