Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Halloween Movie Review: The Video Dead

Greetings Gourd Fans,

This installment of the CP is a movie review for your Halloween film watching pleasure.  Now the Pumpkin advocates watching spooky movies all year round because, frankly, spooky movies are fun.  Halloween, being the spookiest time of year, however, demands horror movies (and innocently fun television specials as well, but that is another topic for another time).
Our film today takes us back to the year 1987.  1987 was the year that brought us Three Men and a Baby, Fatal Attraction, Lethal Weapon, and this straight-to-video gem:
I could have stolen dozens of pics from I-Mockery and other sources, but instead I just grabbed one off Amazon...respect
The Video Dead (...ead...ead...ead...ead...) {ummm, that was an echo effect, not actually part of the title}
What can we say about the 80s and horror?  The 80s were a great time for horror movies of all kinds.  The bulk of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street franchises were made during the 80s.  We got such wonderful television as Freddy's Nightmares, Friday the 13th the Series, Tales from the Darkside and Monsters.  Full Moon Pictures was creating straight-to-video pictures like Puppet Master, replacing the old drive-in theater double-features with inexpensive video.  Yes, the 80s were some good years for fright fans.
This film is one of the Phantom Jack O'Lantern's favorite films.
A full blow-by-blow plot synopsis is available on the wikipedia, but let's not worry about that.  Let's instead talk about why the Pumpkin recommends it.
Herr Punkinstein first saw this film when he was young.  It came on television, probably USA Up All Night or some other late night weekend horror movie show.  Years and nostalgia glasses made this film into a true treasure of zombie film.  Recently the Punkin-Meister has viewed the film again (thanks to Netflix instant watch service, because you can't have the DVD sent to your house apparently...go figure) and while the nostalgia glasses cracked a bit, they stayed on and the film is as good as I remember it...which isn't saying too much.
The Video Dead is a zombie film, a comedy-horror film, a reasonably gory film, and is 90 minutes of pure insanity.  Stylistically the film throws all reality to the wind, inviting you to accept that a busted old telly is somehow interesting to people who probably have tellies already, that it only shows one film (Zombie Blood Nightmare...which is a great film title in its own right), and that it is capable of acting as a door to allow the zombies to leave the telly and come into our world to nosh the living.  That's it.  The whole premise.
Execution:  The acting is regrettable.  I've had a look at IMDB and the majority of the cast were unknowns and did not do another film after this one.  The zombie make-up is wonderful.  These are grotesque, rotting, bone and teeth showing through type of zombies; leather skin, rot face, nasty zombies.  This is a proper zombie movie.  The zombies are funny as well.  This film has some true comedy moments both with the zombies and with Jeff.
Ah, Jeff.  Jeff Blair is the brother of the main protagonist, Zoe Blair.  The Blair parents are out of the country, leaving their basically grown (high school and college age) kids to move in to the new house they have purchased (Jeff says that his dad's company got them the house) sight unseen.  Jeff is, easily, the best actor not in zombie make-up.  Jeff and his huge bag of grass, getting stoned, watching Zombie Blood Nightmare and having erotic encounters with "the woman" in the television who is, apparently, one of the zombies as well.  This all happens in a scene that is incongruous with the remainder of the film.
Actually, let me focus in on that: The majority of the movie is about some zombies that have escaped from this old telly and are loose in the woods for 3 months before the Blair kids move into the house where the telly is located in the attic.  Fine, good, makes sense.  These zombies (which one character actually refers to in the film as "the video dead") have been loose, in the woods, in the town, for 3 EFFING MONTHS with NO PROBLEMS.  Then in comes Jeff to the attic, pulls the telly down to his room, gets baked and has a semi-sexual encounter with an unattractive blond woman.  Okay, now let's move back a bit.  This blond woman called to Jeff when he first arrived at the house to get him to come up to the attic and get the telly.  Then she seduces him for a bit, then pops back into the telly and gets her throat cut by some crazy guy who warns Jeff about the things in the telly, shows him the blond woman was a corpse all along, and tells Jeff to put a mirror up against the telly and lock it in the basement.  Jeff then flushes a half ounce bag of weed down the bog (baggie too).  He also does what crazy man in the telly tells him to why ditch the grass?  I mean, if you think you are high and hallucinating, don't take the telly to the basement and if you believe the man and carry out instructions...then don't waste the weed, man.  All of that accepted...what the Hell is the blonde woman doing in this picture?  It's all so 'high concept'.
I digress.  The acting was regrettable.  The dialog was not bad given the subject matter, but the delivery was a bit rough.  The amateur feeling of the delivery wore off toward the last third of the film, either because I had gotten so accustomed to it, or because a good chunk of the film does not have Zoe Blair in it at that point (Roxanna Augesen) who, if she was being honest with herself, is not a very good actor.  Have no fear, she shows up again for the climactic final 15 minutes.
Then there is April.  April is what passes for Jeff's 'love interest', but in a film as "complex" as this one, we hate to use such simplistic labels to describe characters.  If anything dates this film and really let's you know it is an 80s flick, it is April.  Slightly valley girl, definitely spacey, April is the "star" of the single most baffling scene in the film...the tooth brushing scene.  April mechanically saws her toothbrush across her teeth while staring into space, clearly suffering from PTSD after seeing the aftermath of her father and maid having been killed by zombies.  Masterfully filmed as STARE-BRUSH-STARE-BRUSH-FLASHBACK-STARE-BRUSH-FLASHBACK-STARE-BRUSH (toothpaste turns red as we realize she has brushed too hard in one spot)-SNAP OUT OF IT AND SPIT BLOOD AND COLGATE INTO SINK.  Yet she seems unperturbed by this.  Thankfully she is kidnapped by a 50's hepcat zombie immediately after that or we'd all have to wonder...hey waitaminit!...she left the bathtub water running when the zombie took her away after she fainted and I don't recall anyone going upstairs to turn off the water.  That's a break from reality I just can't accept.  That house should have flooded.  Zombies from a telly I'm willing to believe, but a bathtub that does not flood...pshaw and fie upon it. 
The ZOMBIES:  In a zombie film you have to have zombies.  The video dead (as these zombies are called by Joshua Daniels, the "Van Helsing" character for lack of a better term) are zombies that come out of a telly that shows a single film constantly (the aforementioned Zombie Blood Nightmare).  In every zombie film the filmmakers (writers, directors, et al) try to have something that makes their zombies special.  Romero brought us flesh eating dead, O'Bannon brought us brain eating zombies that moved fast and were hard to kill, and writer/director Robert Scott brings us zombies that don't realize they are zombies.
Yes, the video dead in The Video Dead kill the living because they hate the living for being what they are not. To ward them off show them a mirror, for then they recoil from their reflections.  To fool them do not show fear.  Yes, for when you show fear they know you know that they are dead then they know they are dead and then they want to kill you.  Got it?
So how do you kill them?
Shot to the head?
Total dismemberment?
Apparently you face them, show no fear, then hit them with a weapon, at which point they will think they have been mortally wounded and lie down to die.
Yep.  Well, then you have to make sure to not bury them.  Apparently they have to be left for mother nature to reclaim.
Ah, yeah, but...why not.
To find out why not, you have to watch the film.

The Video Dead, available on instant watch from Netflix.  One of the Phantom Jack O'Lantern's favorite pieces of bad cinema.
Out of a possible flaming unicorn
Four glowing Jack's and a Dio, watch it tonight.
And as always, keep your pumpkins lit.

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