The Video Dead (1987)

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There’s a scam in the low-budget movie world. It’s a variation on the “make a cool poster, sell that to distributors, then make a film based on the poster”, but it’s a little more advanced. Have you ever watched a movie which started off really well, got you interested, then suddenly dropped off a cliff of quality after the first five minutes? This is often associated with a change of location or characters, or both.

 

The big secret is, they make that first five minutes to secure funding, and distribution, and all those other fun little ways low-budget people stay in business. Then, when they’ve got their money, based on the expectation that the rest of the movie will be as good as that first five minutes, they knock out any old piece of cheap crap. This crap will then get sold to cable channels, video rental places (now streaming services, I guess), eke out a meagre profit and the cycle will continue. The ur-example of this is Fred Olen Ray’s “The Tomb” from 1986, which starts off as an Indiana Jones-style adventure before switching to a series of people talking on telephones, but I think “The Video Dead” is a dishonourable member of this group.

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The scam in this instance is a first five minutes featuring a writer, depressed-looking, sat in his scruffy house with real dead goldfish when the doorbell rings. A couple of delivery guys bring him a TV, even though he didn’t ask for one. Or, indeed, anything – which makes the bit a few minutes later when the delivery guys realise they mixed up a delivery for the local Occult Studies Centre not really make sense – but never mind that, the TV keeps turning on and showing “Zombie Blood Nightmare”, which looks like a fun movie. One of the zombies emerges from the TV, a pretty cool effect if we’re being honest, and when the delivery guys come back for their TV they find the corpse of the writer. Boom!

 

And then they make the switch. This first part is well acted, filmed, tightly edited and has tons of promise – I actually turned to my wife, smiling, and said “I think this is going to be a good one”. But then logic gets thrown out of a window, and the movie goes down the toilet.

 

Now, you might be thinking “why do you expect logic from a movie about zombies coming out of a TV?” but that’s just letting crappy low-budget movies off the hook. The more times you ask “why did X just happen?”, the more you’re drawn out of the movie, and when there’s no reason for it, it just comes across as lazy. So, to begin, the zombie TV. The local occult place is aware of it, even if they allow it to be transported by the world’s dumbest delivery company – so when the writer dies, one would assume they’d ask for it back, or at the very least it’d be taken away by the police, the estate agent or the writer’s next of kin. But no, it’s just in the attic! Did it teleport itself up there? For what purpose?

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Three months later, and a new family moves in – a woman in her late teens and her slightly younger brother. It appears the woman is going to be the star, then the movie decides to concentrate on the brother and “The Garbage Man”, who’s apparently a zombie tracking / supernatural TV set expert (even though he waited three months before trying to track the TV down)…before switching back to the woman for the last 15 minutes or so. The Garbage Man tells them the rules of the zombie game, and the movie helpfully ignores both his most important instructions.

 

First up, zombies can apparently take on human “shells” and trick us living folk. This would be an interesting idea if the movie ever used it, but it’s just mentioned once and then ignored. They sort of hint one of the main characters might be one of these zombies right at the beginning, but it’s just a red herring. Boo, movie! Secondly, zombies can’t be killed by normal weapons, but if you do enough damage to them you might trick them into thinking they’re dead. Can you then just re-bury them? Oh hell no, that would be bad, you just have to leave them lying out to let nature take it course – but when our “heroes” do this, the zombies just lay there for a few minutes, before realising they’re zombies, waking up and getting back to killing.

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What else can we add to the cavalcade of stupidity…how about the way the Garbage Man, after baiting a trap with the brother, immediately falls asleep, managing to stay that way through the sound of a shotgun blast from thirty or so feet away? Or how the brother, despite apparently being a horror movie fan, knows none of the rules? Or the way the Garbage Man prefaces the request to hang brass bells everywhere as a zombie detector with “Don’t ask me how or why, but…”

 

There’s the faintest whisper from time to time that this is a self-aware comedy, but there just aren’t enough jokes in it to warrant the description. The way the daughter handles the zombies at the end is great, but it’s a funny situation with nothing to back it up. Such a miserable shame of a movie, with an ending that manages to be deeply nihilistic and utterly pointless at the same time. And the name! I guess video shops were right at the peak of their popularity in 1987, so I understand the filmmakers were using something in the zeitgeist, an ancient and honourable tactic. But…there’s no video in it. It’s a zombie-infested TV – which I admit is splitting hairs slightly, but with such a cool title I at least wanted to see it delivered on!

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For such an extremely low budget movie (estimated cost $80,000, filmed on weekends when the cast was free over the course of a year) some of the flaws are kind-of explained. Actors would disappear for great swathes of the movie because they just weren’t available when the crew were; and the zombies themselves look excellent for the money. But it’s still boring and stupid, and you don’t need cash to avoid that.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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