TerrorVision/The Video Dead(Scream Factory Blu-ray)
Directors - Ted Nicolaou, Robert Scott
Cast - Gerrit Graham, Mary Woronov, Rocky Duvall
Country of Origin - USA
Discs - 2
Distributor - Shout Factory
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
Date - 03/18/13
The Film: 3.5/5
The Puttermans are just your average, everyday American suburbanite clan....except that the parents Stanley (Gerrit Graham) and Raquel (Mary Woronov) are materialistic dipshits who are most preoccupied with bringing other couples home to their retina-scouring "Pleasure Dome" for wild swingers' soirees than they are with properly raising their son Sherman (Chad Allen) and Suzy (Diane Franklin). Sherman has a tighter bond with his militaristic, conspiracy theorist grandfather (Bert Remsen), while Suzy takes up with dimwitted metalhead O.D. (Jon Gries). One evening Stanley is setting up his state-of-the-art satellite dish when it intercepts a signal that is not exactly of this world - an ugly and foul-tempered alien monster has been beamed from beyond the stars into the Puttermans' television sets. While the parents head out for another decadent evening of unbridled carnality and Suzy and O.D. take off on their date Sherman and Grampa stay in to watch a marathon of horror movies hosted by the Elvira-like Medusa (Jennifer Richards). As they doze off on the couch the monster is released from its cathode confines and begins to roam the Putterman household, devouring anything it desires. When the rest of the family returns home it has a veritable smorgasbord for the asking and it soon falls to Sherman, Suzy, and O.D. to either destroy the creature or at the very least attempt to get on its good side before it gets the whole of humanity stuck between its slimy chompers.
There are guilty pleasures in cinema, and then every so often a certain movie comes along I like to decree "one special kind of idiot", to quote the late Peter Boyle from a particularly hilarious episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. Those are the movies that seem easy to categorize at first glance but upon closer inspection are revealed to be as unclassifiable as a multi-colored mold culture you find inside a jar of mustard that has been sitting in your refrigerator without the lid on for over a month. Terrorvision pretty much fits that description; it’s the mysterious organism that spawned from an unholy merger of film genres long viewed with derision by all but the most avaricious of Tinseltown studio wheelers and dealers and left exposed to the elements without a care in the world from anyone in the position to give two shits. I suppose another apt comparison would be to consider the movie like a delicious sandwich made from the finest cheeses in Switzerland and the top premium cuts of cold delicatessen meat in New York City with a heaping glob of caramel-flavored whipped cream packed right in the center. Several times on the supplements created for the movie’s debut on Blu-ray and DVD we hear that the concept for Terrorvision originated with, in a move that Roger “The King of B’s” Corman would find amusing, a poster image that had been commissioned without a feature film for it to promote. Of course some of the best story ideas usually spring from a catchy title, a interesting image, or even a punchy capsule plot synopsis a truly gifted storyteller could come up with after going for three days with no sleep and only Snickers bars and Jim Beam for sustenance. Even amongst the sci-fi and horror hybrid movies of the 1980’s it stands apart from the pack as something almost completely unique.
