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TerrorVision / The Video Dead

Shout Factory // R // February 19, 2013
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 10, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Turns out...? Tongue-in-cheek-mid-'80s-darkly-comedic-horror-flicks-with-monsters-that-come-out-of-TV-sets-and-kill-people is an awfully underappreciated sub-sub-sub-sub-subgenre. For quite a while there, indulging meant that you had to hop in Professor Peabody's Way Back Machine, set the dial for 1991, and flip over to USA Up All Night. No need to pierce the veil of space and time anymore, though. Scream Factory has grabbed TerrorVision and The Video Dead -- two movies that have been near the top of my wish list for ages but haven't scored a home video release since Reagan was in office -- and brought 'em to DVD and Blu-ray where they oughtta be.

The Puttermans are free! Free from the shackles of cable TV. That big, ugly dish in the backyard gives them a direct pipeline to pretty much any broadcast the world over...or universe over, I guess, since they unwittingly intercept a colossal, slobbering, insatiably ravenous mutant that some aliens were digitally chucking in the garbage. The creature can zap his way in and out of any of the TVs in the house, perfectly
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mimicking voices and whipping out any of the severed heads in his gullet to lure in his prey. The only thing standing between the otherworldly mutant and an intercontinental buffet are a twelve year old gun nut (Chad Allen), Cyndi-Lauper-by-way-of-Valley-Girl (Diane Franklin), and a studded-leather-clad cock-rocker (Jon Gries) I guess we're pretty much screwed.

Writer/director Ted Nicolaou mentions in the extras that he made TerrorVision to warp twelve year old kids, and, well, mission accomplished. I stumbled upon the flick at some point when I was in junior high, and despite decades having passed since then, The Fibonaccis' ridiculously catchy title song and a metric ton of the movie's off-kilter imagery were seared into my brain. Rediscovering TerrorVision, I had the same bug-eyed expression and goofy grin plastered across my face that prepubescent-me did when I first watched the movie all those years ago.

If you've never managed to catch TerrorVision before, try to picture a cross between Eating Raoul, Pee-Wee's Playhouse, and just about any late night black-and-white creature feature from the '50s. I'm not pointing to Eating Raoul just because it also co-stars Mary Woronov, has a whole thing with swingers, and is pretty much entirely set in one home. They're both head-on collisions of camp and satire with similarly exaggerated, absurd sensibilities. TerrorVision mocks the excess of the 1980s, with 98.3% of the movie set inside the Puttermans' gloriously garish home. The walls are hot pink, you can putter around in an indoor Olympic-size jacuzzi, there's a TV no matter which way you turn your head, eight foot tall pieces of fetish art are drapped all over the living room, Roman statues spew water from their fountain-nipples: I mean, the filmmakers obviously had to build the place on a set since there's not a house the world over like this. That sense of deliberate artifice extends to the exteriors too, with an evening sky that's clearly just a sheet of fabric in a corner.

TerrorVision is never not deliriously over-the-top, every bit as entrancingly strange in 2013 as it was a quarter-century and change ago. The production design is drop dead gorgeous, at least if you're as enthralled by that mocking 1986-cranked-up-to-eleven aesthetic as I am. TerrorVision sports one of my favorite creature designs this side of The Deadly Spawn, courtesy of John Carl Buechler who contributes all sorts of other inspired splatter as well. First-time filmmaker Ted Nicolaou has a hell of a cast onboard: super-cute Diane Franklin (Better Off Dead...), Gerrit Graham (Phantom of the Paradise), cult cinema icon Mary Woronov, Jon Gries (Real Genius), Chad Allen, Burt Remsen, and Alejandro Rey among them. The screenplay pretty much never bows to any of the usual conventions, as you could probably guess by the time you get to a girl with hypercolor hair teased up two and a half feet treating an otherworldly beast to several hundred pounds of TV dinners. TerrorVision is just a hell of a lot of demented, inexorably '80s fun, and it does my heart good to see that a movie I was utterly fascinated with as a kid continues to hold up so well all these years later.

