The Video Dead (1987)

Directed by: Robert Scott
Starring: Roxanna Augesen, Rocky Duval, Sam David McClelland, Vickie Bastel, Michael St. Michaels, and Jeniffer Miro
Written by: Robert Scott
Runtime: 90 minutes

Directed, produced & written by Robert Scott, THE VIDEO DEAD is a dippy direct-to-video 1980s horror comedy that is fully loaded with bargain bin rubber joke-shop effects, cheap horror movie gags, and topped with a sappy script.

During the midnight hours, a mysterious turn-dial TV set that seems to be continuously showing some creaky black and white horror movie called Zombie Blood Nightmare unleashes a problem for the residents of a quiet leafy suburb.  Cut-priced pasty zombies erupt from this supernatural television set in a sea of dry-ice and MTV style lighting.

The killer telly in question supposedly originated from the ‘Institute for Occult Studies’.  It is a basement discovery by rugged teen Jeff Blair (Rocky Duvall) and his sister Zoe (Roxanna Augesen) while they prepare their new house for occupancy as their parents travel the Far East.  Jeff, being a laid-back kind of fella, doesn’t think anything odd with this newfound goggle-box only televising grainy footage of some lurching zombies sprawling through desolate woodlands to the thunderous sound of overly dramatic horror movie music.  When he finds himself propositioned by a blond vampirette who emerges from the telly into his own living room, Jeff blames his bad viewing experiences on smoking too much pot!  However, when Jeff sees the vampirette having her throat sliced on-screen by some sweaty fella who calls himself ‘The Garbage Man’, Jeff finally arrives at the conclusion that his new telly may not be what it seems to be!  Sprouting some half-baked notions about this world of the Video Dead, ‘The Garbage Man’ exposes the vampirette’s body as a rotting corpse and advises the increasingly confused Jeff to lock the telly up with a mirror reflecting into the screen.  Apparently the dead go mad when they see their own reflection.

Before long, the ragged Video Dead emerge from the TV and embark on a murdering rampage throughout the local neighbourhood.  Jeff teams up with a Stetson-topped Texan named Joshua Daniels (Sam David McClelland) who’s on a self-appointed crusade.  They set off into the nearby woodlands to hunt down the roaming cadavers armed with a bow, arrows and a chainsaw!

THE VIDEO DEAD doesn’t present any “shoot ‘em in the head” solutions here.  There is no intestine scoffing and certainly no brain eating.  There seems to have been a conscientious decision to dilute the horror elements with attempts at humour.  One victim is heaved upside down into a spin-dryer and the zombies stop to chuckle with one another. Leatherface’s infamous chase scene from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) would be recreated as Duvall gets chased through a forest with a chainsaw thrashing zombie in a wedding dress.

Of course, none of this horror comedy pokiness wholesomely works and THE VIDEO DEAD would receive a pretty dismissive drubbing from the unforgiving horror film press, who by 1987 had long grown tired of safe MPAA approved horror, sterile studio sequels, and a glut of unfunny horror comedies brought about by the influential box office success of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985).

Final Thoughts:
Consider the living dead’s cinematic history post DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) – all the Italian knock-offs, the video re-titling of many European horror product with ‘living dead’ sandwiched somewhere within the name, and countless direct-to-video dribble. THE VIDEO DEAD certainly wasn’t a conventional zombie movie, but did it ever need to be?  THE VIDEO DEAD was made a year after RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) and at a time when the US horror film was deemed unfashionable.  Mainstream horror production was under threat of increased MPAA interference and movies were plagued with studio politics.  Despite the many rebukes thrown at THE VIDEO DEAD, the concept of an undead netherworld inside a spooky television set is genuinely intriguing, however, the potential is never fully explored. There is a misplaced attempt to replicate the wonderfully macabre humour once gleefully celebrated in EC comics.  THE VIDEO DEAD as a late 1980s horror film that doesn’t quite sink to the silliness of Ken Wiederhorn’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART 2 (1988).

THE VIDEO DEAD is a quirky, inventive and fun movie that has pleasingly found a small, appreciative cult following.  Let us know if you’ve seen THE VIDEO DEAD or can recommend another low-budget 1980s horror comedy in the comments section below or in our Facebook group!

Contributed by: Tristan Thompson