Yes, Dead Tone is a horror film "presented" by Flavor Flav, who refers to himself as "The Timekeeper" in a 10-second, horribly green-screened intro that features the beclocked rapper decked out in Dracula garb. A cursory IMDb search reveals that this is the third production in what's apparently a whole Nite Tales franchise, following a previous duology film (called Nite Tales: The Movie) and a six-episode TV series (not surprisingly, called "Nite Tales: The Series"). However, even before popping the disc in, I sensed that the branding had less to do with Flav's approval or even the involvement of in-common producer Deon Taylor, and more to do with upping the profile of a no-name horror release (like sticking "National Lampoon" on a frat comedy). Another IMDb and Wikipedia search later, and the truth is revealed: Dead Tone is actually 7eventy 5ive, a 2005 (!) horror film that didn't premiere until 2007 (!) and is only now getting a release on DVD (!). That probably tells you all you need to know about the quality of the film, but even Flavor Flav's fans will be disappointed: that 10-second intro -- in which Flav doesn't even reference the actual movie -- is the only reference to him or the Nite Tales line in the entire movie.
In an unidentified town, a bunch of unidentified kids accidentally crank call the wrong person at a slumber party. Their mystery target shows up at the house shortly thereafter and hacks the adults in the house to death, and is forced to flee (at the sound of sirens) before he can get to the prankers themselves. 10 years, later, a new bunch of kids (who might as well be unidentified given how boring they are) play their own round of prank phone calls and end up connected to an equally murderous man who may or may not be the very same killer, while a tired-looking Rutger Hauer discovers the surviving kids (still basically anonymous and separate from the central plot) are being picked off one by one.
I admit, since the DVDs are free and all it takes is my time, I'm more eager to pick some things from the DVDTalk screener pool than I would be if it was my own money (rental or otherwise) at stake. Back when I thought Flavor Flav would be more of a Crypt Keeper figure and provide bookends for the movie, I was already willing to give Dead Tone a look-see, but the part that really sold me was the line BASED ON TRUE EVENTS inconspicuously plastered on the DVD cover. Sadly, the truth is less than interesting: there doesn't seem to be any actual story, as distant and unrelated as it may be to the final product, that inspired producer Taylor, star Brian Hooks and Vashon Nutt to write the film. It's basically just a riff on Urban Legend: it may have happened, or at least you heard it did, for serious. Here's a funnier true story: Taylor and one of the producers of Dead Tone are hard at work at a new horror movie called Chain Letter, which Taylor claims will be "intellectual".
Good news first: despite all of the factors working against Dead Tone, the movie is actually fairly pleasant for a slasher flick when there's actual slashing to be had. In addition to co-writing, Hooks and Taylor serve as the film's co-directors, and any scene in the movie involving axe murdering is no better or worse than your average Friday the 13th movie. If that's your cup of tea (as it is mine), I doubt the viewer will find anything to complain about for these short stretches, even if there's nothing mind-bogglingly original on deck either. Taylor and Hooks' only real problem in the scare department is their absolute insistence on full-blast soundtrack jolts whenever something scary happens. It's already a cliche, but the up-to-11 volume enthusiastically takes the practice into self-parody.
The bad news: bloodletting only makes up for 30% of these 99 minutes, and the other stuff is pretty painful. In particular, the characterization of Shawn (Germán Legarreta) and, to a much lesser extent, "Crazy" Cal (Austin Basis) really grates on the nerves. Shawn is the movie's token gay character, and his over-the-top "camp" caricature is actually louder than the jump scares. Every second this guy was on the screen was a second I felt embarrassed for Legarreta and put off that Hooks, Taylor, and Nutt had written such a role. You'd think the trio would have realized they're using Shawn to fill the void in the slasher structure normally occupied by the "token black guy", only worse. "Crazy" Cal, on the other hand, as evidenced by his name, is the stereotypical funny fat guy. Having recently watched all seven American Pie movies, I've become an expert on funny fat guys, and Basis's "comedy" truly resides at the bottom of the "unfunny" barrel, a few notches down from morning radio DJs. Then again, at least Basis gets a chance to turn it around in the wake of danger, revealing a surprise sense of leadership; since Shawn's cattiness is the entirety of his personality, all the time, he gets no such luck.
Even worse than these two performances, however, is the movie's complicated twist ending. Last year, the depressingly dopey My Bloody Valentine 3D committed what I considered to be a slasher no-no: the movie actually lies to you, showing you one or two events as they didn't happen, making it impossible to guess the killer. Dead Tone doesn't go quite that far, but it does hold back several pertinent points of information that make the reveals quite confusing unless the viewer sits there and thinks about it, and who wants to think while watching a movie like this? Flavor Flav is on the cover, man, I don't want to have to analyze it! I also don't want to ruffle anyone's feathers, but there's a few lightly questionable choices in the movie. If you're desperately afraid of spoilers, skip to the next paragraph, but I am going to reveal that a) the killer and their many accomplices are white, b) there's a white character who makes a few racist comments and c) the movie concludes with a white man making a horrible mistake at the expense of a black man. I'm not saying it's necessarily wrong, because to say it's hateful is probably overreacting. But it is there. Take it as you will.
Other than Hooks, who has some relative level of fame, the only recognizable face here is Hauer, and when I said he looked tired, I mean it. It's not so much of a performance as it is a delivery of the lines, even though Hauer is perfectly professional, and never actually looks like he'd rather be somewhere else. Hooks is actually pretty good, as are some of the college-age victims that make up the cast, although I mean "good" within the confines of a slasher movie as opposed to a project where actual acting would be required, and I'll point out again that it wasn't worth memorizing any of the characters' names.
The DVD, Video and Audio
Screen Media sent a DVD-case-sized cardboard sleeve with a "Screening Copy Only" DVD inside of it, so I'm not going to judge the A/V quality of this release, should it change before the title comes out. I imagine Screen Media doesn't want me critiquing a non-anamorphic presentation anyway...
A behind-the-scenes featurette, cleverly titled "Behind the Scenes", will be available on the final version, but was not viewable on my copy. For some reason, the trailer also played before the movie started.
Distributors passed the movie over for five whole years. Even if one of them changed their mind, you don't have to. Skip it.
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