The Campy and the Horrible: ‘TerrorVision’ and ‘The Video Dead’

Shout! Factory continues its series of reissues of ’80s B-grade horror movies with this special twofer, a DVD/Blu-ray double feature consisting of the campy, horrible TerrorVision and the somewhat less horrible effort, The Video Dead. Neither of these is as good as the recently-rereleased Prison starring a youg Viggo Mortensen, but horror fans who enjoy giggling through subpar fare—perhaps with the aid of their favorite beverage or medicinal herbs—will likely get a kick out of these films.

It must be said, though, that TerrorVision is a truly wretched movie. (I’m something of an expert on this; I write PopMattersDon’t Open That Door! column, which features its share of wretched movies, along with a few good ones.) TerrorVision contains a potentially cool premise, which is unfortunately ruined by terrible execution and a series of directorial gaffes that reduce the whole thing to a stinking puddle of vomit. Actually, this comparison is unkind to puddles of vomit.

The cool premise is that a television satellite dish picks up a signal from a distant planet, which then inadvertantly acts as a transporter device to bring a mutated monster into a suburban American living room. Okay, I didn’t say that the premise was credible in any way; just that it was kind of cool. We’re all familiar enough with Star Trek and The Fly to have some idea of how matter transmitters theoretically work, and so how this might, conceivably, happen—and how it could go wrong. And yes, in this movie, things go wrong, in the worst possible way.

The problem, though, is that the movie plays the whole thing for laughs. “Campy” is too mild a word to use here. The suburban family that unwittingly hosts the monster is a collection of shrieking, overplayed losers straight out of a bad ’70s sitcom: the survivalist grandpa, the swinger mom and dad with their (tee hee hee!) homosexual swinger partners, the Cindy Lauper-esque daughter and her dumb metalhead boyfriend. Everybody is loud and stupid and a parody of a parody, and it’s all supposed to be knee-slappingly funny.

Except, it’s not. It’s just awful. And it goes on and on and on: it’s easily the longest 80-minute movie you’re likely to ever sit through.

The Video Dead (1987)

Probably just as well, then, to get this over with first, and then sample The Video Dead as something of a palate cleanser. This is no masterpiece either, but compared to the stillborn mess that is TerrorVision, it comes off like a lost Kubrick masterpiece.

There’s a TV in this one too, and it gurgles out monsters as well—in this case, zombies. Now, zombies are pretty creepy to begin with, and even though the makeup is so-so, there is still enough menace here to make for mildly disconcerting viewing. Most importantly, the film isn’t trying to be funny. It’s playng the material straight, and even if the actors aren’t the best in the world, I’m okay with their game attempts.

The story is fairly straightforward: a creepy old TV gets delivered to a suburban home and it keeps showing the same zombie movie over and over. Even when it’s turned off… even when it’s unplugged. Before long, the zombies have moved from the film world to the real world, with predictably dire results. There’s plenty of blood in this movie, and some violent moments involving chain saws and corpses being eaten and so forth, if that’s your thing.

The prints used for both transfers are in fine shape. Try not to spend too much time wondering why anyone would think if worthwhile to release Terrorvision on blu-ray—here it is. The colors are bright and saturated, in contrast to Video Dead‘s color scheme, which is so muted that it almost looks it was shot on videotape. These are certainly the best-looking versions of these films that anyone is likely to release.

Extras are significant, as well. Both movies contain audio commentaries with cast and crew members, and Video Dead throws in a second commentary besides. Terrorvision contains a 34-minute making-of featurette called “Monster on Demand”, while Video Dead includes a 12-minute interview with make-up artists Dale Hall and Patrick Denver. These behind-the-scenes vignettes are interesting enough, and even throw a little light on the process of making a low-budget movie, but it’s tough to forget just how mediocre the finished products are.

Nonetheless, Video Dead contains a few suspenseful scenes and some over-the-top moments, and might be of interest to zombie fans or zombie completists. (Is there such a thing? Probably.) Terrorvision can be safely missed by just about everyone.

RATING 4 / 10