Dark Dealer (1995)
WRITERS: Screenplay by Tom Alexander and Wynn Winberg
DIRECTOR: Tom Alexander
STARRING: Richard Hull Jr. as Ray
Kim Frazier as Denise
Jeff English as Cracker
Rocky Patterson as Pete
Vincent Gaskins as Samson Burke
Gordon Fox as Nickodemus
Kevin Walker as Phillip Barton
Deborah Nunez as Anne Taylor
Mark Fickert as The Dealer
QUICK CUT: Running from a glowing orb of doom leads a guy into a blackjack game from hell, and the ante is his soul! And then some other guys tell their stories.
Ray - A down on his luck guy who cares about his girlfriend, and will do almost anything for her, including confronting a drug dealer without much of a plan. Also, he'll say hey to a glowing orb of doom.
Pete - A cheap, lowlife thug who will kick a guy when he's down, terrorise an old man, and do anything to not get caught by the cops. Yeah, he's a real charmer.
Samson Burke - A blues musician who died way before this movie started, and is still somehow playing cards for his soul. He's clever, he's crafty, and he just might beat the dealer.
Phillip - An attorney that specialises in the entertainment industry, and has designs of his own to write music. He becomes the target of Samson's vengeance after his weasley ways get the better of him.
The Dealer - Our host for the evening, and they coulda played him evil and demonic, but instead the movie just makes him a little bit Puckish in his behaviour. He's also a little too easily tricked. If I'm ever in a card game for my soul, I hope I get this goober.
THE GUTS: It's been awhile since I've done any anthology movies, and those always seem to be fun. Or, they seem to be three movies of pain for the price of one, which is a sucky deal. But y'all seem to enjoy 'em, so I guess I'll keep doing 'em.
This time out, it looks like I've come up with a bad hand, as the Dark Dealer has come to town, in a movie where people on the verge of death wind up at his table and have to play to win, play to survive.
We start the game with a quick shuffle and some poor guy being chased through a maze of hallways by a disco light ball of doom. It's not long before he finds the security office, and a bisected body of a security guard.
He grabs the dead guard's gun and empties the clip into the cheap lighting effect, that continues to pursue him through the halls and cubicles. This is an awful lot of running to start a movie with. Did I put in an episode of Doctor Who and forget about it?
Ray keeps running until he heads through a door and stumbles into our plot of the movie, or a really shady blackjack game. Possibly both, now that I think about it. Ray's choice is simple; go back out the door and say hey to the glowy orb of doom, or play some blackjack dealt by some low-budget Penn Jillette lookalike asshole, and with total strangers.
Yeah, I'd pick the blackjack too.
Ray asks what the stakes are, and the dealer very loudly announces that the stakes are THEIR SOOOOULS and his face morphs into a demony look. The Dealer has a sense of humour about him, but it's a shame that the budget and cheese kinda hurts it.
As the Dealer starts the game, so to does the first of our stories, which kicks off with a deal gone bad. We don't really know the details, aside from some guy who doesn't have the money for whatever, getting his ass beat by Pete, one of the guys at the Dealer's table, and friend. The only thing stopping them is the timely arrival of cops.
They find refuge in the below-ground apartment of the guy who watched them kick around their executional. Umm, I know they say criminals aren't bright, but should they REALLY be hiding in a place where they can reach through the *window they broke* and touch the blood they spilled with zero effort? Seems a BIT close.
Also, this guy's named Nickodemus, lives underground, and the first thing the criminals comment on is they smell something burning. Well, I smell foreshadowing.
While Pete and Fred sit around and enjoy their skull stew, Nickodemus tells them about his life, and things get creepy and weird as he babbles about random metaphysical research into time, dimensions, and souls.
They discover the stew is...not all it's cracked up to be, or possibly more, and attack Nick. They still want some food though, and raid his fridge. Which is stocked full of meat from floor to top.
