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TerrorVision (1986)/The Video Dead
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/19/2013
All Ratings out of
The Video Dead
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/23/2013
You may have heard that story that in the earliest days of cinema, a crowd ran screaming from the theater for fear that the locomotive coming towards the screen was going to come through the wall and kill them. Do people have similar reactions when televisions were first brought into the home? Were they afraid that things were going to emerge from the TV? This idea has been explored in movies like Videodrome and The Ring. Shout Factory! has now brought us a double-feature of independent horror movies from the 80s which use this concept as a jumping off point. Do TerrorVision and The Video Dead bring anything new to the genre?
As TerrorVision opens, Stanley Putterman (Gerrit Graham) is putting the finishing touches on his do-it-yourself satellite dish kit. As he's obsessed with material goods, Stanley wants to have the best dish on the block. His wife, Raquel (Mary Woronov), is upset that his tinkering has interrupted her exercise show, and likewise, daughter, Suzy (Diane Franklin), has lost her MTV. As Stanley is finishing, Grampa (Bert Remsen) comes over to babysit young Sherman (Chad Allen), as Stanley and Raquel are going out, and Suzy has a date with her boyfriend, O.D. (Jonathan Gries). Little does anyone know that Stanly has pointed the satellite dish towards the planet Pluton and a slimy monster has been transmitted across the cosmos and into the various TVs in the Putterman household. Armed with morphing abilities and a fiendish appetite, the monster is prepared to destroy everything in its path, unless Sherman can stop it.
Even for a movie from the 80s, even for a movie from Empire Pictures, even for a movie produced by infamous low-budget king Charles Band, TerrorVision is weird. Ostensibly, the movie is a reaction to American's fascination with satellite dishes and the obsession with getting as many channels as possible. However, this sane idea only serves as a jumping off point for what is a decidedly insane movie.
At its best, the story makes very little sense, as we are never told exactly how the monster was beamed from Pluton. And the monster's abilities don't make much sense. Does it want to eat people or mimic them? But, that's not important. TerrorVision is here to be all spectacle. First of all, Writer/Director Ted Nicolaou, who would later helm the popular Subspecies movies, has painted the movie in garish pastels and neon colors, planting it squarely in the 80s. In fact the production design, including the oddly planned Putterman house, may be the best thing about the movie. The characters are stereotypes and everyone seems to be yelling here. The monster design is somewhat interesting, but gorehounds will be disappointed, as we get more slime than blood here. Despite the fact that most of the cast dies, the film never loses its tongue-in-cheek tone. Unfortunately, most of the jokes fall flat. As an example of the diversity one could find in the video store in the 80s, TerrorVision succeeds, but most viewers will come away from the movie saying, "What the hell was that?"
TerrorVision seems to be both for and against swinging on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 22 Mbps. The image is fairly sharp and clear, although it does show some mild grain and some very minor defects from the source material. The colors look good and the image is never too dark or bright. The image is a bit soft in places and the level of detail leaves something to be desired. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While I noted some somewhat detailed stereo effects here, I didn't catch much in the way of surround sound effects. Those I did hear seemed to be mirroring the front channels. Most of the bass effects come from the front channels.
TerrorVision contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Ted Nicolaou, Diane Franklin and Jon Gries. "Monster on Demand - The Making of TerrorVision" (34 minutes) features interviews with Nicolaou, Franklin, Gries, Mary Woronov, Ian Patrick Wiliams, Jon Carl Buechler, Charles Band, and Richard Band who discuss their work on the film and the fact that it's still being talked about today. While the interviews, specifically the frankness of the comments, are fun, there is no behind-the-scenes footage here, just some on-set stills. The last extra is a POSTER & STILL GALLERY.
The Video Dead takes place in a house which sits at the end of a suburban street. The film opens with Henry Jordan (Michael St. Michaels) receiving a package which contains an old TV. He didn't order this, so he sits it aside. Before long, zombies emerge from the TV and attack. The story then leaps ahead a few months. Siblings Zoe (Roxanna Augesen) and Jeff (Rocky Duvall) arrive at the house to begin the moving in process, as their parents are out of the country. Jeff discovers the TV and is excited to have an extra set for his room. He also meets his new neighbor, April (Vickie Bastel). That night, Jeff sees odd images on the TV, including a man and a woman who speak directly to him. Assuming that he was dreaming, Jeff ignores this, but, soon, the zombies are back again. The TV's original owner, Joshua Daniels (Sam David McClelland), arrives to help with the zombie problem. Soon, he and Jeff are scouring the forest, trying to ensure that he of he living dead has been disposed of.
Well, if nothing else, The Video Dead has an interesting idea. Writer/Director Robert Scott brings us a film which plays like Night of the Living Dead crossed with an episode of The Twilight Zone. As a matter of fact, this would have made a good entry into an anthology show like The Twilight Zone, and what I mean by that is that the movie is too long and runs out of ideas very quickly. The idea of a movie coming to life is not a very original one, and we don't get a solid explanation as to why it is happening. The movie does earn points for its solution for keeping the zombies inside the TV. However, once they are out, this turns into a somewhat straight-forward zombie movie. The difference being that The Video Dead can't pick its tone. Some scenes are clearly paid for comedy, almost as if this is a spoof of horror films, but the third act is decidedly downbeat. Several points in the film are plagued by slow dialogue scenes, and while this never looks like a high-dollar production, the action scenes in the final reel has a decidedly cheap feel. Having said that, the zombies look pretty good for a low-budget movie. Zombie movie completists will definitely want to check out The Video Dead, as it does offer some twists on the genre, but all others will want to change the channel.
The Video Dead made me wonder why anyone would get excited by that old, beat-up TV on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 19 Mbps. The movie was shot on 16mm film and then blown up and this transfer shows the limitation of that medium. We get notable grain throughout there, and there are some mild defects from the source materials. The colors look good (which is norm for 16mm), but the image is a tad dark at times. The picture is notably flat and even on Blu-ray doesn't show much depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, with no hissing, clicking, or popping. I did not notice any surround sound effects here. This sounds like a mono or stereo at best track, as the majority of the sound is isolated in the center channel.
The Video Dead offers a number of special features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Producer/Director Robert Scott, Editor Bob Sarles and Makeup Effects Creator Dale Hale Jr. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY from actors Roxanne Augesen and Rocky Duvall, Production Manager Jacues Thelemaque and Makeup Assistant Patrick Denver. "Pre-Recordead" (12 minutes) is an interview with Hale and Denver, who discuss the special effect makeup and zombie creations used in the film. We get a 2-minute reel of OUTTAKES, which are simply on-set shots of the cast and crew. The extras are rounded out by a "Behind the Scenes Still Gallery", a "Poster and Still Gallery" and a TRAILER for the film.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.