Have you ever chosen a movie based solely on the poster or box art? If you grew up in the 80s perusing the shelves in video rental stores, then chances are pretty damn good that you have. The 80s were a kind of box art renaissance. Hell, entire books have been published celebrating this very thing. Unfortunately, some of those cover artists in the 80s did their job a little too well.
It should come as no surprise that I love zombie movies. What I really love, though, are movies that break out of the tired mold of early Romero, raccoon-eyed shamblers. A perfect example of this is 1985's The Return of the Living Dead with its smart, heavily decayed runners. Is it realistic? Hell no! Who cares about realistic? We're talking about zombies, dammit! The juicier the better, right? Eh, maybe. Let's tune into 1987's direct-to-video chiller, The Video Dead.
Our movie opens with a pair of delivery men dropping off a wooden crate to a famous writer. Confused because he didn't order anything, the writer accepts the crate anyway and opens it, discovering a television set with the screen covered by a mirror. Later, his work is interrupted by the television, which is showing a movie called Zombie Blood Nightmare. He turns the movie off, but the television keeps turning itself on. Fed up, he unplugs the set and goes to bed. That night, a decaying zombie emerges from the set. The next day, the delivery drivers return to collect the set, realizing it had been delivered to the wrong address, instead intended for the Institute for Paranormal Research. They discover the writer's corpse displayed in party clothes.
Months later, the house is sold, and teens Zoe and Jeff arrive to prep the house for their parents' arrival while they're overseas. A strange man appears at the house and inquires about the television, warning of danger, but Jeff blows him off. Later, a voice calls out to Jeff from the attic, and he discovers the television. While Jeff attempts to watch Zombie Blood Nightmare, a woman emerges from the set and seduces him before returning to the set to taunt him. Jeff is horrified when a man who calls himself "the Garbage Man" warns him that the dead have escaped, and the only way to stop them is to block the screen with a mirror. At first, Jeff chalks the experience up to bad marijuana, but when one of the video dead attempts to attack him through the screen, Jeff is made a believer, and the true zombie blood nightmare begins.
It's a good thing this movie doesn't take itself too seriously, because I can't either. Despite all of its silliness, The Video Dead explores some fun, fresh (rotten?) takes on the living dead. The movie does play fast and loose with its own rules in a few places, but can you really fault a movie called The Video Dead? The dead themselves are a strange mix of zombies reminiscent of both early and late Romero, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, and even rejects from a Lordi music video. One of the coolest visuals in the movie is when Jeff and Mr. Daniels kill a zombie in the woods and live mice scamper out of the gore. That's a neat little detail that really drives home the fact that these things a truly rotten.
Some of the most cringe-worthy scenes come from the movie's final act, which I won't spoil. Let's just say the heroine learns a valuable lesson about fear. Speaking of fear, there aren't really any good scares in the movie. They're all pretty predictable. That's okay, though, because The Video Dead works best as a dark comic satire of the genre than a true fright fest.
As dumb as the movie is, my verdict might surprise you. I love this stupid flick. I first picked it up in a Mr. Movies in the late 90s, and I like to revisit it every few years when I'm in the mood for a few chuckles with my gore. What can I say? The Video Dead is a guilty pleasure. Despite its unanswered questions, it's a lot of fun. And how can you not love that poster art? Seriously!! Do yourself a favor and give this schlocky gem a try.