And in my opinion, and knowing what I know so far of this guy, I'm willing to bet is closer to the Jeffrey Dahmer fridge than your grandma's. But hey, if you're looking for a bowl of nuts, or a cup of joe...
Nick starts freaking out a little, since he's said he has a 'condition' and he has to maintain control and keep the balance, and head injuries aren't helping him. Our pair of goons think there's more to the story, and a handy doorway opens up to prove them right.
Every time they think Nick is lying, they seem to be able to instantly prove him wrong. He has no electricity? BOOM! flick a few fuses! No gas? BAM there's dinner cooking! No crackers? SHAZAM! there's a cabinet FULL of crackers!! He isn't hiding anything? KAPOW! a door opens up to more things he's hiding!
While they raid Nickodemus' stolen goods storage locker, the old guy tries to make a run for it. Pete sees him running and hits him on the head AGAIN, and drags him into the center of a...wait what?!
Seriously, that wasn't there before. And I don't MIND it being there, but no one else does either, and it's one of those things SOME people might notice, y'know??
And of course, that's when things go horribly wrong, and Nickodemus starts to go one half Incredible Hulk and one half American Werewolf.
Gasp, surprise. He's a demon! Who saw THAT coming?!
While he goes all Nick Smash on Fred and Pete for a bit, it all comes down to Pete pulling a gun and shooting the guy in the VERY LARGE head. At least the transformation was nice enough to provide a giant target, right?
Um, demons go down pretty easy, huh? I mean, one bullet? Not even a special bullet? Spread the word! Satan is lame! Shoot to kill! Go for the headshot!
At least things aren't QUITE done yet, as weirdness strikes and things start burning and turning on. It would be a shame if his death was LITERALLY the end of the weirdness in Nick's apartment. But no! We get lots of fun effects gags now!
There's honestly some good little bits. I love things trying to bash their way out of the fridge, and I hope Fred is regretting the pickles he ate, now. Lots of noise, fun with a record that can't be playing the conversation they just had...fun stuff.
It all comes to a head when a computer starts going crazy with symbols and I *think* some Hebrew, and Satanic things. Which all leads up to them trying to pull a Videodrome with a hand bursting out of it.
The fun and games finally end though, when Nickodemus' body starts glowing atop the pentagram, and the Not Really Dead clause kicks in. Oh good.
And this time, the demon is not so easy to put down. Even better!
The beast stomps around, focused on Pete, while Fred tries to escape. However, he gets distracted when the cleaning service from the otherrealms show up, and start making everything disappear.
Before he can get out the door though, Fred gets eaten while his partner in crime watches. Pete tries to escape out the window he broke earlier and crawl out to his earlier crime scene, but the now transformed bull-like Nickodemus runs up and rams him from behind.
That...doesn't seem to DO anything other than daze the poor guy. He didn't get a unicorn horn up the ass, he didn't seem to break or bleed at all. Just kinda...dangles there. I'm sure he could still climb out?
Before I can ponder it some more, the bull, now with two horns, tries again. This time there is definitely double penetration, and Pete heads off to that blackjack waiting room in limbo.
We then get a brief coda where the cops find the apartment, and question Nick, as he's preparing a nice bowl of Stew Pot Pete, before we rejoin the game already in progress.
I will say this about the first of the stories...it sure was trippy.
Since Pete's hand came up bust, he loses the game and goes to Hell. I guess. Or something. Seemed like a foregone conclusion, but I'll play along for now.
And once Penn is done making Pete melt away into pudding, we get into our second story. I'd be surprised if it's as weird as the first.
We dive into a cheap motel, where a hooker is running around, shouting in Spanish for someone to open the door, someone's dead, open the door... ...What? I took three years of Spanish. THIS is what I apparently use it for.
The manager rushes to the room, opens it up and finds...the guy from the blackjack table! Well, that was a quick story! Okay, let's wrap this up!
Huh, we actually DO go back to the game. And I kinda love Burke complaining about a terrible hand, and how he's already dead. I'm sure they could have come up with better card metaphors, but I do rather like the ones they came up with, even if they are a bit lame.
