September 20, 2012
There are two kinds of bad movies. There are bad movies that are just unwatchable, and then there are bad movies that strike a chord with certain audiences and are sought out and viewed because of the very fact that they are bad. In 1987, The Video Dead was made, becoming an instant cult classic and inspiring horror fans for decades.
The Video Dead begins with the delivery of a television set to a man who wasn’t expecting it. He accepts it anyway, and when he turns it one he discovers that it only gets one channel, and that channel is always playing the same black and white zombie movie. The zombies from the movie come out of the T.V. set and kill the man. A few months later, teenagers Zoe (Roxanna Augesen) and Jeff Blair (Rocky Duvall) move into the house after their parents buy it. Jeff finds the T.V. in the attic and puts it in his room. When he turns it on, he receives a warning about escaping zombies from a man in the T.V. who calls himself the Garbage Man (Cliff Watts). The Garbage Man tells Jeff to put the T.V. in the basement with a mirror facing it to keep the zombies inside. Meanwhile, a man named Joshua Daniels shows up looking for the T.V., saying that he was the original owner and it was mistakenly delivered to the house. When it is discovered that zombies have already escaped from the T.V., Josh enlists Jeff and Zoe’s help to take down the rampaging zombies and see that no more escape from inside the cursed television.
The Video Dead was produced, written and directed by Robert Scott (who would make no more movies but would go on to work on television shows like “House M.D.,” “Heroes,” and “JAG”). It was Scott’s first foray into filmmaking, and the inexperience shows. The acting is abysmal (which explains why it is the sole credit for most of the cast), the cinematography is predictable and the editing is poorly paced. So, why has The Video Dead found an audience? Because it’s awesome, that’s why.
The nineteen-eighties saw both the rebirth and decline of the horror genre, with several filmmakers attempting to mash horror and comedy up and create a new genre. While the jury may be out on the consistency of the films, The Video Dead serves as a pretty good missing link between Steve Miner’s House and Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. The Video Dead combines the laughable absurdity of House with the over-the-top gore of Dead Alive, making it a surprisingly fun film despite all of its flaws. Coming from the same decade as the tongue-in-cheek horror television staples “Tales from the Darkside” and “Tales from the Crypt,” The Video Dead is impossible to watch without cracking a smile.
Although it comes off as a fairly exploitational gore-fest, The Video Dead is somewhat of a revisionist zombie film. The character of Joshua introduces a couple of new theories regarding zombies that never really caught on in other films, but are interesting nonetheless. The zombies in The Video Dead hate the living because they are jealous of them, and they live in an animated state somewhere between life and death. They can only be killed by burying them or otherwise trapping them so that they become convinced that they are dead. Like wild animals, they attack only when they sense fear. And, finally, they cannot stand to look at mirrors because it reminds them that they are monstrous creatures.
For all of the corners that Robert Scott cuts during casting and filming, he more than makes up for it with the visual effects in The Video Dead. Lacking the technology and budget for CG effects, Scott uses buckets of karo syrup blood and false body parts to make both the zombies and the humans in the film go SPLAT! In one scene, a zombie’s hand is cut off and, in a clever bit of trick photography, it keeps moving, even when detached from the body. In a similar fashion, a zombie’s lower half keeps kicking even after he is sawed in half with a chainsaw. The makeup on the zombies is pretty elaborate, as well, making use of latex prosthetics to make the zombies look as dead as possible. Drawing the same amount of inspiration from Tobe Hooper as George Romero, The Video Dead uses every trick in the book to make its combination slasher/zombie theme effective. All in all, it’s a bloody good time.
The fact that things like RiffTrax and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” exist to make fun of them only serves as a tribute to how much love audiences have for bad movies. In the horror genre, The Video Dead ranks as one of the worst of the bad, and it’s perfect that way.
**The Video Dead was never released on DVD but it can currently be seen on Netflix Instant Streaming.**