Terrorvision is part science fiction - albeit highly derivative and owing more to the trashy Z-grade drive-in alien invasion cheapies of the 50’s, part slimy and nihilistic horror, and 100% deranged farce. It’s a live-action cartoon where the lack of sympathetic characters is hardly a detriment to one’s enjoyment of the movie, the sort of unhinged silliness that would be commonplace in animated comedies of today like Family Guy, South Park, Archer, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. In fact there are a few striking similarities between Terrorvision’s clueless consumerist suburbanite drones the Puttermans and the Fox Network’s First Family of lower class domestic crudity, Married...with Children’s Bundy clan. Putterman mother Raquel and shiftless Bundy matriarch Peg dress and act identical, both families have sons and daughters that respectively like to dress in military garb and play soldier and get dolled up in New Wave fashions and date guys ten I.Q. points below a rutabaga, and both families are subjected to the nastiest cartoon horrors this side of a Road Runner short and all we the humble movie-watching audiences at home can do is laugh our asses off and be practically euphoric that we aren’t those knuckleheads. Then we decide to take a late night shopping excursion to Wal-Mart in an ironic repudiation of our supposed intellectual superiority. America, fuck yeah. Crafty poster design aside, Terrorvision was the insidious brainchild of Ted Nicolaou, a four decade veteran of the film industry who first made his bones recording location sound for the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre before becoming a film and sound effects editor, writer, and segment director for the 1984 fantasy anthology flick The Dungeonmaster, a disjointed but fairly enjoyable anthology effort from the future backers of Terrorvision - Empire Pictures. Nicolaou, who also wrote the script, made his solo directorial debut on Terrorvision and the work he does here is not that of a rank amateur. Working on a restricted budget and keeping the action totally confined to the Putterman household, the director and cinematographer Romano Albani (Dario Argento’s Inferno and Phenomena) bathe their impressive (given their financial circumstances) sets in garishly opulent colors of gold and pink that make the place bear a resemblance to a tract home owned by Caligula. Nicolaou’s script provides a handy set-up that bears endless inspiration and takes off in some unexpected directions while giving the shallow characters plenty of goofy situations in which to play off each other and the extraterrestrial monster unexpectedly beamed into their supposedly pleasurable existence.
The original music score by Richard Band, along with some electronic assistance from Christopher Stone, walks a fine line between suspenseful and humorous cues but does its job suitably. Production designer and art director Giovanni Natalucci worked on many of Empire's best movies and it's easy to see why if his inspired designs for Terrorvision are any indication. Natalucci turns an ideal suburban dwelling into something Bob Guccione would find visually unpleasant, a monstrosity of warped domesticity as hideous as the alien itself, and does a fantastic job of doing so. Speaking of which, John Carl Buechler headed up a first-rate effects crew that included future KNB EFX partner Robert Kurtzman, future star of the short-lived SyFy reality series Monster Man Cleve Hall, and John Vulich, the special effects make-up supervisor for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show among other accomplishments. Their interstellar creature is an inspired creation as it is looks and acts more like a dumb house pet (which it pretty much is revealed to be towards the end) than the stuff of nightmares, panting and slobbering like an unloved puppy but unable to control its insatiable urges for living junk food. It has volumes more personality than the type of CGI-created monsters you'd find in countless horror and sci-fi movies these days.
On the acting side of things, the always invaluable Gerrit Graham mugs and hams up a storm as the prototypical sitcom dad with a dash of horny Plato's Retreat denizen; he even gets his own idiotic catchphrase, "Holy tomatoes!" Mary Woronov's callous yet undeniably sexy mom is a treat to watch whine, swoon, and ultimate get a hearty helping of her just desserts. Chad Allen and Diane Franklin manage to be alternately annoying as hell and comically sweet-natured without becoming overbearing, and both young actors demonstrate a flair for outsized comedy that at times puts them on par with their more experienced co-stars. Veteran character actor Bert Remsen is convincingly bat shit as the paranoid and lecherous Grampa but there is also a warm and loving side to his performance that makes you care. Uncle Rico himself Jon Gries was in-between major studio pictures when he got the call to do Terrorvision and his performance as the not completely moronic metalhead O.D. is one of the funniest in the entire movie. He gets some of the cheesiest lines but he makes each and every one a hoot with his slow-witted "valley dude" delivery. It really makes you wonder if the writers of the Bill & Ted movies saw Terrorvision, watched O.D., and were suddenly struck by inspiration. Dude.....
