The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: THE VIDEO DEAD (1987)

Damon Swindall

by: Damon Swindall
March 31st, 2011

***After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!***

THE VIDEO DEAD VHS Box Art

Being someone who loves zombies with all his being, I’m always happy to find an older living dead film I haven’t seen. Of course I don’t expect that I would have seen them all by now, nor will I ever, but it’s still a joy. Especially when the hidden-to-me zombie flick is from that magical horror decade of the 80s. There’s just nothing like the 80s for horror, as I’m sure you all agree, it can’t be replicated and finding a “new” film from that time of neon and teased hair is sometimes like finding buried treasure.. Upon seeing THE VIDEO DEAD (1987) was scheduled for HMN this year I was overjoyed. This is one I’ve loved the artwork for and meant to see for many years but it always eluded me for one reason or another. Well, now that I’ve seen it I can say that while it’s not going to make my top 10 zombie films of all time list anytime soon, there is still something fun inside.

A strange package is delivered by mistake to a private residence containing a seemingly normal television. But this is no normal idiot box. It has the power to unleash zombies from the black-and-white world in which they are usually confined into the real world to create mischief. The man who turns on Pandora's TV quickly becomes a corpse, but the culprits are nowhere to be found. Fast forward a few months to see the house sold and the “kids” in the family arrive to get the place ready for their parents, who are in Saudi Arabia. While cleaning and unpacking they end up unearthing a lot more than they wanted.

Peek-A-Boo
This week I’m going to handle things a bit different. Instead of taking on the different topics or aspects of the film I’m going to share my thoughts of the whole movie by taking a closer look at a few of our main characters. If you think this is because the cast is full of impeccable performances and deep characters, rest assured that each one of these lovable actors make their flat personae shine by turning in absolutely terrible performances. You probably won’t be surprised to learn most of them didn’t do a whole lot of acting outside of this film.

The first of the new home owners we meet is “young” Zoe Blair (Roxanna Augesen) as she rolls up to the house to let in some anxious movers. We never really learn her age but at one point she tells her younger brother that she will be starting her first semester of college soon. I’m not too good at guessing ages but this girl does not look to be in her late teens in the slightest. I could not find a date of birth for the actress online but I did find that she had graduated college four years earlier. I guess Zoe could be a girl who waited a few years to go to university after leaving high school. After all, it’s very important to take the time to grow and figure out what you want to spend a lot of money studying to prepare for a lifelong career. So what has Zoe picked to buckle down and get serious about? A major in Aerobics with a minor in Music Videos. There exists no combination of words to convey the look on my face when she shares this information. It shouldn’t be a shock that she isn’t the brightest bulb from that so I guess it makes sense that she stays behind, alone, in the house while her sibling scampers off with a strange man to hunt zombies all day with no problems. Good choice.

Jeff: “You can’t major in aerobics!”

The male child in the Blair family is Jeff (Rocky Duvall, who is now the artistic director of the Dance Arts Conservatory in Wellington, Florida), a teen who does what all kids do except, apparently, go to school. He looks a good ten years younger than his sister but they talk like they are relatively close to the same age. He has a bit of a mixed look that seems part punk, part new wave, and with his posters for Adam Ant and The Go-Go’s on his walls you see where he falls. He also likes to unwind by smoking a joint filled with the greenest pot I’ve ever seen. It almost looks as if he’s toking plastic Easter basket grass. He falls, rather quickly, for the girl next door, April (Vickie Bastel), when she comes wandering into his yard with a neighbor’s dog she’s walking named Chocolate. She’s kinda cute but other than that I don’t know what’s so special about this girl. All she is really good for is having the zombies kill those around her and getting Jeff in more trouble. Soon Chocolate meets his fate by the hands of the walking dead and her parents are victims two and three. She ends up kidnapped by the zombies (I know, I didn’t know zombies kidnapped people either) and this is why Jeff goes to hunt them down. All this for a girl that wouldn’t even come over and give him the lovin’!

