Zombos Says: Poor, Stupid, Fun
"Slow down a minute and let me get this straight," said Detective Web. He paged through his notebook. "You say this Paul Hasselhoff—"
"Paul Hollstenwall," I corrected him.
"You say this Paul Hollstenwall is to blame for Zombos's death?"
"Yes. It's all his fault. He insisted we watch another one of his inane travesties of straight to video horror called The Video Dead. Zombos keeled over dead away toward the end. It was horrible."
I held back the tears. Glenor Glenda, our housekeeper, stood in shock over his body. Thank God Zimba and Zombos Junior were at the theater to see the livelier Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
"I told him, I did," said Glenor, between blowing her nose and dabbing her wet eyes. "I told him to go with his son and get away from all this nasty horror. Oh, how will we explain this to his son? The missus will be so upset!"
"Hey, has this been dusted for prints yet?" asked Detective Web as he reached for The Video Dead VHS tape.
"Yeah, done," said a voice from the other side of the room.
"Haven't seen one of these in a while," he said, picking it up. "So tell me about this movie. I find it hard to believe the guy croaked just from watching it."
"I...I don't know where to begin," I said.
"Start with the facts. Just the facts. That will do fine."
"Let me think. Okay. It's about a TV set that looks like it came from the house in Night of the Living Dead. The TV is delivered, by mistake, to a writer who is promptly killed by the zombies who enter our world through it."
"Flesh-eating zombies?" asked Detective Web.
"Well, not quite. They strangle people, mostly, then toss them into washing machines and start the spin cycle."
"I thought you said this television set came from the house in Night of the Living Dead. Didn't those zombies eat people?"
"Yes. I mean no. I mean I didn't say the set came from the house in Night of the Living Dead, it just looks like it did. Now, one neighbor does get eaten, sure, but that happens later in the movie, and we don't see it happen, just the messy aftermath. The rest of the time the zombies giggle a lot…and want to go dancing, too. And there's this Garbage Man fellow that appears briefly in the TV, but we never find out why, or what he's actually doing in there, or even how he got there in the first place. Then again, I'm not sure how the zombies got into the television set, either."
"So...this is a Japanese horror movie?" asked Detective Web.
"No. Why do you ask?"
"Well, you said they come out of the TV. I remember seeing that ragu movie—"
"Oh, you mean Ringu, or The Ring as the Americanized version is called," I said.
"Yeah, right, that's the movie."
"No, this movie is from 1987. Ringu came later.
I looked up at Detective Web. He scratched behind his ear with the pencil in his hand, closed his notepad, and thought for a moment.
"Maybe we should view the evidence to get a better idea of what this is all about," he suggested.
I reluctantly took the tape from him and put it into our old VHS player. We pulled our chairs close to the screen as The Video Dead started playing; after I fast-forwarded through the trailers and such of course.
It starts off innocently enough. The Hi-Lite delivery service delivers an unmarked crate to an unsuspecting writer. We know he is a writer because he is sleeping the day away, he’s impatient, and he says he does not have time to watch television. He must be a blogger, too.
Over his protests they leave the crate in his living room. He manages to pry the it open, takes out the old, battered, rotary channel dial, black and white television set, and plugs it in. Remember, it is 1987. He checks to see if it works, but only one show comes in clearly no matter which channel he turns to. The show is Zombie Blood Nightmare and not much happens in it except for zombies continuously staggering around in the woods. He turns off the television, but it keeps turning on. He unplugs it and goes back to bed. The set turns on even when unplugged.
In a rare moment of directorial acumen, one rancid zombie notices he's "on" TV and presses up against the inside of the cathode ray tube. In a flash, and lots of smoke, he is poking his head out of the set. Remember, this is 1987.
When the Hi-Lite boys sheepishly return later, realizing they made a mistake—the television was actually supposed to go to an occult institute, sure, why not?—they find one dead writer, conveniently propped up by the front door to save them time going through the house to find his body.
"Boy, those are lousy zombies. That '80s makeup isn't bad, but they didn't even eat the guy," observed Detective Web.
"The zombie look does manage to capture a bit of the EC Comics style, but it suffers from that '80s rubbery mask technology. Wait, it gets worse," I assured him, "those delivery guys were the best actors in the bunch."
"It's criminal." Detective Web shook his head in disbelief.
