Mr Jordan (Michael St. Michaels) is a writer who doesn't keep the normal hours that many workers do, which is why one morning when he is fast asleep in bed that he is awoken by the doorbell. The ringer is persistent, so he rouses himself and stumbles to the front door where he finds a couple of deliverymen waiting for him with a large-ish crate. The strange thing is, Mr Jordan never ordered anything, but after ascertaining he doesn't need to pay for the package, he agrees to accept it and once inside, sets about opening it to find out the contents. They turn out to be an old-looking television set, oddly with a mirror taped to the screen, reflective side inwards, but he never watches television so this is useless. Yet it keeps switching itself on...
By 1987 there was a definite market in the VHS arena for movies that were produced expressly to go straight to video, and though many low budget efforts did manage to luck into a screening in an arthouse or grindhouse cinema for a week, or even a few days, there were others where it just wasn't financially viable to drum up interest in that way, so a cover was the best bet to attract attention. So it was that the box to The Video Dead, for it was just one such straight to video work, depicted a zombie emerging menacingly from a television screen, and for whatever reason this image seared itself into the memories of many a budding movie fan, the notion that the creatures could emerge from the screen a potent one.
Some would say Hideo Nakata must have caught this at some point before he directed Ring in the following decade, but there were no shortages of pop culture examples of things emerging from TVs down the preceding decades, so it was likely coincidence, and arguably the Japanese filmmaker made more of the concept than did director Robert Scott, who was one step up from amateur here though it did lead to a successful career in assistant directing, mostly in television aptly enough. Nevertheless, although it was plainly assembled from bits and pieces captured over whatever opportunities to get cast and crew together arose during the course of a year, it did have its attractions.
It wasn't The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (namechecked as a favourite movie by one character in an aspiring fashion), and it wasn't The Evil Dead, and it barely made sense as the mayhem piled up, yet there was something about a low budget production throwing whatever they could think up within the constraints of the money matters that definitely had its charms for a certain part of the potential audience. In this case that making it up as it went along runaround threw up various scenes a more generously financed, higher profile effort would not have considered including, call it a nightmare logic that almost but not quite tips the mood over into outright comedy (the attacks by household appliances have a distinctively Gremlins timbre).
As far as the plot went, once Mr Jordan has been dispatched by the zombies from the old TV - which was delivered to the wrong address anyway, it was supposed to go to a psychic research office - we cut to three months later and two teens are moving in, their parents to arrive from abroad some time later. Older sister Zoe (Roxanna Augesen) has a place at college where she will be studying aerobics (!), and younger brother Jeff (Rocky Duvall) is still at school, but taking an interest in neighbour April (Victoria Bastel) who he meets when she walks her pet poodle, not that the pooch lasts long with a zombie hanging around the nearby forest. One late night session of TV watching later and a group of undead shuffle into Jeff's life, and begin killing off the locals, usually by strangulation rather than eating them, another instance of idiosyncrasy an indie production will conjure up. With such scenes as Jeff hung from a tree holding a chainsaw as zombie bait, or a zombie cut open to reveal his guts are infested with rats, it didn't stint on the offbeat, which was in its favour if not much else was.