The Video Dead (1987)
"Look what's buried inside your television"
A family take delivery of a brand new television set, unaware that it is the gateway in which zombies from a low budget horror film are able to enter the real world.
In order to appreciate a film like The Video Dead, it is necessary to remember the time period in which it was made. Home video and rental stores were all the rage as there was no other way to watch a film other than in the cinema or it being shown on TV once in a blue moon. Even this was reserved for the blockbuster premieres a few years after their release; smaller releases would be forgotten about. Video stores were full of the big hitting 80s films but in an era where literally anyone (and seemingly everyone) could make a film, it was the horror sections which drew most attention, mainly from the underage kids who fawned at the awesome cover art for some lurid films which they had no hope in hell of getting their parents to rent for them. The Video Dead being one of these titles: a graphic front cover featuring a rotting zombie bursting out of a television set. If you’re in your early teens and wanted to see a horror film you thought was going to be gory, this cover is almost impossible to resist. We don’t get cover art like this anymore because of the lack of home rental. It’s a shame because as bad as The Video Dead is, the cover art is superb. It really attempted to sell the film to its audience even before they’ve picked up the VHS. Expectations were raised but almost inevitably were dashed every time the film actually began playing. But that was half the fun - not knowing what you were getting yourself in for. Would you be laughing at the ridiculousness of a film or being too scared to sleep?
Anyway, enough context. Long before The Ring featured long-haired ghosts crawling out of television sets came this late 80s micro budget nonsense featuring zombies which had the ability to pull off the same trick. The Video Dead does have a novel idea at its core but the execution is shocking. It’s a dull, drawn-out affair which meanders from start to finish, occasionally promising to spark into life but never once providing anything more than a minor heartbeat. The main issue is the lack of story which gives the audience little reason to invest any time into the film. The TV set is never explained, there are too many pointless characters who add nothing to the narrative and everything seems to be very much from the ‘point and shoot’ school of thought. Dialogue is terrible, the acting just as bad and the snail’s pace plodding from A to C means that you’ll be counting down to the next zombie sighting as soon as possible. The central idea is interesting but the writers have no clue how to build up a narrative around it.
Those expecting a low budget gore fest will be disappointed. The Video Dead is not from the same school of thought as any of the Romero zombie films. Here, the zombies are portrayed as silly, bumbling and rather comical, trying on hats and clothes in a bedroom rather than ripping apart victims and consuming their flesh. It’s this balance of serious and tongue-in-cheek that the film never gets right. The comedy, if I can call it that, detracts from the more serious nature of the film and the two genres never gel. Filmmakers can quite easily combine comedy and horror but only when they know what they are doing. The comedy needs to lighten up the horror and the horror needs to play on the comedy. When people haven’t got a clue how to mix them, the results look something like The Video Dead where the comedy is awkward and horror isn’t scary in the slightest.
The zombie make-up looks far better than it has any right to do given the budget, with each zombie being brought to life in individualised decaying fashion rather than just carpeting the entire cast with face paint = though the guy in one of the photos above looks like a blue-faced David Bowie impersonator. Six featured zombies all have distinct looks and personalities so its good to see a bit of care and attention given to them. There’s a few moments of mild gore but The Video Dead looks woefully tame in comparison to more generous genre offerings from Italy from the same decade. Be sure to check out the unrated version though, as this is a lot bloodier.
On the whole, the rest of the special effects are as good as bigger budgeted films. The TV erupts with eerie blue lights and billows with smoke whenever the zombies begin to crawl through and there’s a sense here that at least the effects department had a clue what they were doing going in to this. The film-within-a-film that the zombies are starring in on the TV, Zombie Blood Nightmare, looks more interesting than anything else on display. Sadly, a lot of the decent work is undone by the poor production values and unnecessary comedic tone to the film.
The Video Dead has a cult following and to some degree, it’s understandable due to the premise. However, all of the potential in the world is not going to do much good when the final product is as appalling as this is. I bet it provided some amazingly cheap thrills back in the 80s glory days of the video rental store with underage kids sneaking in to get a copy without their parents knowing (or from that rogue uncle who would always rent you the dodgy horrors) but nowadays it’s just awful.
The Video Dead
Director(s): Robert Scott
Writer(s): Robert Scott
Actor(s): Roxanna Augesen, Rocky Duvall, Michael St. Michaels, Libby Russler, Sam David McClelland, Victoria Bastel
Duration: 90 mins