Dark Town (Desi Scarpone, 2004)
Sometimes you watch a bad movie and it’s just bad. You can let that go. No harm no foul. The director is incompetent and/or the actors are amateurs and/or the lighting tech was on acid and/or they decided on a fluffy-bunny soundtrack for a torture porn film or… whatever. And you can just let it go. But then there are the movies where you spend an hour and a half looking at those places where the writer, the director, or both had some really, really good ideas and they went wrong. Even in those cases, sometimes the potential is enough to give the film some redeeming qualities; you can see the flashes of brilliance here and there. And then there is Dark Town, a movie where, if any editing was done to it at all, they took out every glimmer of what was a good movie and left us with this ridiculous attempt at an exploitation film, which manages to exploit nothing but the intelligence and taste of those who keep watching in the vain, ludicrous hope that, somehow, it will improve. I doubt you can call this a spoiler alert given the rest of this paragraph, but just in case, spoiler alert: it doesn’t. It manages to get worse at every turn. Considering how awful it starts out, that’s saying something.
Plot: Curtis Armstrong (Loaded‘s Joel King) is a slumlord who stops by one of his Compton tenements slated for demolition to clear out the squatters. He gets a lot more than he bargained for when he finds out they’re vampires. He goes home to his birthday celebration with an expectant family…and a newfound taste for the red stuff. But this isn’t just any birthday—two (should-have-been-) interesting subplots are about to cross Curtis and family’s path. First, Jen (Janet Martin in her screen debut), Curtis’ prodigal daughter who hates everything about her father and his profession, has been convinced by her girlfriend Lisa (Meghan Stansfield, recently of American Bully) to attend the party and come out. Meanwhile, Rakeem (Sand Sharks‘ Delpaneaux Willis) and his crew of wannabe gangsters, with his sister Tisha (Kobina Wright in, to date, her only feature appearance) in tow after he rescued her from a shootout, are creeping the Armstrong residence after Rakeem’s lawsuit against Curtis—his landlord—was thrown out of court. When a neighborhood watch incident gone horribly wrong winds up with one of Rakeem’s crew shot, they end up hiding out in the Armstrong house for entirely different reasons—and finding out the neighborhood watch is the least of their worries. (Given that Jen and Rakim are the main characters here, one does have to give the screenwriter credit for resisting the obvious temptation to call his opposite number “Erica”. Or was that joke too subtle for these guys?)
You know, the more I think about this movie, the more it could have been a grindhouse classic. You’ve got all the angles here—there’s violence (and some gore, but not at the torture-porn level), there’s acres of gratuitous nudity and one scene of what the MPAA calls “strong sexual content” that should have melted the celluloid used to film it, had anyone involved either in front of or behind the camera had any aptitude for what they were doing. (Both Martin and Stansfield are drop-dead gorgeous; shot correctly, this could easily have rivaled that incredible first clinch between Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly in Personal Best.) There’s typecasting of the basest sort, at least among the wannabe thugs (the lesbians don’t have enough depth of character to be stereotypes, which is the main problem with the scene mentioned above). It’s stupid, stupid, stupid, but it could have been stupid good instead of stupid bad, if you get my meaning. There’s a reason people still watch crap like The Thing with Two Heads and Night of the Lepus and Shriek of the Mutilated decades after they should have faded into obscurity. Dark Town will never achieve the same notoriety. It’s just worthless. (zero)
[note: this is a red-band trailer, viewer discretion blah blah blah.]