Anyways, Burke splits his hand of two queens, and says he's got the extra soul to cover the split. There's a joke in here about the black guy having extra soul, but let's just move on...
So we dive back into Burke's story, which *isn't* Burke's story, because he died 35 years before this takes place, the 'present' day of 1995ish. We land in the middle of a rocker who's trying to deal with a statutory rape lawsuit from a 16 year old groupie...man, this better have something to do with the rest of this quickly.
Of course, while Shade gets high and bangs ANOTHER woman, his lawyer gets talked to by his partner, and we find out he has aspirations of being a rocker himself. Well, that's a career shift if ever there was one.
As he's coming home, Phillip stops at a yard sale and buys a trunk full of old record albums, and Burke's demo tape. Ahh, there we go.
He listens to the demo tape, and proceeds to have a nightmare. I dunno, the music wasn't THAT bad. But anyways, Phil stumbles through the dive bar of his nightmares, and Burke is there playing.
After the out and out craziness and the speedy get in and get out of the first story, I think the movie is dropping the ball by focusing on Phillip's languid quest to get Samson Burke's music out to the masses. I really don't care about him chatting with his wife about their legal responsibilities.
The pacing is overall fine for a story like this, but they got me primed with crazy demon bull-man, and now this?
Philip eventually finds out what we all know; Burke died years ago, and no one gives a damn about him, if they even remember him. So what does this lawyer with musical aspirations do with this great music he found? Why, he STEALS it, of course and claims its his own! I'm sure this will end well.
Now, Phil is more interested in 'writing' the songs and selling them to his big-name clients, and then raking in the money. Which has me thinking how hilarious it would be to have a group like, I dunno, Guns N Roses trying to play and adapt an old R&B song to their own style. I've heard country music versions of Aerosmith songs, it's hilarious.
Which becomes even more hilarious when Phillip complains about Burke's mumbling, and how he doesn't know how he'll make a hit if he can't catch the words. Dude. DUDE! Philip created Nirvana!!
And that's when the tapes start talking back to Phil and wanting to negotiate their deal. And Phillip talks back. Because that's not crazy.
Faster than you can say Sammi Curr and Ragman, deals start coming together for Phillip, but Burke strikes from beyond the grave, and tries to pull some tricks to unsettle the lawyer. Lame tricks like making the telltale demo tape jump out of the closet. I dunno, you'd think a ghost could do better than that. He's had thirty years to think this through.
Which is when the ghost dutifully agrees with me and starts slamming doors on his partner so he can't escape and go finish his deals.
This may be the only movie that would somehow make a smash cut into a tape player seem somehow dramatic and important as it delivers Burke's threats. I'm somewhere between impressed and dying from laughter.
On top of all that, a portal to hell opens up and spits out Burke's corpse to come after Phillip. Finally, the weirdness I've wanted for the last half hour.
All this leads to Burke possessing the lawyer's body, somehow blackmailing one of his contacts into doing his music, which makes no sense. "Yes, you have agreed to do what I wanted you to do all along, and now I shall threaten you with a statutory rape case if you don't do it!" "But...but I *want* to play your music!" "OR ELSE!"
Which leaves poor Phillip to find himself sitting at the blackjack table, confused and black. Hey, he said it not me. Man, just play the first hour of the film for him already and get him up to speed.
And with another snap of his fingers, the Dealer sends Philburke down to see management, and lets us get on with our final story, which started the movie, bringing us the full ouroboros.
Which starts off with Ray and his girlfriend complaining about what to do about the money she owes some guys. I'm sensing a theme with this movie's stories.
Ray follows the dude Denise owes money to back to a crack den slash brothel and tries to make a deal. Things seem to be going okay until Ray envisions his girlfriend 'working off' her debt.
