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Now They Realize How It Feels To Be Free
Originally posted 10/08/14
It was 1987. The streets were awash in denim and Aqua Net. The world had just fallen in love with a new pop princess. The voice of a new generation. A generation full of hope and possibilities.
I had just turned the ripe old age of 11 and with that came the stresses and worries that plagued many 11-year-old lives back in those days.
“When was I going to Pizza Hut for my free personal pizza? I didn’t read these damned books for nuthin’.”
“Where are the silver arrows that I need from Dungeon 9?”
“How had the Ochmonek’s not seen ALF yet? That guy is always getting into some kind of comical mischief. Oh, my sides!”
My local Mom & Pop at the time was a place called One Stop Video. At least, I think it was. That was a long ass time ago and I tend to forget a lot of shit. Compared to a lot of the Mom & Pop’s that I frequented over the many moves of my childhood, One Stop was always very well-lit. They did keep their horror movies tucked around a corner as most video stores of the time did, but even then it was right next to the main window, so the chances of getting molested were pretty slim. I don’t think they had a porn section, so you would be forced to find other outlets to shake your love to.
One Stop was located next to the only grocery store in the town I lived in, so I would always go with my mom on her shopping trips just so I could spend that time choosing from that week’s new selection of movies & NES games. As Mom would frequently forget to retrieve me before she took the groceries home, I’d usually have plenty of time to gaze over all of the VHS cover art. Let’s face it, VHS cover art was always more enticing and usually more misleading. Didn’t you rent Chopping Mall thinking that you were going to see chopped-up body parts in a shopping bag?
Honestly, none of this is relevant. There is no story about how I rented this as a child and how it played a role in making me what I am today. I could sit here and make up some bullcrap experience full of revelations for you, but it would all be false. As real as it may seem, it was only in my dreams. I’m pretty sure that I never even saw The Video Dead on the shelves of One Stop. This was all just a weak attempt to reflect back to 1987, when the film was released. I do remember seeing it in 1989 at another local Mom & Pop called Video Thyme. I didn’t rent it then either. I guess that’s a good thing since I’m sure that no one wants me to start making Martika references.
Released to stores in the winter of 87, The Video Dead was yet another in the flood of low-budget horror titles that would just randomly appear on the shelves of local video stores during the mid/late 80’s. As a kid, this was an amazing time as there was always something new to watch and there would always be some new thrill waiting for you as you popped open that clamshell and slid that tape into the VCR. There’s no point talking about the stars of the film as most of them never did anything else.
The film opens with a delivery truck pulling up to a house in what appears to be a quiet neighborhood. Notice that our 2 delivery men are wearing uniforms that state that they work for a “Hi-Lite Moving Service”. If you were paying attention during the opening credits (and seeing as you are reading this review and not actually watching the movie, it’s a safe bet that you weren’t), you might notice that the film was produced by a “Highlight Productions”. I take it that someone was awfully proud of the work that they were doing here.
Our 2 delivery guys unload a huge wooden crate from the back of the truck. No, the crate does not contain “Fluffy” from Creepshow. I wish it did as that might make this movie a little more entertaining. Our delivery men are at the house of a Mr. Henry Jordan. As expected, Jordan is quite surprised as he is not expecting any deliveries. When he is told that there is no COD, Jordan accepts the crate. Other people’s belongings are always nicer when they are free. Jordan takes the box inside and promptly opens it, wherein he finds a TV. An old TV. Like with knobs and shit.
We cut to later that night where we find Jordan at his typewriter working on who knows what. Intrigued by his new “gift”, Jordan turns on the TV. After flipping a few channels, Jordan comes across an old black and white zombie flick titled “Zombie Blood Nightmare”. This, folks, is not a real movie. If so, I would be reviewing it. Jordan, probably more of a vampire fan, quickly turns the TV off. The TV, like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, will NOT be ignored and turns itself back on. Jordan unplugs the TV and heads to bed. In what is one of the coolest scenes of the movie (and that’s not saying much), the TV turns itself back on and starts pumping fog from its screen as the zombies from the film crawl their way out into our reality. They then head to Jordan’s room where we are left to assume that he is their latest victim.
Fun Fact: In the background of Jordan’s study can be seen a Chicago Cubs pennant. This is a symbol of the high standards of success that these filmmakers hoped to reach.
The next morning, the 2 delivery men return to Jordan’s house to pick the TV back up. Seems that it was actually supposed to be delivered to the Institute for the Study of the Occult. I would not be surprised to find their offices located in someone’s basement, so I guess we can’t blame these guys too much. The delivery men then open the door to Jordan’s house only to find Jordan’s mauled body sitting in a chair in the entrance way. These zombies must have had one hell of a ball as one of them took the time to put a birthday hat on Jordan’s head. Well, that seemed a little out of the blue.
The film then jumps ahead 3 months. In that time, not only has Jordan’s house been put up for sale, but someone actually purchased the damn thing. Was there no investigation into Jordan’s death? Did someone at the coroner’s office say “Eh, looks like an accident”? And who the hell buys a house that was the scene of an unsolved murder just 3 months earlier? I’ve been in situations where I’ve needed to find a place to live PDQ, but I can’t say that I’ve ever been that desperate. Hey, at least the house came with a free TV.
We see a moving truck pull up to the house. We also get to see a taxi with a young woman asleep in the back. In her conveniently open hand is a shiny new house key with a ribbon tied to it. If you haven’t figured out by now that this is the house’s new occupant, then you also probably can’t read and have no clue that I am making fun of you.
This is Zoe, one of the film’s main characters.
Fun Fact: The 2 men waiting on the porch for Zoe when she arrives at her new house are, in fact, the movers and not Jehovah’s Witnesses.
