Friday, March 25, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Tales From The Quadead Zone (1987)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

A woman (Shirley L. Jones) has a nice chat with an invisible presence that manifests itself as a floating coffee cup, moving handles, a slight indenture in an armchair and long lingering shots of nothing. It seems to be the ghost of the woman's son Bobby. Bobby, who makes a little wind and a "shashashahsha" noise when he talks to his mother, would very much like to hear a story, so a book with a obviously hand-crafted cover titled "Tales From The Quadead Zone" appears and the woman reads him two dead person appropriate tales.

The first one, called "Food For ?", concerns a poor family that can't bring enough food for everyone on the table. To decide who is allowed to eat on a given day, they play a strange game of wait and grab. Until one shirtless male loses one time too often and uses a shotgun to solve their mathematical problem for good.

The second story, "The Brothers", tells of a man who hires two other guys to steal the body of his brother from the mortuary. He had hated his brother so much that he had planned to poison him, but couldn't realize his plan before the brother died of natural causes. Therefore it is absolutely necessary for his future psychic wellbeing to shout and exposit at his brother's corpse, dress him up in a clown costume and threaten to bury him in the cellar instead of the shrine he had built for himself.

When the greenish ghost of the dead brother returns into his body, he's kinda pissed.

After she has read these charming tales to her invisible dead child, the husband of the framing story's woman comes home. He is not very happy about this habit of her of acting as if their child were still alive and present. The couple's discussion turns violent and soon the woman knifes her husband while shouting "Dance with me!".

Tales from the Quadead Zone is one of those films some people have heard the most unbelievable things about, yet most haven't actually seen. Let me make one thing clear right at the beginning: everything you might have heard about this film is true.

The movie was directed by Chester Novell Turner, the same man who was responsible (that's the correct word for sure) for the original Black Devil Doll. It was filmed with Turner's trusty camcorder and has the sort of look that makes today's shot on digital backyard films look like high budget fare.

The colours of the few (only?) available prints are muted and faded, the sound seems to consist more of noise than of the things the viewer is supposed to hear. Parts of the dialogue are completely unparseable - sometimes people must have been too far away from the microphone, at other times what they say is being drowned out by the soundtrack. Post-dubbing of dialog must have been out of the question for Turner, I'd say on principle. But oh, what music the film makes! A handful of dilettante Casio keyboard tunes play, letting me think of music played by Suicide's Alan Vega's idiot brother. These tunes are insistent in their repetition and always seem to run into exactly the opposite direction of the emotions which would be appropriate to the scene you are just witnessing. 
Although, to be honest, it is quite difficult to decide what Turner was thinking or what he wanted a viewer to feel about any given scene or the film as a whole.

On paper, Tales From The Quadead Zone is just an especially bad example of the late 80s shot on video boom, with even less coherence or technical ability on display than usual in films of its type. But that is not at all what the film feels like. I tend to use descriptions of strange films like "as if it comes from another dimension" with wild abandon, and I'm not saying I have been wrong when using phrases like this before, Tales From The Quadead Zone however is like a film from another dimension but more so.

The combination of these weird, barely structured, obsessive stories that barely are stories at all with the unpleasantly insistent soundtrack, the obviously home-made overdubbed sound effects that still start to sound like the voices in your head after a time, the lingering of the camera on nothing in particular, the nearly-not special effects and the bad yet peculiarly intense acting (especially as done by the living brother, who somehow even integrates his own giggling fit into his performance, and by Shirley Jones) pushes the viewer into a feeling of total wrongness.

At first, I thought the best description for the feeling I got while watching the movie would be to compare it to witnessing someone having a psychotic breakdown, but that  still wouldn't be strong enough to truly give an impression of the film's emotional effect on me. In fact, watching Tales From The Quadead Zone is much more like meeting someone who is trying to talk you into sharing his own psychosis - and succeeding. If that sounds like an exaggeration to you, then, well, it should be one, but I found the experience of watching as intensely disturbing as anything I care to remember. In other words: for once, a film really freaked me out.

Now, in case this sounds like the kind of experience you'd rather not have, you can rest easy in the knowledge that this is not a film you'll be able to find without actively looking for it. Tales From The Quadead Zone seems to be much like its literary brother the Necronomicon, only to be found by those people who are are ready for it (or have a connection to Miskatonic University). Which I suppose is for the better, although the collector in me can't help but crave a DVD edition full of extras of this one.

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