Has there ever been a made-for-television horror movie centralizing an all-black cast? Emphasis on made-for-television. TVOne, a cable network described as a "trusted storyteller and voice of black culture" seems to be expanding its programming horizons in honor of the Halloween season with its "first, original horror film", The Fright Night Files. This television anthology flick displays Lynn Whitfield looking to best Serling and Elvira as our hostess Madame Mabry for the evening, telling three tales that are over the top and too similarly tangled in themes of love, romance, and obsession gone awry. Describing this project as intriguing goes without saying. Here is an offering of a brief synopsis and assessment of each story.
Unwilling to move on, Marla consults Mabry (Whitfield), our hostess, about ways to keep her man. Mabry basically offers her a "love potion" for a hefty monetary price that promises to mend her engagement and maintain Lockwood's affections. As one could imagine, this does not end well.
What's concluded is a drawn out, slightly uncomfortable sequence of scenes of domestic abuse, rape, and a hyperbole of dependence that could easily be triggers of terror that were executed with a level of amateurism that made it even less enjoyable. The twist was way too sudden, and if hinted at more after Lockwood became spellbound, would've made the short slightly better.
Starring Harry Lennix, Victoria Rowell, Davetta Sherwood, Karrueche Tran
Ronald (Lennix) enters his house to find his girlfriend Jessica (Sherwood), a young woman who looks more like his daughter chanting in a circle with a couple of her friends with symbols painted on their heads. Through with her young chick antics, Ronald asks her to pack and leave, their relationship is over. Jessica not taking the news well, reluctantly exits. Ronald, now feeling free to exclusively date his older, much more maturer new girlfriend Alexa (Rowell), Jessica puts a bad juju on Ronald's house when she "gifts" him a charmed mirror. Trickery ensues because Jessica simply refused to let her sugar daddy be.
The seasoned acting of Lennix, Rowell, and some brief scenes with Richard Gant who will be to me always a possessed-heart eating "Jason" from Jason Goes To Hell saves this segment. The story and whiny Jessica not so much. The design of the mirror is great, I just wish it was utilized more intricately to build suspense and a meatier story not fueled by the simplicity of a scorned ex-lover.
"Pillow Talk Channel 187"
Starring Elise Neal, Bokeem Woodbine
By far the best of the three, popular radio hostess Coffee Black (Neal) is a professional and a lover who's always looking for her next conquest. Along with a snappy and very entertaining producer with whom the chemistry is palpable, Black sits in a studio on late nights and dishes love advice and screens for suitors with smooth ease.
Woodbine comes in as Isiah, the high school catalyst that once shunned a much less confident teen-aged Black whom he now sees as the butterfly who got away. And Black didn't forget the rejection when he talks to her at a meet-and-greet.
Strange calls begin to come in during her shifts. Men who in detail recount their time with Black who are now dead. This escalates into a descent where we see the bold Black's facade crumble as the madness of her monstrosity begins to reveal itself.
This is what I wanted. Neal's Coffee Black was the most intriguing character in this entire movie and with some smart writing, could easily be a feature. I'm not the biggest fan of an overwhelming amount of sexy romantic antics in my horror, but it works well in "Pillow Talk" because it is balanced as a psychological thriller with solid, creepy moments.
The Fright Night Files suffers more from Whitfield's bad accent and predictable voodoo priestess caricature. I'm starting to wonder if TVOne or the writers are implying that the only way for horror to be palatable to a predominantly Black audience is through heavy-handed, bad "love" stories. All three segments working with that theme kinda took away from an opportunity to be edgy and creative. It felt safe with an unfortunate cast of characters you don't really get to know or care much about. It almost felt like a VH1 reality show with some maybe-witches and ghosts.
If I were to suggest a watch, it would only to be examine as fans of horror what we want in regards to discourse on "Black horror" and how to conceptualize it in the 21st century. The Fright Night Files is an earnest effort, but relatively passionless for the genre.
You have the option of watching a re-airing on Halloween. But I'd just DVR it and have fun watching your favorite scary movie that night.