STREET TALES OF TERROR (2004)
Directors: J.D. Hawkins, Corey Shields
Writers: J.D. Hawkins, Corey Shields, Franklyn J. Anderson, Ya’Ke Smith
Stars: Corey Shields, Staci Harris, Timothy Eric, Wayne DeHart, Shirley Whitmore, Norelia Reed, Nicole Ford, Loco, Troy Hogan
When you’ve gotten used to watching low-budget features, you learn to analyze them based not on their production values, but on the execution overall. You expect that they’re not going to look as slickly and professionally produced as films coming right out of Hollywood, and frankly, some are really little more than beautifully-produced turds. So with that in mind, the most blunt summation of directors J.D. HAWKINS and COREY SHIELDS’ 2004 anthology, STREET TALES OF TERROR would be this: it’s TALES FROM THE ‘HOOD on a shoestring. Plain and simple. Except that estimation would be unfair, seeing as how the script wasn’t that bad, even if the acting at times doesn’t measure up to it.
Shields does triple-duty here, directing, writing one of the segments and starring as “J-Dog”, one of a trio of thuggish drug peddlers, who double cross the “big dawg” who thinks he runs the outfit, “Street” (LOCO). When the three ambush and kill Street and his partner, Boo (TROY HOGAN), they never counted on the killing being witnessed by a Homeless Man (WAYNE DEHART, actually making a decent effort subbing for Clarence Williams III.)
The movie takes on a low-grade EC Comics-come-to-life kind of vibe, as the old man buys himself some time, by persuading his would-be murderers to let him engage them in a bit of storytelling. Not a bad set-up to allow the three tales to unfold, and all of them, of course, are set in the ‘hood, and work to varying degrees, depending on the performances.
In the first story, a young girl, Jessica (TENIA YARBROUGH) is snubbed by her three girlfriends for being “too good for everyone else.” She follows them to the house of a family that has a private pool, in spite of being told by her Mama (SHIRLEY WHITMORE), that she couldn’t go. I guess if you’re an experienced horror fan, you know what happens next. Yep, basically, Jessica drowns and her three “friends” do nothing to help her, leaving her body by the pool and telling her mother later that they never saw her.
Flash-forward several decades. The girls are all grown now, and the guilt-ridden Judy (SHAWNETTE STEWART), who’s had mental issues her entire life from the incident, now has dreams about Judy coming for them all. The two friends, Miss-Couldn’t-Care-Less Demona (NORELIA REED), and the slightly more empathetic Tonya (AERICKA DENT), chalk it up to Judy’s usual neurotic ways. This being EC territory, of course, they learn too late how wrong they all are.
Story Two is about as subtle as a jackhammer. Jalissa Daniels (NICOLE FORD), a patient at a local clinic, finds herself being haunted by the baby she’s decided to abort, as well as guilt-ridden visions of the psychotic kind, until she decides to keep the baby. Was it all just her, tormenting herself inside her own head about her decision? The ending suggests otherwise.
The third tale is a period piece back in the Seventies, (a bit ambitious for this production), set on the campus of a black college. Three ‘fratbros’, Gerald (MANDELL BUTLER), star athlete “Big Willie” (M.C. BUTLER) and Harold (RASHAD EDWARDS), are sneaking into the girls’ dorm one night, trying to hook up with their ladies, roomies Dora (CANDACE J. BATTLE), Melissa (AZIZA ANDERSON) and “simple, country good girl” Bernice (MYKEL GRAY), who is having none of it.
While Gerald and Harold “party” with the other two girls, Big Willie tries to ply Bernice with a spiked drink and some sweet talk. When that doesn’t work…well, if you’ve ever seen a Tyler Perry play or movie, you know where this one is headed. Six weeks after she’s raped, Bernice finds out that not only is she pregnant by Big Willie just days before graduation, but when she attempts to report it, she winds up expelled from both her graduation and the school instead. With a flourish of heavy-handed symbolism (IS there any other kind in this movie?), Bernice commits suicide, hanging herself with the makeshift rope that the girls used to help the boys sneak in that night.
Do I have to tell you what happens next? Let’s just say that her former roomies and the dudes make it to graduation, but they can forget about using those degrees, since dead people can’t show up for job interviews. At least the third tale ends with a nice little grace note, set in the present day, (and I’ll save that spoiler for you, in case you watch this.)
And in the fine tradition of TALES FROM THE ‘HOOD, the wraparound story brings everything full circle, as J-Dog, Peaches (STACI HARRIS) and Keith (TIMOTHY ERIC), find out the hard way, that you should always take out storytelling old homeless dudes ASAP, unless you want to be dispatched by flesh-eating zombies.
Shields, along with co-writers Hawkins, FRANKLYN J. ANDERSON and YA’KE SMITH, had the best of intentions with this script, but what they were shooting for far exceeded their very limited budget, and in some cases, the limited talents of a lot of the actors. But as I said before, the budget is kind of a moot point, so let’s focus on two things here: the acting and the special effects.
DeHart’s old man is as perfectly grizzled and shifty as you’d expect, and is at the top of the list here for the actors who gave fairly decent performances. In roles that are tried-and-true stereotypes by now, Shields, Harris and Eric had some halfway decent chemistry, which honestly is one of the things that kept me watching.
Shirley Whitmore as ‘Mama’ in Story One was pretty good, as was Nicola Reed as the bitchy Demona – it was a pleasure seeing her getting her ‘just desserts.’ Nicole Ford in Story Two made the most of a thankless role, and the story was just too ham-handed with the subject matter, for her performance to transcend that obstacle. Story Three’s actors were mostly “alright” on a community theater level, but it never got much better than that.
The practical effects were pretty much “Party City” level at best, especially the zombies in the wraparound’s conclusion, but at least the effort was made. Same with the homegrown-style visual effects in the first and second tales.
All-in-all, STREET TALES OF TERROR is more or less just an amusing time-passer, while we wait for the recently- announced sequel to that other “TALES” to be produced and written by RUSTY CUNDIEFF and DARIN SCOTT once again for SPIKE LEE. This TALES ranks a very generous two-and-a-half out of five stars, for telling fitfully entertaining, if familiar stories from the EC vault, with a hip-hop vibe to them.