History of the Zombie Genre (Part 6: The Video Dead)
Holy shit, if there is one thing I love, it’s doing these horror showcases. If there is one thing I hate, it’s getting a horrible virus because of them. It seems that while searching for images for the latest (and final) entry into the History of the Zombie Genre, I came across the fucking apocalypse of viruses and my old computer is down for the count. Fear not loyal readers, I have returned with the help some friends and am ready to re-write our final stop of this magical journey!
I’d like to take a minute and talk about the 80’s. What a weird and wonderful time. Business was booming and, as such, a lot more risks were being taken. Not to mention the fact that studios like New Line Cinema and things of that ilk basically built their companies off the backs of horror movies. The 80’s in horror saw the slasher boom and everybody was trying to create a mascot akin to Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees. Some where pretty good… most were pretty bad. A very rare few are so bad it becomes good.
Horror movies of this era saw a lot of distribution through minor labels of much larger film studios that existed to provide low risk, low cost, and decent reward to the studios. Universal, MGM and the suddenly-relevant New Line Cinema were all pretty big on this practice and released all kinds of stuff direct to VHS. Yeah, that’s right, VHS! Some rare studios managed to remain independent for the most part, but a lot of them were swallowed up in the 80’s by big business. On the other hand, there are select studios that flourished because of this new fangled direct to video market.
The 80’s saw a lot of great stuff for the Zombie Genre too. My original plan was to review the 1980’s classic Return of the Living Dead seeing as there are few films that encompass the decade in the genre so perfectly. It has everything; the music, the comedy, the origin of the Zombie battle cry “Braaaains”. It really is great example. That being said, I feel like we can do better. I think that it’s time to dig deep, and I mean –really- deep and talk about something that isn’t so “classic”. I’m talking about a film that, to this date, has never been released officially on DVD. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about The Video Dead.
The Video Dead was released in 1987 and distributed through Embassy Home Entertainment, which was the direct to video portion of Embassy Pictures. Don’t worry if you never heard of it. Basically, it was an independent studio that was eaten alive by larger studios in the late 80’s. If memory serves me (and even if it doesn’t we live in the information age), it was taken over by MGM, or New Line Entertainment. Embassy Pictures had a decent run, but eventually went the way of a lot of studios from the old days of movie making.
It was written, directed, and produced by Robert Scott. You know this sort of hat trick happens a lot in films, especially from new directors. When a director really goes all in, they have nothing really to fall back on when things go bad. Without a doubt, and despite –anything- Robert Scott could ever say, the Video Dead was his baby. I’m sure once that baby came out of the delivery room, Scott was tugging at his shirt collar wondering just what the fuck happened.
So what’s it about? Well let’s see here. Basically, the film starts out with this writer who mysteriously gets delivered a television. He’s cranky and wants to be left alone, but he reluctantly takes the TV and goes back to his writing. Things get weird when the TV magically turns on by itself and it only seems to play one thing: A zombie movie called “Zombie Blood Nightmare”. Unknown to him, the zombies actually are aware that they are in a TV and know the way out. He goes to bed and is none the wiser that a dazzling array of 80’s blue lighting effects enable the Zombies to escape and march upstairs.
The next day the deliverymen return and discover the writer’s body. Here’s the weird part: He’s sitting in a chair when the door opens with his throat slit and wearing a party hat. I remember seeing that and saying “okay weird. Why did the zombies dress him up festively?” They didn’t eat him clearly, but they slit his throat? I was pretty confused. Here’s the deal: The zombies aren’t really the zombies people are familiar with. In keeping with the spirit of the 80’s they basically say “Fuck you” to all the typical rules.
Most films had used the basic idea that if you destroy the brain you kill the zombie. I don’t know if it was because everyone in the 80’s had a desire to move forward, that this became a trend in film. For the most part if you ask someone how to kill a zombie they’ll say “Shoot em in the head!” Well that won’t really work with these, and here’s why. Some loose narrative in the story tells us that these zombies want to be alive and hate to be reminded that they are dead. A big symptom of this is a fear of mirrors. So if you want them to leave you alone, show them a reflection of themselves. Also, forget head shots. That won’t work unless you can somehow convince them that –they- are dead which you do by inflicting enough damage to their bodies. Perhaps the most ridiculous method is if you trap them in a place where they can’t possible get out, they’ll eat themselves. Lastly I’ll mention that if you show even the slightest fear, they’ll attack you. In other words, if you are nice to them and treat them as if they are alive, they’ll like you.
There you have it, the weirdest rules I’ve ever heard. Not only are they weird, they also don’t work. After the writer is killed, a brother and sister move in and start preparing the house for their parents who are away on business. They find out too late that the television that was left behind is haunted and there are still zombies out there. An old Texan comes along who knows all about the TV and the zombies. He tells them these rules and then takes the boy to go hunting for them. Well… I just don’t even know what to say. None of the rules even work and it makes me wonder what the point was in bringing them up at all.
Oh, and I normally don’t give spoilers about the ending but (SPOILER ALERT) do you want to know how to trap them from a place where no escape is possible? Just take a minute and think about a place like that. Bottom of the ocean? Stuck in a cave with a huge boulder at the entrance? How about shoving them in a bank vault? All pretty good ways, right? Well you don’t need that, just lock em in the basement for five minutes. That’s right, the basement. Nothing special about it; just a wooden door with a lock and it works.
One scene that I found pretty funny was when these two random people get killed, this old lady goes to check on her laundry and one of the undead somehow got into her washing machine. Next thing you know the old woman’s legs are just sticking out of the washer while it does a spin cycle. Good stuff.
The acting in this movie is hilarious and the writing is pretty bad. The special effects are decent enough but I can’t help and wonder just what all of the actors were thinking. Actually forget the actors. What was the director/writer/producer thinking?
This movie is a straight up horror comedy but the parts that made me laugh weren’t any of the gags but more so the silly plot and ridiculously bad acting. I recommend it to anybody who has a sense of humour about horror films in general. Like I said before, it’s never been released on DVD but for some reason Netflix has it. Check it out.
Well that finally does it for our little look back through the history of the Zombie sub-genre of horror. Also, I know you’re thinking “But what about the 90’s or the 2,000’s? Well you have a valid point, there were a lot of them in that 20 year span. Those two decades saw the birth of the “Fast Zombie” as well as a boom in the zombie culture in general. Especially the last ten years, thanks in no small part to some great authors. Not only that but it saw a few remakes of Romero’s work as well. Right now the word Zombie has a lot of marketability again which is both good and bad for fans. It’s good because it means a lot more content coming from different sources. It’s bad because a lot of that content is god awful.
I’ve decided to cut it off at the 80’s to allow myself some breathing room because, frankly, a lot has happened in those years and I’m a little zombied-out. Don’t worry too much; this topic will be resurrected again very shortly. Until next time, happy hunting!