Death Tunnel (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Death Tunnel is a creepy "haunted house" film with the usual plot - five college women have to spend time in a decrepit sanitorium. It has a very low score at IMDb, but I don't really agree with its rating. A score that low (2.7) should really indicate a film with no substantial positives, and that is absolutely not true of this film.

I can certainly see why many people disliked it. The acting is sub-par, the script is predictable genre fare, and it seems to be edited for people with ADD. The five girls are abandoned on four separate floors, with various ghosts, so no sub-plot seems to stay in focus for more than a few seconds before being interrupted by a change of scenes to another story on another floor, or a flashback about the ghosts.

Those negatives are balanced off, however, by some solid positives. The cinematography is solid and clear, and the lighting is imaginative. The visual style of the film is slick and comparable to some films like Saw and Gothika which presented spooky and/or violent events in a rotting, damp, decrepit setting. Although the editor overdid the jump cuts accompanied by sudden noises, one must concede that a lot of those "boo" moments are very effective - not just the old "cat jumping out" trick. And the location is one of the greatest ever: a Sanatorium which has been abandoned since the early 80s.

The story of the film draws upon many real details about the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky. It was a TB treatment center. TB was a rampant plague until the discovery of streptomycin, and there were no effective treatments. As a general rule, doctors believed that the only possible cure was rest and fresh air. Hermann Brehmer, a 19th century student suffering from TB, was instructed by his doctor to seek out a healthier climate. While in the Himalayas, he was cured. He began to study the subject and his doctoral dissertation was Tuberculosis is a Curable Disease. He built a sanatorium in the midst of fir trees where patients were exposed on their balconies to continuous fresh air and healthy food. This became the blueprint for all sanatoria. Some people did recover from the disease. One prominent example is the great golfer Harry Vardon, who left a TB center none the worse for wear except that he could never again reclaim his putting stroke. Most people, however, simply went to the treatment centers to die, often in heartbreaking circumstances. Since they were continually exposed to fresh air, even in winter, there are many pictures of TB patients covered with snow. As time went on, doctors experimented with surgical procedures designed to artificially inflate the lungs. Some were very painful. None were especially effective. At the Waverly Sanatorium, more than 50,000 people died in the first half of the twentieth century. So many died every day that the hospital sent the bodies down to the adjacent road through a tunnel (the death tunnel of the title), so that the patients would not have to see the depressing sight of several hearses per day.

After streptomycin brought TB under control, the enormous Waverly Sanatorium was used as a geriatric treatment center, and then closed for good around 1980. Since then it has stood in disuse, occasionally inhabited by vagrants, but mostly just empty. The main building still stands today, crumbling and decaying, vandalized, filled with years of dirt and trash, absent windows. As you might imagine, many local legends suggest that the place really is haunted. (And some TV shows have explored that possibility.) I suppose if any place had a right to be haunted, it's a location where so many people died and suffered. The filmmakers not only made good use of the facility itself, but they used a lot of genuine historical information and photographs to present their flashbacks about the ghosts. The location and the historical evidence gave the film a really creepy backdrop, and the cinematography and music worked well to enhance the moldy, rotting vibe of the place.

As I see it, that's too many positives in the film for so many people to have scored it 1/10 at IMDb. Granted, it is not a great film, or even a good one, but the men who made it demonstrated that they might make a good one someday if they can maintain the positives and also manage to find a decent script and some professional actors.

The nudity isn't bad at all. Kristin Novak gets topless in a shower scene which is not only gratuitous, but totally unlikely. Although Waverly Hills is now being restored, and some areas are now enclosed by windows and free of debris, the film did not want us to see that aspect of the building. It pretended that the restoration work had not happened. Given that fact, why would the woman expect a "haunted" medical building abandoned 25 years ago to have running water in the shower room? (And even if she did, why would she take a shower in such a place?)

 We have three degrees of honor for directors who work nudity into the script:

  • The lowest honor is the legion of distinction, which is awarded to directors who add nude scenes which fit into the film but which are not necessary, and are added just to make the film more titillating. This is awarded routinely.

  • The next level up is the legion of merit, which is awarded to directors who add nude scenes which are totally irrelevant  in the context of the film. These directors go out of their way to add a meaningless scene in order to boost the breast count. This award is seldom given.

  • The highest level is the legion of supreme honor, which is awarded to directors who create nude scenes in situations when nobody would actually get naked - when the context of the film absolutely demands that the characters be fully clothed. As we see it, this is a contribution to cinema nudity which goes far beyond the call of duty, and it is this honor which we give to Death Tunnel, for having a woman in a haunted, decaying old sanatorium arbitrarily strip, walk into a creepy, rusty old shower room which she could not have reasonably expected to work, and take a shower for no reason at all other than to show her breasts.

In addition to Kristin's improbable shower, there are also a couple of topless ghosties (Kendra Hale and Ashley Neighbors) wandering around the sanitorium. In this case, the director gets a legion of distinction for having the characters be topless ghosts when they could just as easily have been covered up, but we have to balance that off by giving the guy a thumb down for having their lower bodies covered.

By the way, Kristin Novak also removed her top a couple of years ago in another timeless screen triumph, Malibu Spring Break. Her film resume is starting to rival that of Derek Jacobi or Edward Norton, or possibly even John Cazale. Let's look at a complete rated filmography side-by-side:

Kristin Novak John Cazale
  1. (4.27) - Going Down (2003/I)
  2. (2.88) - Death Tunnel (2005)
  3. (2.60) - Malibu Spring Break (2003)


  1. (9.10) - The Godfather (1972)
  2. (8.90) - The Godfather: Part II (1974)
  3. (8.10) - The Conversation (1974)
  4. (8.10) - The Deer Hunter (1978)
  5. (8.00) - Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Yup - have to say it's too close to call at this point  

Miscellaneous links about the real Waverly Hills Sanatorium:



  • there are a couple of featurettes and a small still gallery
  • the widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced,



See the main commentary

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C-, not a good movie, but with some impressive imagery.

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