The Video Dead
Wait, they didn't tell you? Isn't it, like, the law that a realtor has to tell you when you buy a house where there's been a murder or a suicide? Or one of those all-too-familiar ordeals where a battered old black and white TV is misdelivered to a chainsmoking lush of a writer's house, is stuck on a movie called Zombie Blood Nightmare that's apparently nothing but undead ghouls shambling through the
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woods, and then the zombies break through the TV and slice open that one guy's throat and put a party hat on his blood-spattered corpse and stuff? Oh. Guess not. At least brother-'n-sister Jeff (Rocky Duvall) and Zoe (Roxanna Augesen) didn't get CC:ed on that memo. Before you can say "aaaaahhhhh, zombies have invaded suburbia!", the undead have slaughtered half the neighborhood. Sure, sure...Zoe, Jeff, his newly-minted kinda-sorta-girlfriend, and a Texan shitkicker who's been hunting these sumbitches could barricade themselves inside the house Night of the Living Dead-style and cower, or they could take the fight to the ghouls. This isn't a Romero flick, though -- this is real life -- so it takes more than a headshot to bring these zombies down: think total body dismemberment. As it turns out, that's what the zombies are itching to do to their prey too.

While TerrorVision is a splattery satire skewering '80s excess, The Video Dead turns the dial a little more towards horror. There's definitely a dark, depraved sense of humor on display here -- I mean, there's a rotting bride in a wedding dress who leaps out of a washing machine to kill a housewife -- but it mixes in some genuinely effective scares while it's at it. The Video Dead dishes out some pretty solid jolts, its best sequences are remarkably tense and suspenseful, and...geez, it's not afraid to get bleak and nihilistic about the whole thing either. Writer/director Robert Scott refuses to play it safe. His zombies aren't ripped right out of the George A. Romero playbook; The Video Dead kinda goes out of its way to be as un-Romero-ish as possible, to the point where they're sadistic killers rather than mindless gutmunchers. With a lot of horror flicks, you know who the hero is, who the red shirts are, who's gonna make it to the end,, that's not even a little bit the case here. Though The Video Dead doesn't have the seasoned cast and crew and modest-but-way-bigger-than-this production values of the other half of this double feature, the movie makes it work anyway. The cast may generally be inexperienced, but they're all earnest and instantly likeable. The zombies all have a hell of a lot of personality, aided by some really terrific prosthetics and makeup and stuff, and The Video Dead has 'em whipping out some really inspired kills.

When I first stumbled onto The Video Dead some lazy Sunday afternoon on USA in the very early '90s, my eyes tripled in size in that "I can't believe this exists...!", hushed awe kind of way. I was more than a little concerned that this would wind up being one of those cases where my memories of the flick completely eclipsed the actual movie (::coughcoughFlesh Eating Mothers::), but instead, I think The Video Dead is even better than I remember it being. I mean, eight hojillion horror movies later, I'm better equipped now to appreciate just how clever and defiantly different it is than the rest of the pack. Being generally unavailable for a couple of decades probably got in the way of it being the cult classic it ought to be, but now that it's finally clawed its way onto DVD and Blu-ray...? Maybe now The Video Dead can get the following it deserves. Essential viewing for fanatics of off-kilter '80s horror.

TerrorVision and The Video Dead have been making the rounds on various high-def cable/satellite channels for six or seven years now, and it's a pretty safe bet that this Blu-ray disc is culled from the same mid-aughts masters that those were. Both movies look decent enough, not dragged down by any excessive speckling, print damage, or digital knob-twiddling. The Video Dead was shot on 16mm, and
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its coarse, gritty texture is present and accounted for on Blu-ray. Clarity, contrast, fine detail, color saturation...nothing earth-shattering but pretty solid all around. For some reason, I really want to say that the overall quality of The Video Dead is very close to the picture I have in my head of how Friday the 13th Part V would look in high-def, and considering that we're talking about a flick that was shot on 16mm for a fraction of the budget, I'm walking away happy. TerrorVision looks pretty great in medium-to-tight shots, but the further back the camera is, the softer it all gets. Neither end of the bill is gonna be mistaken for reference quality or whatever, but...y'know, it's okay. Not great. But pretty good.

Both halves of this double feature are lightly letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and have been encoded with AVC. What with two feature-length movies being on here and everything, you probably already guessed that we're talking about a dual-layer disc here.

Yeah, both TerrorVision and The Video Dead have the same set of technical specs here too. Their original stereo soundtracks are served up in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio, they're both rockin' lossless 5.1 remixes, and there are English (SDH) subs if you need 'em. The six-channel remixes are basically stereo too. TerrorVision generally just uses the surrounds for light reverb, and the LFE twiddles its thumbs disinterestedly for an hour and a half. There really is no low-end whatsoever, to the point where I got up and made sure my subwoofer was turned on. The Video Dead is stingy with the lower frequencies but at least dishes out some modest synth-bass. The remix on this half of the bill commits a cardinal sin, though, with every line of dialogue spilling over into five channels at once. That's a really lazy way of doing things. The instrumentation in the score is spread across the different speakers pretty effectively, at least. Dialogue and sound effects in both movies are understandably dated. TerrorVision suffers from some mild clipping and distortion at times, and the fidelity in The Video Dead is limited enough that I really don't think it would sound a whole lot different pumping through the built-in speakers on my TV. Totally listenable but kinda underwhelming.