A few months later the house is sold while the zombies are still out and about in the woods nearby waiting for the housewarming party. The new owners are sister and brother, Zoe (Roxanna Augesen) and Jeff (Rocky Duvall), and their parents due to arrive from overseas. April (Victoria Bastel), a neighbor, welcomes Jeff to the neighborhood. Her skunk-chasing poodle, Chocolate, runs off into the woods, encounters a zombie and dies from fright.
"Do the zombies chew anything besides the scenery?" asked Detective Web, growing impatient.
"Eventually. All I'll say is her name sounds "like the smell they put on Kleenex" and she's heading to the pet store in the morning.
That night, Jeff finds the old television set in the attic with a little enticement from Jennifer Miro of the The Nuns band who pops up in his room. Jeff carries the TV back to his room and plugs it in, forgetting the dire warning from the loud Texan (Sam David McClelland), who showed up earlier that day demanding to know where the television set was. The encounter with the overacting Texan, calling the underacting Jeff a "damn fool," was forgettable even for me, so maybe Jeff's memory is not so bad after all.
After taking a few medicinal tokes on his weed, Miro pops up again on a TV channel, then suddenly in his lap. Before he can decide whether it’s the weed or fortune that’s placed a naked woman in his bedroom, she pops back into the TV; just in time to have her throat cut by the Garbageman, who warns Jeff she was a zombie playing with his head.
"Hey, was that meant as a double entendre?" asked Detective Web.
"I doubt it," I said. "Nothing in this script indicates the author is that clever."
This is the first and last time we meet the Garbageman. He scares Jeff into following his directions to put the TV set in the basement and tie a mirror across the screen. But the other zombies are still out and about, and after three solid months of staggering aimlessly in the woods they decide to have some fun with the neighbors.
Entering April's house, one undead couple have a hearty giggle at the buzz from a blender—they must have been dead for a long time—while another zombie strangles April's mom.
And strangles her.
And continues to strangle her for some time.
"This is a first. Usually zombies bite your throat, not strangle it," said Detective Web. "He's also got to be the weakest walking stiff I've ever seen."
Finally, even after April's mom plunges an iron into the zombie's head, he manages to strangle her completely. The iron remains in his head for the rest of the movie. Being dead, it is not much of a bother for him. I'm sure there is a witty remark one can make about a zombie with an iron stuck in his head, but I'll take the high road on this one and stay mum.
"Wait a minute." Detective Web pulled at his earlobe. "How does the Garbageman manage to kill a zombie by cutting its throat...while an iron plunged deeply into this one's noggin' has no effect at all?
"I'm sorry, but if you are looking for any logic or rational thought here, there isn't any. Just go with it. It's another senseless cinematic crime like so many others."
"And I thought I'd seen it all," he said.
"Mr. Zoc, I've made some lovely tea for you and...?" said Glenor Glenda, putting the tray beside us.
"Jack," answered Detective Web. "That's very gracious of you."
I paused the movie while Glenor served our tea. Ever the flirt, she gave Detective Web extra sugar. He noticed. With our cups of tea in hand, I started the movie again.
After murdering—not eating—April's parents, the zombies go next door. The Bride zombie, another flirt, pops out of a washing machine to kill one surprised housewife by strangling her. The housewife is then loaded head first into the washer and put on a spin and rinse cycle. More giggling ensues.
I kid you not.
The Texan returns to save the day. He tells April, Jeff, and Zoe that the zombies can be killed! All you need to do is shoot them so THEY THINK they're dying, then chop them into pieces.
While they discuss this diversion from standard in zombie lore, April is captured by Jimmy D. (Patrick Treadway) a greaser zombie who likes blonds. Not in a rush to save April, the Texan and Jeff get a good night's sleep before heading into the woods to track down the undead, fun-loving killers. Not being an NRA kind of kid, Jeff heads out with a bow and arrow. The Texan wisely chooses to bring along a big gun and a chainsaw.
In the woods, Jeff shoots a zombie full of arrows, and relishes acting like Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, his favorite movie, as he slices the zombie into pieces. To entice more zombies to come and get it, the Texan hangs Jeff—who apparently hasn't watched many horror movies beyond Texas Chainsaw Massacre—from a tree; high enough so his feet don't touch the ground, but low enough so the zombies can grab at him to build suspense for us.
Or try to.
