Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Video Dead, The (1987)

... aka: Zombie - Bloody Demons

Directed by:
Robert Scott

A reclusive, alcoholic writer (Michael St. Michaels) mistakenly receives a wooden crate that was supposed to go to "The Institute for the Studies of the Occult." Inside the box is a TV set, which he plugs in and turns on. Some old black-and-white horror movie called "Zombie Blood Nightmare" is playing. He tries to turn it off, but the TV keeps popping back on by itself... even when it's unplugged. That's because it's much more than just a TV set, but a portal to another dimension (or maybe even hell)! Eventually, smoke rolls out, the zombies in the film emerge into the 'real world' and the writer is killed. The house is put up for sale and, three months later, it's purchased by the Blair family. College-aged Zoe (Roxanna Augesen), who says she's majoring in aerobics (?), and her younger, pot-smoking brother Jeff (Rocky Duvall), arrive to get the home in order before their parents (who are away in Saudia Arabia) show up.

Naturally, Jeff finds the TV upstairs in the attic, plugs it in and some zombies show up in the woods behind their home, popping in on occasion to kill off people in the neighborhood (and a poodle). One victim is even stuffed in her washing machine. Jeff is also visited by an evil seductress (Jennifer Miro) from the TV, as well as a man named "The Garbageman" (Cliff Watts), who tells him to stock up on mirrors because these zombies can't stand being reminded of, well, the fact they're dead. A cowboy-hat-sporting Texas bounty hunter (Sam David McClelland) shows up looking for the cursed television and adds to the mythology by letting us know that the dead only kill people who show signs of fear. He and Jeff eventually set out into the woods with a bow-and-arrow and chainsaw to hunt down zombies and try to rescue April (Victoria Bastell), a neighborhood girl Jeff's taken a shining to.

The Video Dead has a minor cult following, did well on video and was frequently shown on late night cable TV in the 80s and 90s (I first recall seeing it on USA Up All Night as a kid). It seems to divide people into love it or hate it camps, though upon this revisit, I've decided I'm squarely in the middle. The movie is fairly upbeat, fast-paced and sometimes fun; even enjoyably quirky at times. Some of the dialogue is random and just strange. Where this movie really shines though in in the fx department. There's plenty of blood and gore, a couple of inventive kills (including an iron smashed into a head) and the make-up designs on the zombies (each of whom is given a unique look) are actually really good. It's also interesting to see evil things emerging from a TV ten+ years before the hit RINGU (1998). On the down side, most of the acting is terrible, there's no real explanation behind the haunted TV set, the tone often uneasily fluctuates between serious and tongue-in-cheek and the living dead (and really the film itself) are often just played for laughs. It's generally watchable, but it's not definitely going to appeal to everyone out there.

Lory-Michael Ringuette (who'd go to make the slasher BLOOD REAPER and the horror-comedy TELE-ZOMBIE) and Anthony C. Ferrante (a director, writer and make-up fx artist who had worked on such films as THE DENTIST and BOO) play zombies. Director Scott went on to a prolific career as an assistant director on such hit TV shows as JAG, Heroes and House M.D.

It was issued on VHS several times (by MGM and Embassy), but the film has yet to receive an official DVD release.

★★

Victims! (1985)

Directed by:
Jeff Hathcock


A woman heading toward her apartment gets a hatchet planted in her skull and takes an awkward tumble down the stairs. Another (nekkid) one with feathered hair and a tan line so bad her naughty bits almost blend in with her pristine bed sheets gets hacked up with a meat cleaver. And then a third woman gets stabbed repeatedly in broad daylight by a psycho dressed in some hilariously unconvincing drag. A witness to the last crime manages to chase down the psycho and wrestle him to the ground, he's shipped off to a nuthouse where the first sentence of a voice-over begins and then suddenly ends mid-sentence and then, strangely enough, this man, his victims and his crimes are never mentioned again. In fact, these scenes have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film we're about to watch and were probably tacked on to: 1. Pad out the running time. 2. Provide a moment of frontal nudity. And 3. So this could be released on home video as a slasher flick.

After the utterly senseless opening, we get to the real meat of the tale as two robbers (Robert Axelrod and Lonny Withers) shoot a man and steal a car. They encounter a couple messing around in the woods, kill the guy, beat the girl up, gag her, strip her naked and take turns raping her. Meanwhile, our four unlucky heroines are getting ready for a trip to the desert to "study rock formations." Susan's overbearing mother doesn't understand why she doesn't like wearing bras and is afraid she's going to get knocked up. Janet works up a sweat exercizing and takes a shower. Debbie is just kind of there. And Lisa's boyfriend doesn't like the fact she's going camping without a M-A-N around to protect them. Lisa snaps: "Just because we're women, you don't think we can take care of ourselves?!" Apparently not well enough sister or you wouldn't find yourself having forced lesbian relations at gunpoint with your daisy-duke-sporting amiga.

After stopping at a gas station (where they're oggled by every guy there... probably because they are all dressed like hookers) and getting chased by two horny guys riding a dune buggy, the ladies finally reach their destination, which is ten miles from the nearest highway. They "study rock formations" by sitting around drinking and going skinny dipping. Having a feeling they're being watched and discovering someone has destroyed their campsite, they attempt to leave but whoever's watching them has already fucked up their car. Eventually they come face-to-face with the sadistic robbers. They're all smacked around, threatened with a gun, made to strip and get raped. In the most tasteless scene, one of the psychos forces one of the girls to go downtown on the other. Naturally, the women eventually get fed up with all this and manage to turn the tables on their attackers.

The only gore is the stuff tacked on at the beginning, but there's lots of nudity, a strange 'Nam flashback where one of the rapists kill a "gook bitch" and a sort-of castration scene (which oddly enough is pretty similar to what Ellen Page did in Hard Candy). The film seems to be striving for a feminist message (including some of the idiotic male characters equating how women dress with how they 'deserve' to get raped), but it's so exploitative and badly made that it's impossible to take seriously. The editing, lighting, sound recording and photography are all bloody awful.

Not surprisingly, none of the lead females (Ava Kauffman, Ann Richardson, Geri Schlessel and Pam Richards) appear to have acted in anything else. However, one of the rapists, Mr. Axelrod, did. He can be seen in the slasher SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE (1986), Alien Private Eye (1987), the terrible TV movie Bates Motel (1987), the remake of The Blob (1988) and many other films and television shows, but is probably best known for playing Lord Zedd on the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers TV series.

This appears to have been filmed well before 1985; probably around 1980-81 going by the makes of the cars seen in the film. Director Hathcock went on to make three other horror flicks; the shot-on video, psycho-kills-models slasher NIGHT RIPPER! (1986), the shot-on-video, snuff-filmmakers-kill-hookers exploiter Streets of Death (1987) and the awful Satanism tale Mark of the Beast (1990), which was later acquired by Troma and re-titled FERTILIZE THE BLASPHEMING BOMBSHELL so that someone would want to watch it. Mark / Fertizile has a lot in common with this one, including the dune buggies, the scantily-clad ladies and the desert location.

VHS from Simitar. No DVD.

1/2
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