If at first you don’t succeed — well, okay, it’s probably not fair to say that videocam horror auteur Chester Novell Turner didn’t “succeed” with 1984’s Black Devil Doll From Hell — he more than likely did, in fact, achieve whatever modest goals he set for himself with that release. Just don’t ask me what those goals were. He surely didn’t make anything like a good, or even competent, flick. Nor did he realize much of a financial profit — in fact, to hear him tell it, he’s pretty damn certain that the fly-by-night distro outfit that handled the —ahem! — “wide” release of his little opus on VHS ripped him off. So what was he aiming for? Just to get the damn thing made and get it out there?
I guess that must be it, and ya know what? I can’t fault him for that in the least. It’s more than most of us, myself included, will probably ever achieve. So in 1987 he had himself a pretty simple a simple idea — why not do it all again?
The end result of his decision to break out the Sony Betacam one more time is Tales From The Quadead Zone, a movie every bit as memorable-for-all-the-wrong reasons as his first effort, although also remarkably different.
To the extent, I suppose, that two no-budget, SOV, little-actual-talent-in-evidence, homemade horror flicks can even be said to be all that different from each other at all. Especially when they feature the same “actors” and each appear to have been made over the course of a few days, tops.
As you can see from the photo above, Chet’s old lady at the time, Shirley L. Jones, is back in the nearest thing to a “starring” role a production like this is gonna have, this time playing an unnamed single mother to a dead invisible boy named Bobby, who brings unusual books to his momma for her to read to him. Where he gets these things is anybody’s guess, but at the start of this little opus he hands her a heavy hardcover tome called, wouldn’t ya know it, Tales From The Quadead Zone, and she proceeds to relate two of the purportedly macabre tales from its pages to her precious little deceased angel.
The first story, entitled “Food For?,” concerns the trials and tribulations of a too-big-for-its-own- good poor family, who never have enough to eat and decide to get creative in terms of how they reduce the number of mouths to feed at their crowded table. I know, I know, I was thinking cannibalism was sure to be the end result here, as well, but it’s certainly never mentioned with any sort of specificity (hell, nor is it even really implied), all we know for sure is that, at journey’s end, some family members are dead, either at the hands of their own kin or in the state “gas chair” (huh?), while others are, as the image below details, “living high off the hog in the witness protection program.” The entire segment is, on paper at least, a yawner, but the rank sub-amateurism of the various performances, as well as the worse-than-shoddy production values, keeps things more entertaining than they really have any right to be.
Next up is a little number called “The Brothers” (one of whom is played by Tuner’s own brother, Keefe), a heartwarming yarn about two siblings who have apparently hated each other’s guts since, we’re told, birth (how exactly does that happen?), and that intense and abiding hatred doesn’t simply end with the death of one of them, as the one that’s still alive steals the body of the one who isn’t from a funeral home and uses it to undertake a bizarre occult ritual that — shit, I dunno, summons forth some sort of evil clown spirit. Or something.
The tale of invisible Bobby and his doting mom bookends the “action” here and serves as its own (I guess) morality play entitled “Unseen Vision,” which ultimately sees the devil in Miss Jones (sorry, couldn’t resist) finally put her asshole boyfriend out of his (excuse me, her) misery before taking her own life. Yeah, I know, these things don’t stand up to much — or even any — sort of logical scrutiny, but what the heck? You’re either on the Chester Turner wavelength at this point or you’re not.
On the whole, Turner seems to have found at least something of a more accessible premise here than a 70-minute feature about an evil ventriloquist dummy fucking the living shit out of a sexually repressed holy roller, and his decision to tone down the sexual content in favor of upping the blood and gore (or should that be ketchup and gore?) is honestly a welcome one, not least because (sorry, Shirley) it’s a relief not to have to see Jones naked again. And his increased comfort level with the camera makes a welcome change, as well, as a good number of the shots in this flick are actually (and, yeah, unbelievably) reasonably well-composed. Chester said that his goal with Tales From The Quadead Zone was to emulate the style of his two idols, Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling, and while he certainly doesn’t come anywhere near to doing that, all in all this is a somewhat more passable production than was his first venture into videography. It’s still garbage, sure, but it’s at least garbage that seems to have some sort of idea about how to proceed within the scope of its own (extreme, to be sure) limitations.
Anyway, as I’m sure you’ve no doubt guessed by now, Tales From The Quadead Zone is the second disc in Massacre Video’s newly-released The Films Of Chester Novell Turner double-DVD boxed set. There are fewer extras on hand this time around — stills gallery, reversible cover with cool original VHS cover art and text on the “B” side, a somewhat more listless feature-length commentary track from Turner and Jones, and trailers for other Massacre titles — and while the image has been sourced, again, from Turner’s master tape, rest easy when I say it still really does look and sound like utter shit. It wouldn’t be right if it didn’t. Sure, the package as a whole isn’t stellar by any means — hell, how could it be? — but it still probably represents a more comprehensive release than fans of this movie (assuming there are any) could ever have realistically hoped for.
After Tales From The Quadead Zone, Chester Turner decided to call it a day as far as backyard horror- movie-making was concerned. He started up a small construction company in Chicago and still pursues that trade to this day. Where the rumors that he died in a car crash in 1996 came from I have no idea — and neither does he. But evidently his cinematic pipe dream became too much of a hassle to continue pursuing. Determined not to get hustled out of his rightful due a second time, Turner opted to “distribute” his second feature entirely on his own — specifically employing the selling-it-outta-the-trunk-of-his-car-to-video-rental-shops method he originally had going with Devil Doll before inking his lousy deal with Hollywood Home Video. As a result, his “market penetration” consisted of a couple hundred stores in Illinois and Alabama (I figure he must have had family there), making Quadead the far more rarely-seen of his two — uhhmmm — epics. The fact that we’re even getting a proper DVD release of this at all is pretty goddamn miraculous.
Still, to say this flick is an acquired taste is putting things mildly. It is what it is and Turner appears to have made it merely because — well, why not? He had the time, he had friends and family, and he had the gumption. He even shows brief flashes of something vaguely resembling ability this second time out. If that’s enough for you , as it apparently is for me given that I have to admit I had a lot of fun with this one, then you know the drill — grab this before it’s gone, which will probably be pretty damn soon.