I made a lot of prank calls as a kid. My friends and I were bastards like that. Chances are, if you accidentally dialed one of our cell phones, at some point in time we would be calling you back about something stupid. If you and your friends liked to hang out in the park and do whatever it is teenagers would do out in the woods, there was a non-insignificant chance that we’d be hanging out just out of sight and would be calling you on the park’s pay phone and trying to creep you out. Luckily, we never got caught or otherwise dealt with any negative repercussions of doing this so much. I like to think that this movie was my karmic retribution for being such a little shit in my youth.
“Dead Tone” is a stale, derivative entry into an already stale and derivative genre. I have no less than five movies written down in the notes I took while watching this film which this movie unabashedly stole from, in some cases stealing complete lines of dialogue (those movies if you’re curious are “Scream”, “Deliverance”, “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, “The Shining” and “Night of the Living Dead”). Ultimately, it unfortunately finds itself in that middle ground where it’s not good enough to be enjoyable yet not bad enough to be funny.
The film starts with one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. Apparently, this film is an entry into Flavor Flav’s “Nite Tales” horror anthology, which is something I’ve never heard of before watching this film. As such, the film starts with Flavor Flav decked out kind of like a vampire, walking through a horrible computer generated crypt. Referring to himself as “The Timekeeper”, Flav introduces the movie and then never appears again. This was obviously completely tacked on after the film was completed as some sort of cash grab (though seriously, how much money do you think Flavor Flav’s name would lend the film?) as nothing ever comes from this, he never specifically mentions this film by name and there’s no corresponding bookend at the end of the film like you’d have in a typical episode of “Tales from the Crypt” or other horror anthologies. I do have to say though, Flavor Flav makes an awesome real-life Crypt-Keeper. Seriously, the resemblance is uncanny and they both have a knack for puns and rhymes.
It’s all downhill from there though. The film starts with a group of children at a sleepover making prank calls, while their parents are drinking in some sort of swinger party the next room over. It’s weird. Later that night, one of their prank call victims traces the call and shows up with an axe and murders all the parents. The film then flashes forward ten years and we find out that the murders are still unsolved. This is troublesome however, as the children were making the pranks calls from the phonebook, so presumably the kids who survived would have known the name and address of the killer, meaning that the cops in this film (which includes Rutger Hauer) might have to be some of the dumbest cops in America. You really can’t think too much about this film.
Anyways, we find that the children that survived the murders are now all buddies and go to the same College. We also find out that the killer is alive and well, and is now systematically prank calling the surviving children, tormenting them over the phone and then offing them one by one (like I said, I wrote down “Scream”). Despite the horrendous trauma inflicted upon them as children as a result of prank calling, we learn that the kids play a game called “Seventy-Five” where they prank call random people and see if they can keep them on the line for seventy five seconds. Some people never learn.
In an amazing bit of continuity, the adult actors in this film are just as shitty and annoying as the children actors. The script supervisor really deserves some kudos for this. It’s uncanny. Seriously though, the characters in this movie are unbelievably annoying and horrendously cliched. You’ve got your smarmy douche-bag who cheats on his girlfriend, the girlfriend that still loves the smarmy douche-bag, the sassy latina, the outrageously gay latino friend (borderline homophobically offensive if I may add), and let’s not forget generic black comic-relief side-kick who throws out such great one liners such as “damn!” and “sheee-it!”. You know these characters, you’ve seen them a billion times. There’s absolutely no depth to any of them. Rarely have I come across a bunch of characters that I’ve cared about this little. It kept me from relating to and ultimately really caring about what happened to anyone in the movie.
Barreling on into the cliched tropes a little more, the film finds all the characters at a crazy college party at an abandoned reality TV house in the woods. While at the party, one of the students whips out their Cisco conference call phone they must always carry along with them and the students begin another game of “Seventy Five”. In a not-so surprising twist, they just happen to call up the same killer from before, who was in the midst of another murder. He later shows up decked out in what I like to call the “I Know What You Did Last Winter” look, with a parka and a fire axe. Again, there’s really no new ground covered here plot-wise. Some kids have sex, they get killed with an axe, some other kids get high and have sex, they get killed with an axe, process continues until there’s only a handful of kids left.
I won’t spoil the film’s ending in case there’s anyone out there that really wants to watch this, but even the ending is a rip-off. In this case, take a couple dashes of the twist from “Scream” and throw in some “Night of the Living Dead” social commentary, and you’ve got the ending of this movie. Again, nothing new.
Ultimately, there’s very little reason for me to recommend this. While the film is shot pretty well for being so low budget, the plot is just so derivative and generic it’s difficult to really care about what’s going on in the film. I will say, I watched this film alone on a Sunday morning, but I could see it being a more enjoyable watch with some beer and some friends. In that setting, this may be a decent way to kill an otherwise boring Tuesday night. Outside of that though, I’d say just pop in “Scream” and watch the film that this is trying to be.