Plastic Easter Grass Pot
But Jeff doesn’t go into the woods alone. He has help from the man indirectly responsible for all of this, a Texan by the name of Joshua Daniels (Sam David McClelland). This southern gentleman bought the portal TV at a rummage sale and when he couldn’t stop the zombies he mailed it off to be examined by professionals (before it was wrongly delivered of course). Because the zombies think of themselves as living they freak out when they look into a mirror and see what they really are, so a simple mirror taped to the screen keeps them safely inside. I guess old Josh has had an epiphany since his troubles in Texas because not long after saying he could not stop them he tells Jeff and Zoe how they are going to put an end to this once and for all. His two ways are as follows:

1 - Trap the zombies in a place with absolutely no chance for escape and they will go crazy and eat themselves.
2 - Since they already think they are alive just “kill” them (again) like you would any living person and they will be convinced that they are dead. To make sure this sticks you must not bury them but leave them to be reclaimed by the Earth.

Head-scratcher, huh?

Josh and Jeff decide to go for option number two and set out into the woods with a few small weapons. Once a stumbling stiff is down and “dead” they will go after it with a chainsaw, sever the limbs and leave it to decompose into the soil. Give me a fucking break! Why do so many people in these zombie films not think of fire as a permanent means of living dead eradication? Save for some RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD acid rain situations, I would think reducing the creature to ashes would be the best solution. But what the hell does Joshua know anyway? He spends his time standing by doing a lot of nothing while young Jeff has to take down a zombie with a pitiful, cheap bow and some arrows, the whole time calling him “boy” and acting all high and mighty. Don’t worry, he gets what’s coming to him.

Man in the TV: “They call me The Garbageman. I dispose of human garbage.”

Wedding Day Zombie Meets Blender
This brings us to the antagonists of our program - the zombies. They aren’t really your normal flesheaters because, well, they don’t really eat any flesh (at least as far as we see). Most of the time they just kill people, by strangulation or washing machine (!), and leave them where they lie to rot. Are they just filled with an insatiable need to kill? That’s one of the biggest bummers of the film for me- I want to see my zombies gnawing on a human appendage or two at the very least. On the positive side, in the small group of living dead there are some cool characters. Any zombie is better than no zombie, but when you give them a specific outfit, other than funeral attire, it’s fun to see the once human side of them. In this flick there is a living impaired female in a wedding dress, one of the others wears glasses, another gets a clothes iron slammed into his skull and wears it there for the rest of the film, and then there’s a 1950s teen zombie with a drape pompadour. Definitely the most hip of the bunch! The make-up is pretty good on most of the rotting gang but the greaser has a tiny skin tint problem. What the hell would cause a decaying body’s flesh to turn baby blue anyway?

Overall this is a fun movie at times, but runs a little long to be very enjoyable. Seems like a lot of filler and not a lot of good gore gags to make up for it all. THE VIDEO DEAD also plays a little fast and loose with the zombie rules, which isn’t always a bad thing, but how can a decomposing body gush blood when cut into or when a hand is lopped off? Some black goo might drip out, maybe, but pumping blood? This isn’t the only film to do that but it’s just an odd thing to see, I’d rather maggots, worms, bugs, and gook plop out. Maybe that’s just me.

Until next time - turn off that evil TV and hit the books! You don’t want to fail your Musical Aerobics Video midterm, do you?

Body Count: 9 (and 1 dog)
Best Death: Decapitating a zombie while being simultaneously shredded by a chainsaw
Number of Times Jeff & April Call Out for the Dog, Chocolate: 15
Shots of Zombie Appendages Emerging from the TV: 2

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-3/30/11: THE PIT (1981)
-4/6/11: ONE DARK NIGHT (1983)
-4/13/11: SCARED TO DEATH (1981)
-4/20/11: NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980)

Zombie Filled TV

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  • http://twitter.com/BTSjunkie Brian Kelley

    I don’t think anyone has ever written 1700 words on THE VIDEO DEAD. Great piece, D!

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