Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tales from the Snark Side: TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE (1987)

Anthologies always interested me as a kid.  Of course, anyone would be hooked on the format if the first anthology they saw was the legendary TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975).  I was certainly spoiled after that as I got to see other greats like TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and CREEPSHOW (1982), my favorite anthology of all-time.  There is nothing better than a well written story that packs a punch in a short timeframe. Unfortunately, the bad far outweighs the good in this subgenre.  Tom and I were just talking about how rolling the dice on an anthology is even riskier because there is a higher chance for screw ups with more than one story.  For every CREEPSHOW there are 10 more omnibus flicks that drive a good concept right off the cliff.  Today we’ll look at one that not only goes off the cliff, but keeps slamming your head against the ground when you land.

Chester N. Turner’s TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE (1987) has long been considered one of the rarest shot-on-video flicks around.  Turner had previously released the cult “classic” BLACK DEVIL DOLL FROM HELL (1984) and, thanks to feeling he wasn’t getting his fair share from distributors, he opted to self release his sophomore feature.  This resulted in an almost legendary status among VHS collectors as the film proved rarer to find than a good review of a Donald Jackson movie. Original tapes would pop up on eBay and sell for literally hundreds of dollars.  Well, as Mr. T would say, I pity the fool who paid top dollar for one of those cassettes as TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE is one of the worst of the worst.  How bad is it?  It makes 555 (1988) look like a work from Orson Welles.  Thankfully, Massacre Video recently released Turner’s works on DVD for a much more affordable price.  Did I say thankfully?  I meant to say, “Holy Jesus! Goddamn! Holy Jesus jumping Christmas shit!” (if you get that quote, you’re awesome) and I’m not saying that in a good way.

Ma just found out she is in 
a Chester N. Turner flick
“If you like your terror adult and strong, well come here, you can’t go wrong” cackles a high-pitched singer over the opening Casio-themed song in the film’s intro.  Damn, lying to your audience right off the bat, eh?  Well, to be fair, they have no idea what they are in store for at this point.  The “film” opens with a woman (Shirley L. Jones) in her kitchen cleaning up.  She tells her invisible son (!) Bobby to head into the family room and she will read him some stories.  He makes the book Tales from the Quadead Zone materialize in her lap and we dive right into our first story.  “Food for ?” tells the story of a poor, rural family that has eight members, but only enough food for 4 people on their table.  So they fight for it after dad rings a bell.  This real life hunger games always leaves some famished (apparently cutting the sandwiches in half is too much effort) and soon one of the boys at the table goes off and kills several folks at the table with a gun.  It continues until finally we are told (via onscreen titles) that everyone died at his hands except the parents, who entered the witness protection program.  The end.  WTF!?!  I think ol’ Chester must have tuned out when he was watching TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE or something.

Tale no. 2 is titled “The Brothers” and focuses on siblings Fred and Ted (Keefe L. Turner).  Fred was apparently the wealthy one and dad’s favorite, while Ted grew up to be a janitor.  The story begins with Ted and a friend breaking into a funeral home to steal the body of Fred, who recently died of a heart attack.  Ted’s goal is to get his revenge and humiliate his brother in death by not burying him in designer duds in the ornate mausoleum he had made, but by interring him in the basement while dressed in a clown suit.  Oh, you sure showed him!  Now doubt such an act will easily cover your years of psychological scarring.  What Ted didn’t count on is his brother’s soul (not to be confused with a soul brother) returning into his body and killing him while he digs the grave.  John Wayne Gacy would be proud.  End of the second story.  The third story isn’t actually from the Quadead Zone book as we just pick up with the mother as she freaks out after her husband Daryl comes home. Seems he doesn’t particularly like her habit thinking she is talking to their son who died three years ago (duh, duh, duhhhhhh!) and his only recourse is to beat her up.  She fights back and stabs him.  While she goes to comfort the invisible Bobby, the clinging-to-life Daryl calls 911.  The cops arrive and arrest her.  She asks if she can use the bathroom and goes in to slit her throat.  21 hours later, her ghost then returns to the house and is reunited with her son Bobby.  The end of story three and we mercifully close the Quadead Zone book.

Oh jeez, where do I start?  To paraphrase my favorite James Karen quote from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), “I have seen bad anthologies come and I have seen bad anthologies go.  But the worst one I ever saw just had to cap it all…”  I’ve made a non-living looking at some of the worst films of all-time, so much so that we have a thriving sub-label on the blog here called “cinemasochism.” So it means quite a bit when I say TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE is easily one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.  A friend recently asked me, “What makes it so bad?” and I had to think for a second before replying, “Everything!”  How awful is this film?  I seriously think they are using watered down ketchup for their blood.  From the special effects to the direction, it is almost pure torture for its scant running time.  For example, Turner has a fondness for having a blasting score that actually muffles out the dialogue in the film.  In “The Brothers” segment, he uses a vocal effect on the reanimated dead brother so that you can’t understand what he is saying.  Seriously, it sounds like the guy is saying his lines while trying to gargle water.  Matching the ineptness in the direction is the writing.  Turner’s stories are so flat that and devoid of any surprises that you’d swear they were written by a kid in middle school.  Turner mentions his love of TWILIGHT ZONE in the video interview on this DVD set (where he calls the show’s creator “Rod Sterling”), but he misses the most vital part of a successful anthology short – the twist ending.

The sad part is this film’s rarity coupled with the newfound cult of VHS has resulted in a renewed interest in Turner’s film.  Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that Massacre Video took the time to track down Turner and release his films as it preserves them for future generations.  At the same time, I now feel bad for future generations.  I can’t help but wonder if the time would be better spent on something a little more worthy of the attention.  As for people who actually shelled out hundreds of dollars for a VHS of this film, let me leave this scene of Keefe Turner’s acting to sum up my feelings on that.

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