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RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 120 Minutes
Making of Nite Tales: The Series
Immediate Regret and Existential Depression About the Life-choices That Led You to Watch This
Following the commercial and critical drubbing that pounded 2008’s Nite Tales: The Movie, an anthology film that offered up two separate tales of do-badders receiving cosmic justice at the hands of backwoods country folk and snarling spirits, someone had the bright idea of to transport these tepid, twenty-minute tales of fear and trepidation to the small screen. That man is Deon Taylor, whose name I will never speak again, for he is now the subject of a damnatio memoriae.
Director: He Who Shall Not Be Named
Writer: He Who Shall Not Be Remembered
Cast: President Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Camille Romestrand, Gary Busey, Essence Atkins, Kel Mitchell,
The Dominatrix Outfit of Brigitte Nielsen, Flavor Flav
What we have are five episodes of a joyless, desultory anthology series, each of which are bookended with Flavor Flav uncomfortably framing the narrative of the show. Supposedly, this is supposed to be a horror show in the tradition of Tales from the Crypt and countless other morality plays about bad people getting what they deserve. Instead, what we get is a bad mix of boring characters and tame plotlines that barely resolve into coherent stories. Everything is played almost Goosebumps safe, the audience never gets to have fun, and it’s a big waste of time for everyone involved.
Because Flavor Flav is clearly the selling point of this show, I have to spend a little time talking about him, or at least talking about how he was badly miscast as the host. At best, the most famous William J. Drayton gets about two minutes of screen time per episode, although you might think he’d get more from the packaging material. He’s front and center on the DVD box, and the text on the back makes several ‘humorous’ puns around his stage name. Even the show is credited to him in the online marketing, calling it “Flavor Flav’s Nite Tales: The Series.”
There’s certainly good reason for that. With his history as the most clownish member of Public Enemy – the mischievous, grinning counterbalance to Professor Griff’s dour, menacing persona – and his three-season search for twue wuv on VH1, he’s garnered a reputation for being charismastic, goofy and slightly more self-aware than an autistic boulder. Unfortunately, his talents are sorely misused here. Flavor Flav is at his best when he’s being Flavor Flav; what people like about him is that he’s a flawed, silly guy. His boring role as the Timekeeper, which I guess is both a pun on Flav’s history of wearing clocks and a call-back to the Cryptkeeper, never serves as anything more than stale window dressing.
I’m not sure it could ever have been anything more than that. The Cryptkeeper itself is an iconic figure and will forever be associated with late-night tales of horror. Between his career in hip-hop and his mid-decade reinvention as a staple of reality TV programming, Flavor Flav, for better or worse, is also an iconic figure in pop culture. Combining the two was never going to be more than the sum of it’s parts, and, with this kind of lifeless writing, it’s far, far less.
When a television show miscasts its host this badly, it should become clear that nothing else is going to go right, either. Mostly, the writing and the format itself are to blame. A twenty-minute episode doesn’t give a writer enough time to do the things that he needs to do to establish an emotional relationship between the audience and the characters – nor does it allow him enough time to create an interesting plot with those characters and come to a satisfying conclusion.
You need a team of writers to come together to make a format like this function, and it’s clear that didn’t happen here. Each episode is credited to one writer, and putting that amount of workload on one person’s shoulders is a recipe for disaster. Tales from the Crypt was able to do this, because each episode of that series was adapted from previously-written comic books. For reasons beyond my ability to prognosticate – whether the writer didn’t have enough skill to pull this off, or if it really was a problem with the format – the writing just doesn’t work.
It’s the same problem in every episode. There’s a lot of build-up, but the show ends at the climax. There’s no denouement to resolve any of the issues that the episodes bring up, so the characters are all left hanging. All of the kills happen offscreen, which sucks all of the tension out of the show. It makes everything feel safe and tepid, and that’s not something I should be feeling when watching a horror show. Things don’t need to be ultra-gory, but I need to feel some kind of anxiety or tension.
