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Case Number 18367: Small Claims Court

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Dead Tone

Screen Media Films // 2007 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // February 19th, 2010

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker was wondering if you had pig's feet?

The Charge

Play the game. Obey the rules. Pray for mercy.

The Case

The old prank call game, a pastime made obsolete with the advent of Caller ID, is resurrected in Dead Tone, a cheesy little slasher that gets a small assist from that renowned horror authority…Flavor Flav?

In the tradition of Slaughter High, we begin with an episode from the past. Ten years ago, a bunch of kids made prank calls while their parents partied in the next room. Apparently, one of their targets gets tired of being repeatedly asked if he's got Prince Albert in a can and shows up uninvited to the soiree wielding an axe. Hack hack, chop chop, and a few gruesome jump cuts later, all the grownups look like julienne fries. The kids who started this whole mess survive by cleverly hiding under the bed and whimpering.

In the tradition of The Burning, we fast forward ten years and find that kids haven't changed much in the past decade or so. The kids here are still making these stupid crank phone calls (only now, they think to dial *67 first, to block the outgoing number). They're playing a game called "Seventy Five," and the goal is to keep some poor sap on the line for 75 seconds. However, the killer of yore has apparently heard about this cool new game, because we watch some heavily tattooed sucker get Seventy-Fived and seconds later, he's Eighty-Sixed by some mad thing in a hoodie.

In the tradition of Halloween, there's an older, "name" actor on the case—in this instance, Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner) as the cop who investigated the decade-old axe-and-prank-call slaughter and who sees a similarity in this most recent killing.

In the tradition of virtually every slasher movie ever made, a bunch of overripe, prank-playing "college kids" head out to a party at a secluded house somewhere. They are maybe or maybe not being followed by a (the?) killer, who might or might not have a connection to them or perhaps is or perhaps is not one of them.

All I know is when the phone starts a-ringin', the axe starts a-swingin'—which would have been a cool tagline for this silly and overcomplicated '80's slasher throwback.

Dead Tone—originally titled 7eventy 5ive—is derivative as the day is long, confusing as the night is dark, and dumb as the dew is damp. It's also goofy fun and an acceptable entry in the no-budget, post-Millennial slasher heap.

It actually starts out pretty promisingly, with the business from "ten years ago" yielding some worthwhile grue, then segueing right into the contemporary killing. We then get parallel stories, one featuring our crew of "kids" going to the party, the other offering Hauer's dogged cop still hung up on the inexplicably unsolved axe murder of yore.

We soon find out that tattoo guy isn't the only recent victim; in fact, there's a killing spree in progress, which might or might not be tied to the old killing, the kids at the party, etc. Hauer's job is to drop little clues so we can slowly put the plot together; unfortunately, his little clues are a bit too little and only barely relevant to the big reveal at the end.

The problem is that instead of giving us a simple slasher/mystery that goes from Point A to Point B, Dead Tone is overflowing with convoluted plot points and extraneous characters. We get eight main potential victims, plus another two dozen who turn up at the party, plus a whole bunch of other people in semi-related, off-screen killings. With so many characters, the indifference factor is jacked way up, so you really don't care who meets a grisly demise. We also have to accept that a party filled with loud, drunk, and horny college kids (of various generations) will grind to a halt so that everyone can play a game of prank phone calling.

The worst, however, is the "big reveal," that ever-anticipated moment in any mystery-slasher when you learn the killer's identity. This is the point where all the stuff that's gone before comes together and the little odds and ends get tied up in a semi-logical way. Only here, the revelation is less than revelatory, with a long, long explanation that tells us stuff we should have been seeing all along. It only really solves one of several mysteries going on here, leaving a decidedly unsatisfying feeling at the end of an overlong 99-minute run time.

The whole thing never really comes together in the way that even the many generic slashers of the '80s did.

By the way, if you're wondering what Flavor Flav has to do with any of this, the answer is…barely anything. Apparently, Dead Tone has been co-opted as part of a series called Flavor Flav's Nite Tales, which thus far consists of this DVD; a DVD called Nite Tales; and a syndicated TV series, also called Nite Tales. For Dead Tone, Flav's contributions are minimal: his mug on the box cover; a brief appearance before the film in which he introduces himself as "the Timekeeper" and then disappears; and some meandering about in the idiotic and useless two-minute "Behind the Scenes" featurette that is the disc's lone extra.

As for the rest of the disc, picture and audio are just fine—1.78 anamorphic picture, stereo sound, nothing great, but it does the job.

The Verdict

"Mindless" is a word generally associated with slasher pics, and on that score, Dead Tone fills the bill admirably. It's generically suspenseful and silly, but not bad as a time waster. If, like me, you prefer your killers straightforward—the acid bath kid or the dead camper's mom, for instance—be prepared to be let down by Dead Tone's overwritten but lazy denouement.

A little guilty, but not off the hook.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Screen Media Films
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette


• IMDb

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