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STUDIO: BET Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
• Behind-the-scenes featurette.
“Take Creepshow, but instead of bringing in names like Romero and King, drop in that guy with the big clock necklace.”
Andrea Bogart, Christopher Michael Holley, Joe Torry, Sandra McCoy, Ray J, Sticky Fingaz, Tony “Candyman” Todd.
“Hosted” by Flavor Flav.
Thanks to the overwhelming success of Grindhouse, anthologies are the way to go these days. Hooray! In Karma, a quartet of bank robbers fall to infighting after a small-town heist goes awry, winding up stranded in the back woods with the victims of their crime. In Storm, some horny teenagers try to summon Bloody Mary during a lonely night, and it sort of works. Oops.
There’s something about short-form fiction that just does it for me. Short stories don’t get widely consumed in today’s fiction markets, at least not on an individual basis. I love that short stories can concern themselves with creating an interesting scenario, without having to worry as much about investing in character. Mainstream horror stories in particular seem well-suited to the shorter side of things. In the majority, horror writers concern themselves more with the scenario than the characters anyway. Sounds like a good fit to me. Give me a short, punchy horror story and get out before those elements of horror which rely on audience affection (bad acting, weak dialogue) overwhelm.
So, here I am all googly-eyed over short film anthologies, and forgetting even to consider that short stories can still be cruddy enough to counterbalance the naturally good qualities of shorts. Silly Ian.
This man’s shorts are full of good qualities.
With Nite Tales, the fear of crud begins to bubble at the introduction of our evening’s host: one Mister Flavor Flav, esq, noted horror actor and fan, who— Oh. Nope. Nevermind. Flav has no meaningful connection to the genre. He does get the box cover, though. We may need to come up with a new definition of “overexposed,” seeing as how only no exposure seems to be bad exposure these days.
With his customary dignity and poise, Flav drops us into the first of the two tales: Karma. Since premise is king around anthology land, I’m not going to get too concerned about the shoddy effects work and generally flat performances. I’m more interested in how the horror manifests, especially since the scenario in Karma comes from a place much darker than the story turns out to occupy.
On its surface, it’s a bit of retaliation against the Fuck-You-Got-Mine mentality. Each of the four individuals in the robbery gang live inside their egos to one degree or another, and they get what’s coming to them in equal measure. It’s a common theme in horror. I was honestly grabbed from the get-go by Karma, though, because of the key positions that race relations and gang mentality appeared to hold.
“White people talk to the hand like this.”
In a small formation, like that of the robbers, a gang is held together by belligerence. Where horror generally shows the descent of a human from social animal to ego-driven thing of pure survival instinct, Karma starts out at a low point and takes a shot at digging under ground level. There’s a touch of camaraderie felt between the newbie and the fellow who brought him in on the job, but that’s the only human connection in the whole story, if you don’t count swearing and threats. The tiered, violent makeup of the gang gets emphasized by a couple of twists in the plot, to good effect, eventually revealing each member at his most selfish. It doesn’t get beyond that point, though, despite a premise and a promise which suggest it might. What’s more, the small kindnesses between the newbie and his pal don’t get rewarded, which gives an awkward impression of action and reaction in the Karma world.
While the gang members do plenty to foil themselves, the story leaves room for a group of antagonists. It’ll be hard to find a crew more appropriate than what Nite Tales ended up with, here. I’m going to spoil their character, because they’re just too great not to appreciate. You know how sometimes the bad guys are rednecks, scary because they’re barbarians? And sometimes the bad guys are cultists, scary because they possess the unknowable? And still other times the bad guys are cannibals, scary because they eat goddamn humans?
Yep. All three, combined into a single group. One reveleation after another. I loved it.
After the humor, though, I was craving a bit of racial tension to give the content relevance. It seemed as if it were coming: Black hoodlums hold up an exclusively white bank in a rural town. Cultures obviously clash. A divide of values, ideals, practices which a racist couldn’t help but believe was caused by race. It looked tailor-made for at least a sly, perhaps racist comment of its own on race relations. Sadly, the core of the conflict has no explicit bearing on race, leaving a vacuum. It kind of has the feeling of a joke without a punchline. It plants seeds of a well-grounded horror story but, just like with evangelism, planting seeds is not a good way to tell your story.
Anyway, Karma makes two promises about its content and weakly fills each one of them, while delivering some good gore.
The Candyman can, ’cause he sprinkles it with blood and makes the world taste gooooood.
Then we pass straight on to Storm, with no interference by His Flavoriness. I can’t be as long-winded about Storm because it’s flies far closer to formula than Karma, and its ideas aren’t as big to start with.
Its failures center around its attempt to expand what was a funny gag in Karma — the piling of stereotypical horror villains — into forty-five minutes. Storm starts out with a bit of Bloody Mary, then introduces an evil-looking clown (Tony Todd), who soon falls by the wayside when a crooked cop shows up. By the time the tired “psychopathic killer is on the loose in your neighborhood!” twist shows up, any smart audience will be rolling its collective eyes.
Then again, Storm is plainly not intended for a smart audience. While the plot nods and winks at genre fans, the backbone of the plot is so weak and devoid of tension that those fans probably look away and pretend not to have noticed. At least, because of its length, Storm doesn’t make a big scene. “Hey! Over here! I’m familiar with genre tropes, too!”
Oh, uh. That’s nice. I’ve got a… thing. I’ll see ya.
Taken individually, Karma ranks a few rungs up the ladder from Storm, in my opinion, but the ladder is a long one and even Karma didn’t make it too far up. Taken as a whole, both stories pale in comparison to the spirited and passionate prelude and endnote by His Holiness, the Right Honorable Flavor Flav, our Lord and Savior.
All you get is a little behind-the-scenes material with writer/director Deon Taylor, who is trying his damndest to turn himself into a brand name, a la Tyler Perry. Not too informative, plenty declarative.
The show itself is in letterbox format, not anamorphic widescreen, which is kind of pesky. While I’m nitpicking: who the hell is directly to the left of Flav on the box cover? And who wrote the ad copy on the back of the box? I mean:
“Suddenly a knock at the door reveals a strange visitor who is trying to find shelter from the rain. It ends up being a decision that will cost them their lives!”
I write better than that, for crying out loud, and I’m the one who fell in love with his semi-colon key.