Studio: Patriot Pictures
Director: Darin Scott, Rusty Cundieff
Writer: Darin Scott, Rusty Cundieff
Producer: Michael Mendelsohn, Jim Steele
Stars: James Duval, Vivica A. Fox, Noel G, Barry Shabaka Henley, Tamala Jones, Chris Kattan, Jared Kusnitz, Jay Mohr, Nichelle Nichols, Jason Olive, Brendan Sexton III, Jimmy Shubert, Danny Trejo, Clarence Williams III
Mr. Malevolent forces two computer hackers to watch seven terrifying tales of racism, murder, misogyny, and greed.
Whoever holds or held proper rights sold or licensed the name “Creepshow” to an independent outfit called Taurus Entertainment Company in the mid-aughts. The unfortunate result was “Creepshow 3” (review here), a sequel in name only that virtually turned the top title in horror anthologies into mud. Without involvement from Stephen King, George A. Romero, or anyone else who made the first two films in the franchise, “Creepshow 3” looked like a cable access production thrown together by complete amateurs. The less said about this DTV disaster, the better.
The quality drop-off isn’t nearly as steep, but “American Nightmares” points “Tales from the Hood” masterminds Darin Scott and Rusty Cundieff toward similarly declining circumstances. Titled “Tales from the Crib” once upon a time, but possibly renamed due to a C&D or a desire to not unnecessarily taint the “Hood” brand through adjacency, “American Nightmares” essentially operates as “Tales from the Hood 3.” It has Scott and Cundieff’s same sense of current cultural awareness applied to EC Comics terror tales of vengeful comeuppance. What it doesn’t have is “Tales from the Hood’s” wry edge of wit or professionally sharpened appearance.
Mr. Simms gets downgraded to Mr. Malevolent in the movie’s bizarre wraparound. Hamming it up as the horror host, Danny Trejo torments two webcam hackers by taking over their monitors and forcing them to watch several stories for whatever reason.
“Star Trek’s” Nichelle Nichols sits across from Trejo as ‘Mystic Woman.’ Nichols does little more than mutter an incoherent word during every other interlude, yet we learn the stories come from her even though Mr. Malevolent introduces them. It makes about as much sense as having three seductive witches suddenly conjure a creature to decapitate one of the hackers. These bookends have “creative compromise” and “rushed production” stamped all over their impression of incompleteness.
The first full story tells the tale of a domestic abuser getting his due while his victim finds her ideal man in unusual form. “Mates” means well, and has one of the better setups of the eight segments. But Tamala Jones’ pancake-flat performance and some impatient editing inject herky-jerkiness indicative of the overall movie’s uneven elements.
Jay Mohr headlines “The Prosecutor.” Evidenced again when Chris Kattan appears later, the anthology’s star power never really rises higher than mid-tier SNL alumni. Vivica A. Fox might be the movie’s biggest name, but I timed it, and her face only appears onscreen for exactly seven seconds.
Regardless, “The Prosecutor” properly plays like a quick “Tales from the Crypt” episode, making it the most robust piece in “American Nightmares.” As fully-fleshed as it feels, “The Prosecutor” doesn’t come off as completely thought through since the “what goes around comes around” consequence for its titular villain requires an innocent wife and two children to be murdered. That’s a disturbing result to root for.
Brendan Sexton III lays racism on thick as a disgraced ex-cop in “White Flight.” Sexton’s character plays all the bigotry hits, equating a Polynesian man with Charlie Chan, a Mexican with beans, and a black man with malt liquor, welfare, and crack.
Misguidedly, Rusty Cundieff’s “White Flight” script also swipes at Ted Nugent and MAGA, ensuring that those who most need to hear this story’s message will have put fingers in their ears to thwart perceived “leftist Hollywood propaganda.” This segment’s “Twilight Zone” tone takes another pie in its face from awful wigs and other corniness. “White Flight” concocts several potentially chilling scenarios, but confusingly adds camp to prevent taking it seriously.
Chris Kattan surprises with an on point, albeit brief, role in “The Samaritan.” Then he changes into a clown costume with a balloon animal phallus and tone takes a sharp turn into absurdity. I’d be surprised to learn it took Cundieff longer than one lunch break to write this forgettable filler.
“Hate Radio” hits a number of hot button buzzwords like libtard, feminazi, manhater, and metrosexual in its story of a right-wing radio host who has to put a high heel on the other foot to face a serial killer. A paper-thin premise redundantly rings the same bell as “White Flight.” “Hate Radio” also makes the same mistake as that segment by directly including a Donald Trump reference, again guaranteeing that the theme only preaches to the choir or falls on deaf ears.
“American Nightmares” would be better off if its pieces were as strong as “The Healer.” This tale of tables turned on a phony faith healer is both formulaic and heavy-handed, but no more so than the four-color comics inspiring such stories in the first place. To the point and produced reasonably well, “The Healer” showcases “American Nightmares” at its relative best.
“Thy Will Be Done” goes in an opposite direction of quality. Hotspots blow out actors’ faces in exterior shots. A silly CGI creature and sillier makeup job on its human incarnation perpetuate cheapness. “Thy Will Be Done” isn’t just the last short in the anthology. It was likely the last segment shot as the pro-choice parable reeks of cut corners, carelessness, and having run out of money.
The dip in visible production value between “Tales from the Hood” (review here) and its official sequel (review here) thinned the ice underneath Darin Scott and Rusty Cundieff’s filmmaking feet. “American Nightmares” comes close to cracking it completely.
Coals of creativity exist inside several stories even though none are polished into diamonds. Ultimately, I acknowledge “American Nightmares” with a mid-range grade out of admiration for its sincere intent to edutain. I’m merely discouraged that its creators slid from one of the most relevant horror anthologies of all-time to a VOD cheapie below the standard for their established talent.
Without a doubt, Cundieff and Scott would be first to agree they need bigger budgets to incentivize ideas and properly shape their visions onscreen. They probably grew weary of waiting for phantom funding and simply rolled forward down whatever avenues were available. But if Cundieff and Scott continue lessening the appeal of their efforts with green screen sets, unexciting casts, and mediocre morality tales swinging at low-hanging fruit, their next anthology could give “Creepshow 3” a run for its nonexistent money.
Review Score: 50