There’s just something about Las Vegas’ luxurious casinos, neon-lit streets, and poker rooms that make it the perfect backdrop for delightfully bad horror films. From cult classics like Leprechaun 3 and Vegas Vampires to big-budget blockbusters like Army of the Dead and Resident Evil: Extinction, Sin City just brings out the worst of the horror genre. But while these campy flicks leave a lot to be desired, they’re actually not that bad. If you’re looking for a Vegas horror flick that can be unanimously described as ‘so-bad-it’s-good,’ that honor belongs to none other than 2007’s Dead Man’s Hand: Casino of the Damned.
The plot revolves around Matthew Dragna, his girlfriend JJ, and their group of friends. Matthew learns that not only has his uncle passed away, but that he has inherited his late relative’s old casino in the outskirts of Las Vegas. The crew head to Vegas to check out Matthew’s newfound fortune. “But in this casino, all bets are off,” which is an actual line from the trailer.
Not only is the casino decrepit and covered with a ridiculous amount of cobwebs, it’s also apparently filled with vengeful ghosts. Through conveniently placed news clippings and expository dialog, Matthew finds out that he inherited the casino on the exact anniversary of a mob massacre that his uncle orchestrated. Out of the Vegas mobsters that were killed, no one was more ruthless than Roy “The Word” Donahue, who in his ghostly form decides to exact revenge by killing Matthew and his crew. To be fair, while the plot is far from being unique or original, Dead Man’s Hand sets itself apart from the many casino-themed horror flicks of the time by picking the right setting.
Matthew’s Casino of the Damned is located on the outskirts of Las Vegas, with an atmosphere that’s closer to Vegas’ Haunted Museum than it is to the classic Sin City casino. Here, the glitz and glam radiated by famous casinos like the Aria, the Bellagio, and the Venetian simply do not exist. In a setting that’s physically and conceptually far off from the most prominent casinos and poker rooms on the Vegas Strip, the audience is dragged away from the city’s neon lights, bustling card rooms, high-stakes poker tournaments, and celebrity sightings. Minus these luxurious trappings which have come to define Las Vegas, we are left with its lifeless shell: an old and rundown casino that’s haunted by its past. And it’s a setting with tons of potential for truly unnerving storytelling, fun twists, and character development.
But instead, Dead Man’s Hand is only filled with predictable turns. And the only unnerving moments are when its many casino-themed puns don’t work. Even the title itself makes no sense. Dead Man’s Hand is an old poker term that traditionally refers to a pair of black aces and a pair of black eighths, along with an unknown fifth card. The title infers that there will be a poker game that’s crucial to the plot, and that it will somehow involve this mythic hand. Instead, as one of Matthew’s friends is playing roulette, an undead creature cuts off his hand and says, “you’ve got a dead man’s hand.”
Those are just some of the many lost opportunities, hackneyed ideas, and so-bad-it’s-good moments that you can expect from Dead Man’s Hand: Casino of the Damned. Don’t even get us started on the acting. By most of the basic standards on which films are judged, Dead Man’s Hand is a definite flop. However, if you’re looking for a hilariously bad, gory, and undoubtedly fun albeit budget-challenged flick, this top-notch B-movie horror masterpiece definitely belongs on your weekend playlist.