My Netflix Queue is Outrageous, Ch. 2: The Video Dead
A few nights ago I kicked off a new running feature for A Nerd Occurrence, in which I will attempt to make a noticeable dent in my out-of-control Netflix instant queue, and at the same time provide our readers with reviews on a wide variety of random films. Sometimes, like when I watched The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, these articles will provide a valuable public service by pointing out gems that people may have overlooked. Other times, well… sometimes I just add movies because I like the cover. This is one of those.
To be completely fair, it’s hard to just outright bash The Video Dead without feeling like I’m kicking a puppy. The film was written, directed, and produced by one guy, Robert Scott. It’s obviously a labor of love, and since its release in 1987 it has fallen almost completely through the cracks. It’s never even gotten a legitimate DVD release, much less Blu-Ray, and prior to Netflix making it available your only options were tracking down an old VHS copy or finding it through bootleggers. The cast is small, with a few actors even pulling double duty as both living characters and zombies. And the fact that many of them have just this single piece of work on their resume means that this is a film with zero claim to fame. Nobody will run across it during a “before they were famous” IMDB search, and it’s not going to enjoy a push when one of the actors’ careers takes off, like Leprechaun got when Jennifer Aniston made it big. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing here to like.
The film starts off with a case of mistaken delivery: a reclusive writer receives a crate that is meant for a center for occult studies, and inside the crate is a harmless looking black-and-white television. This television seems to show nothing but zombie movies, and does so whether it’s plugged in or not. Soon enough the zombies make their way through the screen and into the real world, at which point the writer meets his untimely demise. Flash forward a few months and the house gets some new inhabitants: two teenagers arrive to get the place ready for their parents, who for some reason are out of the country and have purchased a house sight-unseen. A pickup truck from Texas arrives at the house shortly thereafter, its owner having driven a great distance to deliver a warning: there is a television in this house that is likely to kill people. Of course he gets blown off, after which said television is discovered in the attic and plugged in because hey, what are the odds the two things are related?
So zombies show up and start killing the neighbors, and everyone is willing to take the frustrated Texan a lot more seriously on his return visit. The story is pretty terrible to put it bluntly, with a lot of threads that don’t go anywhere, such as a character inside the TV called “The Garbageman”…because he cleans up human garbage. Why even write something like that in if you’re not going to do anything with it? It feels very much like the director just had neither the time nor the budget to take this project where he wanted, but plowed along admirably anyway. To be honest though the effects are pretty great for such a low-budget affair, and at least one of the VFX crew (Wes Takahashi) went on to work on some pretty high-profile films. The zombies, although there are very few, all have their own unique and memorable look, far from the usual crowd of generic shambling undead. There are also a couple of entertaining kills, and the obligatory 80’s nude scene, but nothing to really make it worth your 90 minutes.
I’d say check this one out if you’re a die-hard 80’s horror fan and you’re just looking to scratch some forgotten films off your list, but maybe not even then. It might be worth a look if you’re an aspiring horror effects artist and feel the zombie effects alone would be worth your time, but otherwise I’d take a pass. This is the kind of film that just begs to hang out and take up space in your instant queue, but gives very little in return once you’ve finally made the time for it. That’s why you have me around, to watch this stuff so you don’t have to.