There are no stand-outs here. None of the episodes are worth watching, and the only performance that even approaches the plateau of “Passable” is that of Scandinavian rock star and royalty-dater Camille Romestrand. She stars in both “Dark Heart” and “Black Widow,” the only actor to play multiple roles on the show, and I imagine that’s due to her being the only person on set who could actually read the lines with some level of scene-appropriate emotion.
The first episode, Night Watch, deals with a night shift security guard at a department store whose job it is to keep the mannequins from committing nefarious crimes at night, or something like that. Anyway, he fails, and he gets turned into a mannequin by the time dawn arrives, although how this happens is never really explained. I’m pretty sure that Rihanna is in this episode, too, or she was at least the model for one of the mannequins.
Dark Heart, the second episode, deals with a trio of attractive ladies as they struggle with the death of one of their fathers. That makes the show sound far more interesting than it is. What really happens is that they go see a psychic who summons this guy back from the dead, due to one of the women having an impure soul, a conscience burdened by guilt. By the end of the episode, we find out that one of the ladies was responsible for the father’s death when she accidentally unplugged one of the machines that was keeping him alive. Then, she gets pulled into an elevator by a guy in a demon mask, and the episode ends. Resolution!
Trapped, which is by a mild length the worst of the lot, stars six C- and D-level celebrities who wake up in an iron enclosure with no way out. They have no memory of how they got there, and, in a twist that I suppose is referencing Saw, they begin to blame each other for their predicament. Of course, they all stumble upon the moral lesson that they have to work together to escape their confines. Do they? Nope! Turns out they’re all really just toys in a box. It’s fitting, since they all have the same flat, screeching, one-dimensional personalities. Presumably, this episode stars Tiny Lister and Gary Busey, although it’s rather difficult to tell if Busey actually knew where he was or what he was doing during filming.
In ‘I’m A Star,’ a young and talented emcee decides to skip on the whole ‘struggle until you make it’ aspect of the music business and just cash in at the start of his career by faking his own death. Dying before their time sure worked out great for Biggie, Tupac, Cobain, Morrison, Elvis, Hendrix, Sid Vicious, Joplin, Aaliyah, Mercury, Rhoads, Jackson, Gaye, Selena, Allman, Lennon, Holly, Staley and Hoon, so he’s sure it’ll work for him, too. Although, it would be some kind of awful cosmic injustice if the guy who was supposed to dig him out of his grave was killed by gangsters and buried on top of his casket. Yep, that would be a shame. I guess the joke’s on him.
Black Widow stars the black leather dominatrix outfit of Brigitte Nielsen, who plays an agoraphobe that murders every man who comes inside her house, using their skin to make leather Otterboxes. Her daughter, who is totally keen to the family business, meets a well-muscled and chisel-chinned boy who finds her attractive and unfortunately ends up as an iPhone case, where he’s really able to let his acting talents shine.
Everything is poorly done. Even the music is bad. The episodes are girded with a soundtrack that’s full of dimestore keyboards and bad synthetic warbles. It sounds cheap, serving only to suck the audience out of an already dreadful production.
It’s all a bit of a terrible mess. There are some decent ideas in there, but the execution is way, way off.
As bad as the television episodes were, I wasn’t expecting much from the single featurette, but I was so badly mistaken. The “Making of Nite Tales” featurette is a goldmine of terrible ideas. Several of the actors talk about what it was like to film the show while they’re in character. I don’t know how you screw up this badly. You’ve got a group of people whose combined filmographies are far more varied and interesting than anything in this television show; they’re certainly more interesting than the characters they played on the show. I’d love to see a feature of them actually talking about the motivations they had for taking on such a bad project. But, nope. What we get are some bad actors in their one-dimensional characters, talking about making these shows as if they were documentaries.
Nothing works here. It’s clear that some of the actors were having fun on set or were at least happy to get some work. Still, the audience doesn’t get to enjoy any of the fun the actors were having. It’s an abyss of talent, divorced from both fun and fear.
So, I’m going to break my earlier rule. I’m taking back the damnatio memoriae, at least for long enough to say this: Deon Taylor, you owe it to the people who have watched this film to make something better than this wretched pile of wasted film and DVD’s. You clearly have connections in the industry. Use them and make something that’s worth your audience’s time.