At this point we also learn that zombies, when approaching, make bells ring. Fans of Hammer’s Captain Kronos will recall how he hunted vampires with bells and croaking frogs. No croaking frogs were used in this movie, however, just bells. One final tidbit of zombie lore, mentioned by the Texan, mentions they also go crazy when locked up and start eating each other. So the plan is to either trap them or chainsaw them into itsy-bitsy pieces. More zombie lore I didn’t know. Did you?
"Finally, we'll get to see them eat something," commented Detective Web, taking a sip from his tea. Glenor handed another pastry to him. "These are wonderful, thank you."
Finding the shack, and a partially eaten April inside, the Texan promptly falls asleep while Jeff is left hanging outside. The bells they had spread around start tinkling. Jeff, getting poked by the long sticks the zombies wield with vigor, yells for help, but the Texan apparently did not sleep enough the night before.
I bet you didn’t know zombies like to use long sticks to poke their potential dinner, right?
Right on cue, Jeff drops the only weapon he has, the chainsaw, and the Bride zombie picks it up. Jeff, now with a more urgent reason to yell louder, finally rouses the Texan, who shoots the zombies "to death." The Bride zombie escapes, but the other zombies are down for the count. He lets Jeff down from the tree and both go after her, who, in one of those ironic twists of fate so prevalent in horror movies, goes after them instead.
Unfortunately for Jeff, the she must have been a fan of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, too, because she throttle’s the chainsaw with relish. Jeff, in true horror victim duplicity, runs directly into it as he swings a machete, lopping off her head. Both Jeff and the Texan wind up deader than the zombies through their ineptitude.
A deep groan followed Jeff's slapstick death.
"Yes, that was a groaner, wasn't it?" We both said at once.
Detective Web looked at me. "I thought you groaned.”
I looked at him. "No, I thought you groaned.”
We looked at Glenor. "It wasn't me."
Another groan sounded from in back of her.
"Will you look at that? Hey Jack, we got a live one," said the forensic photographer.
Zombos stood up, cradling his head in his hands.
"Lord love a duck. That is the last triple hot toddy I have on an empty stomach. Glenor, fetch me a bromo-seltzer please. What is everyone looking at?"
Glenor clapped her hands with delight. "You're alive, you're alive!" She ran to fetch the bromo-seltzer.
"Aw, crap, you mean I had to sit through this movie for nothing?" said Detective Web.
"Well, it's almost over. We might as well finish it," I said.
"What is all this?" asked Zombos, as he pulled a chair over and sat down. "Where is Paul?"
"Long story," I said to Zombos. "I'll fill you in after we finish watching The Video Dead. Glad you could make it."
The Bride zombie, also cradling her head in her hands, joins up with the other zombies, who realize they were not "killed" after all. They all go after Zoe. Left alone to overact, Zoe melodramatically widens her eyes and cries as the zombies lurch outside, stopped only by the mirrors hanging on the doors. Recalling the Texan mentioned the zombies only kill people who show them fear, she decides to invite them in for dinner.
You read that right: dinner.
The zombies don’t know what to make of Zoe's sudden heart-warming attitude, but they go with it.
With everyone sitting around the kitchen table, she serves dinner. Then it is off to the living room for cordials. Two zombies, paging through a magazine, see a couple dancing. Zoe, ever the good host, directs them to the basement, where she pulls out the phonograph. On the pretense of looking for a suitable record, she runs up the basement steps, falls down long enough to build suspense, then locks them in. They quickly go mad and start eating each other. Unfortunately, as you may recall, the TV set is in the basement, too. No sooner than you can say jumpin' jack flash, the zombies are back on TV in reruns.
Zoe, understandably, winds up in a mental institution. Her parents visit, bringing along the TV set, hoping it will perk up her spirits. Zoe's spirits are indeed perked up as she receives unexpected company looking to finish their dance of death.
I turned off the video tape player. Zombos drank his bromo-seltzer as we sat in silence.
The forensic photographer handed me his business card. "I do weddings, bar-mitzvahs, and socials, too."
“Thank you.” I put the business card in my pocket.
"Well, with you alive, we don't need to bring in Hollstenwall. Russo?" said Detective Web, looking around the room.
"Cancel that APB on Paul Hollstenwall. Put one out on Robert Scott. He's the real criminal."
"Impersonating a director and screenwriter."