THE VIDEO DEAD: 3/5
Occult writer Mr. Jordan (Michael St. Michaels) receives a mysterious delivery of a wooden crate containing a television set he didn't order, and later that night the set begins playing a black & white horror movie called "Zombie Blood Nightmare". As Jordan works at his typewriter the zombies from the movie actually emerge from the television. The next morning the deliverymen return to Jordan's house only to find him dead with his body drained completely of blood, a birthday party hat on his noggin, and a cigarette in his mouth. Some time later Zoe Blair (Roxanna Augesen), a college student who majors in aerobics and music videos, and her brother Jeff (Rocky Duvall) move into the house where the writer previously died under strange circumstances because it used to belong to their parents, who are currently living in Saudi Arabia. The siblings are getting settled in when Jeff discovers the same television in their attic. Once he switches it on "Zombie Blood Nightmare" begins to play and its murderous mutants break out into our world and immediately go on a killing spree in the neighborhood. With the help of Joshua Daniels (Sam David McClelland), a Texan who has a past history with that damn TV and its monstrous inhabitants, Jeff and Zoe must do battle with the forces of evil and emerge triumphant before the world falls prey to the Video Dead.
A longtime cult fave from the days when renting a cheesy horror flick on VHS was a weekend ritual for many, including yours truly, The Video Dead has the distinction of being one of the most unique zombie movies ever made. These walking dead aren't preoccupied with consuming quivering human flesh or wandering around aimlessly moaning in unison. Writer and director Robert Scott has taken an unusual approach to the genre George Romero and Lucio Fulci made their names in while establishing his own special rules for his zombies. Those rules aren't perfect and rarely make the least bit of sense but they set Scott's brain dead ghouls apart from the rest. Being a low-budget horror movie from the 1980's it comes as no shock that the emphasis was placed on the quality of the movie's effects, and they are the best part of The Video Dead. The make-up effects look pretty damn good here. The attention to detail on the faces really helps to sell the effects and the actors underneath the rubber and grease paint give inspired performances with little more than comical body language. But much like the rest of the movie, the zombies of The Video Dead aren't particularly scary in any way. Romero showed in Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead that zombies could be made into figures of ridicule when the occasion warranted just as long as they were first established as genuine threats to the safety and livelihood of our heroes. At no point in Scott's movie does it feel like there is anything really at stake. Too often any potential for building tension is diffused by yet another goofy scene where the zombies screw around in a suburban household eating cereal or trying to figure out how a blender works. These beats are good for a few laughs but you won't find yourself covering your ears or cowering under a blanket when the zombies move in for the attack. Plus Scott only had enough money in his budget to hire a very small group of zombies in the first place, so the sight of the movie's living characters allowing themselves to become besieged by a gaggle of mindless mulchheads who couldn't fill a minivan becomes comically ridiculous after a short while.
The story takes a while to really find its legs and manages to pour its remaining energy into a third act rife with action, humor, and a few plot surprises. But too much of the final half-hour is spent with Jeff and Daniels (Jeff Daniels?!) wandering around the woods hunting the zombies with a bow and arrow and some nifty traps set up by the veteran ghoul basher, though the sight of Jeff being strung up for bait while the zombies swat at him with sticks like he's a human pinata is a priceless image. Plus if you ever wanted to see a zombie in a wedding dress chase after someone with a chainsaw you're in the right place. The gore effects are few but memorable: we get a bloody zombie arm hatcheting, an old man getting his neck twisted 360 degrees, and one zombie gets an iron embedded in its skull where it remains for the rest of the movie. The stage blood looks more like runny ketchup mixed with flat strawberry pop. As for the cast, the actors deliver serviceable performances with little to work with character-wise but no one is necessarily awful. But movies like The Video Dead are not judged based on the quality of their acting, but rather on their ability to give their intended audience a reasonably fun time with solid effects work and a few interesting ideas. On that level The Video Dead succeeds, but just barely.
Like their recent Blu-ray release of Prison, Shout! Factory's doubtlessly utilized the virtually pristine print of Terrorvision that current rights holder MGM prepared for broadcast on their HD channel several years ago and did a little additional work to save them the time and money remastering the movie would entail. Seeing as how the MGM restoration was already a first-rate effort I had seen for myself back in 2008 you won't hear any complaints from me that it is getting a full blown legitimate release as it would have been a shame for that superior print to get stowed away unloved. Terrorvision probably hasn't looked this good since its abbreviated theatrical release, but despite being filmed in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 Shout has chosen to compress the image down to 1.78:1 for this Blu-ray. The compression doesn't result in any real loss of information in the widescreen image or noticeable picture distortion and the garishly opulent visuals of the Putterman household that was constructed on soundstages in Rome once owned by legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis are so bright and vibrant you can practically smell the K-Y and Hamburger Helper in the air. Image grain is low but not so much that every detail in the transfer looks scrubbed down with a wire brush.
