Judge Patrick Naugle has unplugged and gone back to reading books. It's safer.
A double dose of technological terror!
Delving deep into the '80s horror archive, Shout! Factory has pulled out two obscure low budget shockers for Blu-ray. Get ready to be terrorized by your TV set in glorious 1080p with TerrorVision and The Video Dead!
Facts of the Case
The Video Dead
TerrorVision is a movie made for people who really like to smoke pot. It's a monster movie to be sure, but one that's psychedelic in its execution. How else do you account for a film that features a monster that looks like a gigantic pile of manure with eyes? This is usually the point in the review where I tell you how insipid the film is, but I can't because TerrorVision is just so gosh darn lovable.
I wholeheartedly embrace movies like this. They are such oddities I can't help my undying affection. It's slimy, silly, goofy, gross, funny, and…above all else…an absolute hoot n' a half. You can feel writer/director Ted Nicolaou's zeal seeping through each and every frame. It's clear TerrorVision was made with a lot of love…or at the very least a lot of drugs, since the plot is overflowing with ridiculousness: space aliens, swinger parties, satellite dishes. The film works best as a late night creature feature. In fact, it should come with a warning: "Do not watch during daylight hours." This is the sort of cinematic experience that throws everything at its audience including the kitchen sink. Not all of it sticks, but you have to admire Nicolaou's noble attempt at trying something different.
Clearly the actors were given free reign to do whatever they wanted, because each performance is a carnival of the absurd. The wonderful Gerrit Graham and oddly alluring Mary Woronov play the Putterman parents as freaky sex swingers who are still living in the late 1970s (their clothes are as tacky as their hobby). Diane Franklin channels some strange version of pop singer Cyndi Lauper, while child star Chad Allen offers up a gun crazy kid who emulates his survivalist grandfather (played with gusto by character actor Bert Remsen). Cult favorite Jon Gries (Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite) looks hilarious in a fake metal band wig and leather studs, hamming it up as Franklin's punk rock boyfriend. Then there's Jennifer Richards as late night host Medusa, an Elvira rip-off that's part Roseanne Barr and all jiggling cleavage. This is truly an eclectic and entertaining cast of characters.
The real treat is the monster/alien/intergalactic pet that beams down from the Putterman's satellite dish. Created by effects man John Carl Buechler (who also directed Troll and Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood), the alien looks like something you'd blow into a tissue while suffering from the flu. It's sort of adorable in its own way, all KY jelly and latex foam, but by the end of the film the whole thing goes off the rails. A spaceman shows, looking like a friendly version of the bad guy in Jeepers Creepers, and the manner by which the script dispatches of him is just awesome. But I didn't care, because I was tickled with how much fun TerrorVision ended up being. Snot monster and all.
The second half of this double creature feature is The Video Dead, a C-grade zombie cheapie that holds a special place in my rotting little heart. When I was twelve years old, this movie popped up on HBO around midnight one night when I had a few friends over. My memories of the experience are in bits and pieces, but I remember it as being fun with some rather icky gross-out effects. Keep in mind, these recollections are filtered through the haze of twenty five years, as well as four slices of Little Caesar's pizza and three cans of Coke at the time.
Viewed through more adult eyes, The Video Dead leaves much to be desired. A lackluster direct-to-video turkey if there ever was one, the movie leaves little impression, except as a vehicle for rancid dialogue and a cheeseball musical score from composer Leonard Marcel (Candyman) that sounds like something Thomas Dolby rejected. The acting is horrendous, even by C-grade cinema standards, with line readings so stiff and wooden you could chop them up and use 'em as bonfire kindling. None of the actors give anything close to resembling a credible performance, which explains why none of them went on to do any other films.
The only thing The Video Dead has going for it are above average make-up effects for a film of this ilk. Some of the zombies actually look convincing, all charred skin tones and exposed jawbones. But man cannot live on practical effects alone. The storyline about a possessed television may have held some promise if it had been injected with more backstory and energy. One scene in particular, when the zombies roam around a house and try on women's wigs while turning on household appliances, highlights the fact this material could have been a heck of a lot more entertaining.
Writer/director Robert Scott (whose only other feature film was something called Ratdog) seems to have a decent handle on the ABCs of filmmaking, and yet Video Dead exhibits no passion. It's entertaining enough as low grade cheapie, but redundant to the point of being nearly plagiaristic. Say what you will about the worst of George A. Romero's movies (I'm looking at you, Diary of the Dead), at least his works show a passion for the genre. In the end, The Video Dead can't hold a candle to the far superior TerrorVision.
Both films are presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen. All things considered, these transfers look far better than expected, coming from considerably low budgets and the least likely preservation methods. TerrorVision is the better looking transfer of the two, with superior detail and more solid black levels. The image itself is flat and rather uninspired, but considering it's hardly been seen on home video, fans will most certainly be happy with the way it looks. The Video Dead sports a bit more grain and a mediocre picture, its low budget all the more obvious in high definition. The colors, while mostly bright, look a bit more muted than TerrorVision.
Both soundtracks are presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio Surround in English. On par with their visual presentations, TerrorVision's mix has the edge. Though both mixes are front heavy, TerrorVision tries to give viewers a bit of dynamic range by way of directional effects (however limited they may be), whereas The Video Dead is almost a complete front and center experience. This is likely the best both of these films has ever sounded. Also included are DTS-HD 2.0 stereo tracks and English subtitles.
Bonus features on TerrorVision include a commentary by writer/director Ted Nicolaou and actors Diane Franklin and Jon Gries, a nice retrospective on the making of the film ("Monster on Demand: The Making of TerrorVision"), and a poster gallery. The Video Dead includes a pair of commentaries (one with writer/producer/director Robert Scot, Editor Bob Sarles, and effects creator Dale Hall, Jr; a second with actors Roxanne Augesen and Rocky Duvall, moderator Chris MacGibbon, production manager Jacues Thelemaque, Dale Hall Jr, and make-up assistant Patrick Denver), a pre-recorded interview with effects creator Dale Hall and assistant Patrick Denver, outtakes, a behind the scenes gallery, and a trailer. The two films are also available on a second disc in standard defition DVD.
TerrorVision and The Video Dead make for a fun late night marathon. Neither is the pinnacle of high class entertainment, though each contain inherent albeit limited charms.
Best served with chilled beer and reheated pizza.
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