As Zoe is in the kitchen of her new home putting away glassware, the film jumps to outside of the house and to a close-up of ragged, muddy jeans and boots. The camera mimics the footsteps of the “newcomer” as they walk through the yard and up the porch steps. The knob turns. Are the zombies already coming to get her? The door opens and there is the mandatory, cliched scene of a glass shattering on the floor. Why, it’s only her younger brother, Jeff! Oh, those deceptive directors and their red herrings. It’s at this time that we find out that the 2 siblings will be staying here alone for a while as their parents are in Saudi Arabia. I don’t believe it’s ever fully explained why they are there. Trust me, it’s not important.
The next morning, Jeff is awoken by someone ringing the doorbell. Outside is a man named Joshua Daniels. Josh is trying to locate the TV. He informs Jeff that the TV was accidentally delivered to his house a few months prior. Jeff tells Joshua that, as he just moved into the house, he knows nothing about the TV or the house’s former occupants. Jeff goes back inside as Daniels leaves and within seconds hears the still unplugged TV turn itself on upstairs in the attic. In what is surely a bad move, Jeff then brings the TV downstairs to his bedroom.
We then meet Jeff’s new neighbor, April. You can tell that April is supposed to be this movie’s “hot chick/love interest” from the saccharine sound of a bubblegum pop-rock song that accompanies her introduction. “Foolish Beat” it is not. April, in her snazzy sweater vest, walks a neighbor’s poodle. Jeff invites her in for a drink. Tired from walking this 2lb beast, April unleashes the dog, which promptly runs out the open front door and into the nearby woods where it is killed by one of the escaped Video Dead. While looking for the dog in the woods, April informs Jeff that he lives in what the townsfolk (or at least April) call the “murder house”. Needless to say, Jeff now questions his parents’ purchase. When they find the dead pooch, they concoct a story of the dog choking on a ball that some random person had thrown to it. I don’t know about you, but when I see bite marks on a corpse, my first thought is death by asphyxiation. Not that it makes any difference, but April later blames Jeff for throwing the ball. Dat bitch!
Back in his room later that night, Jeff plugs in his new TV and sits back to smoke a joint and veg in front of the tube. If this scene serves any real purpose at all, it is only to show that Jeff has no experience in the fine arts of rollin’ a doob. Stick to pipes, Jeff.
Jeff flips channels until he comes across a broadcast of an attractive blonde (well, attractive by this movie’s standards). The credits refer to her as “The Woman”. She then manifests in the flesh in Jeff’s room, where she then disrobes and tries to seduce Jeff. As they kiss, electricity flashes across the TV screen and she is suddenly back on the screen. As she taunts Jeff about the case of blue balls that she just left him with, a man walks in from offscreen and slits “The Woman’s” throat. He refers to himself as “The Garbageman” and warns Jeff that the “The Woman” and the zombies are real and are trying to escape into our world. A little late for that news.
The Garbageman tells Jeff that in order to prevent these creatures from escaping, Jeff will need to cover the screen with a mirror, reflective side facing the screen. Jeff takes the TV back to the attic and attempts to cover the screen with a mirror. Any doubts that Jeff had to the truth of this situation are then put to rest as one of the Video Dead reaches through the screen and grabs Jeff’s arm. Jeff cuts off its hand with a hatchet that just happened to be within reach. This is why I tend to leave such things just lying around. Sure, my son may lose a couple of fingers, but at least he’s prepared in case zombies ever crawl from the TV. I just hope he can hold the hatchet with those missing fingers.
The Video Dead continue their reign of slow-moving terror by killing off the remainder of the neighborhood. Albeit, a neighborhood that consists of 4 other people. It’s at this point that Joshua returns. And boy howdy, is he pissed. He blasts Jeff for not telling him sooner about the TV (that he actually didn’t know about) and the deaths that it has caused. Joshua informs us that the TV is evil. Really, Josh? What was your first hint? He also lets us know that the TV cannot be destroyed. He’s tried to destroy it in the past, but as he tells us, “it gets in your head. It makes you think and do things.” So, this TV has enough power to prevent you from smashing it with a sledgehammer, but not enough willpower to stop you from duct taping a mirror to it?
Jeff and Joshua decide that they must hunt the Video Dead the next morning. It’s at this point that we learn just how different the Video Dead are from other horror film zombies. Whereas a head shot would kill most zombies, these freaks can only be killed in 2 ways.
1.) Trap them in a place from which they cannot escape. They will then be forced to eat themselves.
B.) Attack them with weapons until you do enough bodily damage that they think that they should be dead.
That’s right, folks! The Video Dead may be the first and only horror movie where the antagonist(s) are defeated by giving them a complex. If only the Texas Chainsaw Massacre could have been averted just by telling Leatherface that he was getting “a little chubby”. Or by telling Jason that he’s “a little retarded”.
I won’t try to convince you that this is a good movie. It’s really not. That said, The Video Dead does score a few points for trying something different. It ditches the formula used by most zombie flicks and attempts to do its own things. While it does not do most of those things well, I have to give it credit for trying. One plus that I will give it is its score. The music really adds a great deal of atmosphere and suspense to the movie. The other downside here is that it sometimes does so when there is absolutely nothing happening. Suspenseful scene of raking leaves ahead!!!!! The movie also tries to add a little humor in, but the jokes tend to fall flat or just seem out-of-place due to their timing.
The Video Dead is available on a double feature Blu-ray (with the 80’s sci-fi/horror flick, Terrorvision) released by Scream Factory.
Thank you for indulging me on this little bit of nostalgia. And I’m sorry if my flashback misled you. It wasn’t my intention to mislead you. It never should have been this way. What can I say? It’s true, I did extend the invitation. I never knew how long you’d stay.