The Video Dead was shot on 16mm film and blown up to 35mm for its theatrical and video releases, so there is only so much that a Blu-ray conversion can do to increase the picture quality. Shout's 1080p high-definition widescreen transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 even though the movie was originally filmed in a ratio of 1.85:1 and it looks to be a vast improvement over those faded and fuzzy third generation VHS copies. There is a high level of grain and print damage pops up occasionally but the transfer is solid for what it is, and the softness of the image quality isn't high enough to be a distraction.
Each movie gets a healthy selection of brand new bonus features, and they are all unsurprisingly excellent. There are a total of three commentary tracks on this set. For Terrorvision, director Nicolaou sits down with stars Franklin and Gries to reminisce about the little movie that became a cult favorite. Nicolaou and Franklin dominate the track but Gries has a lot to offer as well. The trio generally share their memories from the shoot, crack jokes, discuss the reactions they get from fans, and watch and laugh at what's going on during the film. The Video Dead has been provided with two audio commentaries: the first has writer and director Scott being joined by editor Bob Sarles and make-up effects creator Dale Hall Jr, while the second teams actors Roxanna Augesen and Rocky Duvall with production manager Jacques Thelemaque and make-up assistant Patrick Denver. There's a wide array of production stories, technical information, and warm remembrances of making this oddball entry in the overexploited zombie movie genre to be found on both commentaries.
Both movies also get newly-produced retrospective documentaries, but the best belongs to Terrorvision. "Monster On Demand" (34 minutes) brings back many of the cast and crew members including Nicolaou; actors Franklin, Gries, Chad Allen, Mary Woronov, and Ian Patrick Williams; producer Charles Band; his brother, composer Richard Band; and visual effects make-up designer John Carl Buechler, to name but most of the participants. Fans of the movie will discover a wealth of interesting revelations about the production, from Nicolaou talking about how Go-Go Belinda Carlisle and Singin' in the Rain star Donald O'Connor both auditioned for roles to the various interviewees remembering making the movie on soundstages in Rome lacking in air conditioning in the midst of a blistering hot Italian summer. Nicolaou even discusses how he originally sought the Cramps and Frank Zappa to do the soundtrack to Terrorvision. Charles Band reveals that the idea for the movie originated with a poster design and the fact that the movie opened the week of the Challenger disaster is talked about a bit. The most interesting bits are about how the alien monster was created and the creative battles Nicolaou had with Buechler, who was simultaneously working on completing his own movie Troll while working on Terrorvision, over the creature's look. All in all this is a fantastic documentary for a movie that deserves it. The Video Dead gets a shorter doc with fewer participants: in "Pre-Recorded" (12 minutes) make-up effects creator Dale Hall Jr. and make-up assistant Patrick Denver talk about the creation of the movie's zombies and gore effects on a very limited budget and share stories about their time on the production. A longer running time and some additional interviews would have made this featurette better but what we do get is great stuff and fans won't find themselves complaining much.
Both movies get a poster and still gallery, while only The Video Dead comes with a behind-the-scenes photo gallery in addition. The Video Dead also gets two minutes of silent outtakes that look to have been taken from a VHS tape as well as a theatrical trailer.
Shout! has also included a DVD copy containing standard-definition transfers of both movies in anamorphic widescreen and the same supplements.
Scream Factory does it again with this double feature release of two cult horror favorites from the late 80's, one great and the other just a hair about average but both hugely entertaining. Both films receive stunning video and audio upgrades and a plethora of comprehensive bonus features sure to win new fans and please the old ones. Break out the leg warmers and the dog-earned Fangoria back issues and fire up the Midnight Oil LP because there needs to be a party tonight.