It’s been a DAMN long time since I put a film on that opened so strongly only to actively ebb away any and all goodwill I had towards it across its full runtime. And yet, with 1987’s ‘The Video Dead’ I seem to have stumbled on exactly that.
Its initial pitch is great! a magic TV/VCR thingie is randomly delivered to someones house and when it’s plugged in, an old zombie movie plays, the catch being that the zombies in the movie slowly but surely hobble their way up to AND THROUGH the screen into the real world! Whats not to like!? establish a world where zombies are clearly make believe, THEN add zombies!? Brilliant!
Unfortunately, once this initial premise is put in front of the audience (basically the first 10-15 minutes of this film) it doesnt really seem to know where to go, and from there it begins to flounder, as we kill off the initial owner of the house in the first 10 minutes, then introduce a young brother and sister who’re waiting for their parents to get home, THEN they mess about about ANOTHER 30 minutes kind of sort of repeating what they did in the first 10 minutes, but with more stoner gags and nudity.
The scripts almost as slow burn and pedestrian as the zombies in this thing. quite sincerely, had the film managed to build on it’s establishing 10-15 minutes, or even if it’d managed to keep the pace of that opening for the majority of the runtime, this could have been great! You could have really knuckled down on the premise of ‘a haunted video tape’ or ‘a magical VCR’ that brings to life whatever films put into it…In a pre ‘Ringu’ world, that would have been an amazing idea with near limitless scope!
Unfortunately, the script beyond that 10 minutes slows right down to a crawl as we basically just end up spending most of the runtime with an ex stoner and a guy in a cowboy hat who comes bearing warnings about their ‘magic TV’ as they wander around a house and a woods talking about how awful and dangerous the magic TV is, intercut with VERY tame and uninteresting zombie kills.
Theres a next door neighbour who winds up being something of a love interest and the stoners sister, both of whome get almost nothing to do in the movie and barring a bit of ‘mid movie melodrama’ barely feature at all in the thing, theres an act structure but it’s SUPER rigid and clunky, the dialogues more wooden than a…wooden thing. it’s super basic, sounds like NOTHING that an ACTUAL person would say and comes across and just poor, rather than entertainingly cheesy.
Throw in an underwhelming ending, and you have a movie that I feel really was aiming to trade more on a title and a poster than in actually trying to make anything close to decent.
The directions bland, despite being shot on film, this looks like an SOV effort…and not a GOOD SOV effort, theres a couple of moments that did stick out as being reasonably impressive visually. But make no mistake, this is a cheap CHEAP looking movie, that largely feels like it was made with what was available to the crew, rather than what the film needed to succeed (likely because there was no money for this thing so they HAD to use what they had available rather than what was needed)
I will give some credit to the zombie makeup however, while some of them do resemble a cheap halloween mask and body paint, broadly speaking the zombies actually dont look half bad here. Which is arguably one of the most imporatant elements, so it’s good to see they kind of nailed that.
The cines largely drab and lifeless, theres a few moments that stood out to me, but a lot of its just really basic shot setups with not much thought to composition with mixed ability sequence structuring and a weird use of B-roll…Where its needed, it isnt, and where it isnt…it is. throw in a lack of experimentation and an ‘all filler, no killer’ soundtrack and your left with a movie thats almost as dead behind the eyes as it’s monsters.
Honestly? if they just cropped the first 10-15 minutes (basically everything from the opening titles up to the first kill) and then maybe tacked on a 2-5 minute long ending. This would have been an AWESOME short film. Something really fun and interesting. Instead its a bloated, barely coherent, stumbling picture that, had it not been for the zombie makeup, the inoffensive scripting (it’s poor, but I didnt hate it) and the odd moment of visual interest. Would have been one of the poorer offerings i’ve watched this year. Not one i’ll be revisiting in a hurry.