It never even occurred to me that there'd be any extras on this Blu-ray disc. I mean, I thought part of the reason it's a double feature was to make up for a lack of extras. So, imagine my surprise -- no, really; imagine -- when I flipped over the case and saw hours and hours and hours of bells and whistles.

  • Monster On Demand: The Making of TerrorVision (34 min.; HD): This retrospective from my heroes and yours at Red Shirt Pictures features everyone. No, I mean everyone: writer/director Ted Nicolaou, executive producer Charles Band, composer Richard Band, special makeup effects designer John Carl Buechler,
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
    fellow effects wizard Cleve Hall, and actors Dianne Franklin, Mary Woronov, Jon Gries, Ian Patrick Williams, and Chad Allen. With a meaty runtime and a small army of cult cinema legends in front of the camera, it kinda goes without saying that "Monster On Demand" is really comprehensive and a hell of a lot of fun. Among the highlights: Belinda Carlisle read for the part of Suzy, there was poster art way before there was ever a premise, Frank Zappa was consulted to do the score, and Buechler was pulling double-duty doing post-production stuff on Troll while trying to get TerrorVision's beastie off the ground. Tons of casting notes, a whole lot of stuff about working with an Italian crew (some of whom had Fellini films on their résumés!), the deliriously insane production design, an eagerness to careen clear over the top...yeah, you need to hurry up and watch this already.

  • Pre-Recordead (12 min.; HD): Makeup effects creator Dale Hale, Jr. and makeup assistant Patrick Denver tear into the grisly effects work of The Video Dead, including the unconventional fabrication that was done to accommodate a really tight schedule, the bursting-out-of-the-TV sleight of hand, and, you know, accidentally feeling up The Nuns' frontwoman Jennifer Miro.

  • Audio Commentaries: Three! Count 'em. Writer/director Ted Nicolaou and actors Diane Franklin and Jon Gries sit down to chat about TerrorVision. I'd probably have been into it a lot more if I hadn't just watched "Monster on Demand"; too many of the same stories and stuff are retreaded again here. The three of 'em are really charming when they speak, but they fall into a habit of watching the movie rather than talking about it, and it's a lot of really quick, off-hand reactions to what they're seeing rather than a conversation, y'know? On the other hand, I hadn't noticed that O.D.'s goopy remains were shaped like a guitar till now, and I was kind of in awe that Jon Gries' family filmmaking connections extend into everything, everywhere.

    The Video Dead scores two audio commentaries, believe it or not. Chris MacGibbon, who'd been leading the charge for years to get The Video Dead onto one of these shiny five inch discs, moderates both of 'em. In the first, he's joined by writer/producer/director Robert Scott, editor Bob Sarles, and makeup effects sorceror Dale Hall, Jr. Even with a moderator on-hand, there are an awful lot of lulls in the discussion, again sounding as if they're leaning back in their chairs and quietly watching the movie instead. Among the topics of discussion when they do get around to speaking are setting a horror flick largely in the bright of day, drawing from such disparate inspirations as Halloween and The Little Rascals, making The Video Dead with the rental market expressly in mind, financing, post-production, its unanticipated success no matter how obscure you think it is, and a sequel that sort of almost happened. Commentary numero two-oh is by far the chattiest on the disc. MacGibbon and Hall, Jr. both return, sharing the mics with production manager Jacques Thelemaque, makeup effects assistant Patrick Denver, and actors Roxanna Augesen and Rocky Duvall. They run through quippy zombie backstories, recasting one of the most memorable ghouls a little while into shooting, the many uses for a single set of fake legs, and the thrills of discovering their hard work on the shelves of a video store.

  • Outtakes (2 min.; SD): A couple minutes of silent, VHS-sourced footage from the set of The Video Dead have been piled on for good measure.

  • Image Galleries (7 min.; HD): There's a two minute montage of high-res production stills for TerrorVision, four and a half minutes of behind-the-scenes shots from The Video Dead, and a minute-long peek at various ...Dead VHS releases and stuff.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): No clip for TerrorVision, but you do score a high-def trailer for The Video Dead.
This double feature of TerrorVision and The Video Dead comes in a combo pack, so you score a DVD out the deal too.

The Final Word

...and Scream Factory announced this double feature, like, three days later. I know! They're in my head. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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