Getting an entire feature-length film out of a short story always seemed odd to me. Adapting a piece of fiction by H.P. Lovecraft is even more of a trick since much of his work doesn't translate to film (see my review of The Call of Cthulhu for a notable exception). Director Ulli Lommel sidesteps both issues by completely ignoring the Lovecraft story on which The Tomb (released on DVD this past week by Lionsgate) is allegedly based. Names of some of Lovecraft's characters from other stories like Charles Dexter Ward and David Pickman are kicked around, and there's mention of a "witch house" which also refers to Lovecraft's work, but it feels like an afterthought. Lovecraft's "The Tomb" concerned a man's morbid fascination with a crypt he finds as he wanders through the woods, while Lommel goes in another direction entirely, delivering a pretty blatant knock off of the Saw movies, right down to the creepy doll puppet.
Tara Griffin (Victoria Ullman) and Billy Trafford (Christian Behm) both awaken in what appears to be a warehouse basement. They don't know one another, but they've both been beaten bloody and each has a tag tied to their toe with a date written on it. A sinister and electronically filtered voice announces over a P.A. system that one of them will survive if they follow the rules of the game set out for them, or at least that's what I think he says. Poor audio is one of this film's many negative features, and the mysterious villain's distorted voice is hard to understand, as are other characters in the many scenes where Lommel is so enthralled with the musical score that he lets it play louder than the dialogue. One thing the mystery villain does say repeatedly is "eight nails, who fails," which refers to the nails driven into the many coffin lids we see in the movie and that only one person will get out alive. Someone obviously thought this line was a lot more clever than it actually is as it is repeated ad nauseum.
Tara and Billy find several people in a similar state, most of whom live just long enough to provide another piece to the puzzle of who their captor is. Each time one of their fellow captives dies, our two heroes dutifully, though inexplicably, place the deceased in one of the coffins provided by their host and nail the lid shut. We soon learn that all the victims have wronged their captor at some point; one spurned his romantic advances, another sold him a defective car, etc.
Logic doesn't just take a backseat here; hell, it got into the wrong car and sped off in the opposite direction. Our characters are held captive for several days before either of them thinks to look for a way out. When they do search for an exit they end up back where they started, exclaiming "we've been walking in circles," despite the fact that their prison is constructed from a rigid grid of scaffolding, making it pretty much impossible to travel in a circle. The prison is lit entirely by candles, none of which ever burn down. There are several randomly placed scenes of a being I assume to be Death riding on horseback. And there are countless scenes where the action is sped up to hyper-speed or Lommel uses a double image effect that will make you feel like you've had several too many tequila shots. That last one isn't confusing, but it's annoying as hell. Basically this is a tedious little flick that eventually bumps into an ending that doesn't make any sense.
The only extras on the disk are previews for a handful of other Lionsgate horror films, including an equally inaccurate adaptation of Lovecraft's Beyond the Wall of Sleep. If you're looking to watch a Lovecraftian flick might I suggest The Dunwich Horror or Die Monster Die. Both take their liberties with the source material (particularly the latter) but they are entertaining flicks in their own right.