Retro Review: ‘The Video Dead’

This latest Retro Review is a look at a fan favorite from the era of the video store. Luckily this 1987 zombie flick has been reborn thanks to the good people at Shout Factory! who have overseen a beautifully remastered Blu Ray release. One of my big issues about the zombie movie has always been that there are only so many variations you can do on the scenario of huddled survivors in a wasteland besieged by the undead. But writer/director/producer Robert Scott came up with a new spin on zombies and shared it with the world in the form of The Video Dead. Luckily, for Scott this was the 1980’s and countless horror movies could find a spot on video shelves so long as it had cool art on the box, and this one did.

One morning an unsuspecting man gets a delivery in the form of a TV. Except this is no ordinary boob tube, and once the movie Zombie Blood Nightmare begins playing on it the undead emerge into the real world After the fact, brother and sister Jeff and Zoe move into the old house and find this cursed television in the attic and naturally bring it down. It is only a matter of time before the zombie menace begin descending on the humans in a slow but steady way. The TV’s original owner, who tries to ship it to the Institute for Paranormal Research, comes to their aid but will he be enough to help Jeff and Zoe survive the Video Dead?

It may catch the laypeople by surprise that the Video Dead is a far better flick that they probably suspected. The movie is truly one of the hidden gems of the Video Store Era of horror. While the bulk of the work movie’s mastermind Rick Scott has done behind the camera has been for television, this film proves that he had a true talent as a movie director. While the performances he gets from his actors may be a mixed bag, he truly knows his stuff on a production quality standpoint. With the clear picture afforded by the current Blu Ray release we can see just how strong his eye for the visual language of cinema is. The cinematography is top notch and the make-up fx are far better than they have any right to be. So many times in low budget zombie flicks, the cheap and easy way is taken when crafting the look of the monsters, but the work in Video Dead is incredibly detailed and expertly done. Beyond the visual aspects, Scott finds new ways to make a familiar monster scary. True there is the usual madcap, bloodsoaked zombie mayhem, but they are balanced with moments of palpable suspense that really pack a jolt. We get a perfect example of this in the scene where Jeff is used as bait in the forest which slowly builds on the tension that we know the zombies are coming, and when they finally surround him the fun begins. Instead of a climax featuring the usual shoot-out between the living and the dead, we have Zoe trying to keep ahold of her emotions lest the zombies sense her fear in a scene filled with dread. Added to this the zombies from the Video Dead are infused with far more personality and a certain sadistic glee that you usually find in the cinematic undead.

This is one of those films deserving of far more applause that it has received. While most would be happy to write the Video Dead off as yet another braindead 80’s horror film, it is so much more. In a perfect world, Rick Scott would have a career filled with fan favorite horror films under his belt, but sadly he only directed one other film besides this one. For anyone who loves the bombastic horror films of the 1980’s and/or zombies (I think I’m safe in assuming there is some overlap) the Video Dead should be on our Must-Watch list.