Well, that's not gonna help clear her debt any, is it? Cracker notices Ray's shirt from some big pharma company, and comes up with an idea to clear Denise's debt. He'd like Ray to steal his dad's security card to get him into the labs to steal whatever fun new drugs he can come across.
Ray does as he's threatened, gets Cracker the security clearance, and the friendly neighbourhood drug dealer shows up at Pharmco Labs with Denise in tow. Because reasons.
The trio break into what is probably a high school chem lab and steal whatever Cracker can land his paws on.
While futzing around, Cracker decides to try and sample his haul with an old friend he's very familiar with. He knows he's fine and it won't kick in right away, what could possibly go wrong!
So, things go wrong because he tries an experimental form of the drug he's never had before. Oops. Always read the labels.
Rather than just getting high, Cracker is attacked by CGI and is warped and melted into a puddle of slop. Why would they just leave this drug laying around?? At the very least, slap a Mister Yuck sticker on the container!
The Horta that Cracker has become attacks Denise as they try and escape, and as if that wasn't weird enough, he digivolves even further into the glowy orb of doom from the start of the movie.
What. The. Hell.
I've heard of better living through chemistry, but that is crazy, and I'm pretty sure a pill ain't gonna evolve anyone up to the level of a Vorlon. I am filled with questions of why, and also filled with questions of don't care.
The glowy orb of doom sucks Denise in, and Ray valiantly escapes to the beginning of the movie. I seriously don't know what to make of this. Guy takes drugs, becomes pile of crap, becomes a bad CGI effect, eats a girl, chases a dude through hallways...Check please!
Which catches us up to Ray entering the game, and the Dealer lays down another card that seemingly busts his hand. But wait! Ray literally has an ace up his sleeve! Or on the table, and he wins the hand! He rushes back out the door to the waiting craziness of glowy orbs of doom.
I guess that's a plan?
Have I mentioned how weird it is that the glowy orbs of doom turn back into piles of shit when they're not killing anyone? No? Well, it IS weird.
Ray fills up a bucket of water and lays in wait for the orb, and when it finds him, he tosses the water all over it. Which makes it explode.
And spits out Cracker and Denise.
How does THAT work? How did Ray think to even try it?
Anyways, our trio runs away, but Cracker finds himself at the Dealer's table, but the game has changed to poker. And the ante is one of Cracker's ears. Just to get in one last piece of gore. Which I am quite okay with!
So the movie literally ends with Ray and Denise running off into the sunset and living highly ever after, and at least someone beat the Dealer, I guess.
At least the entire movie wasn't a dream.
Video: Not great, but as usual, if it ain't Colony of the Dark, I'm happy. Still, it could be less grainy, higher quality...but do I really wanna see that CGI glowy orb of doom in better quality?
Audio: And as long as the sound doesn't reach Blood Beat levels, I'm good. Still, the mix here is okay, and things are pretty audible.
Sound Bite: "What was that?" "Just a bad trip." Oh, if only, Ray...
Body Count: A few annoying fakeouts and retcons, but overall a decent sized body count.
1 - Two minutes in, and we find Kosinski the security guard sliced in half at the waist. I count it, because it's relevant to the plot.
2 - Some poor guy gets kicked to death with a toe dagger.
3 - Fred gets eaten by the demonic Nickodemus.
4 - After being chased by a demon bull, Pete gets skewerd up the ass, beheaded, and turned into soup.
5 - Samson Burke is technically found dead in a motel room.
6 - But then he swaps bodies with Phillip so he's not so dead, but Phillip is? Eh. Death by bodyswap. SOMEone is dead here.
7 - I'm gonna assume Cracker doesn't make it outta the Dealer's room.
Best Corpse: I'm kinda partial to Stew Pot Pete, and the zombie corpse of Burke is fun too.
Blood Type - C: There's some good bits and pieces here and there, and Cracker's ear is nice, but there's not a lot to write home about.
Sex Appeal: Relegated mostly to some scenes in Cracker's brothel.
Drink Up! The instant Cracker takes his pills, because you are gonna need it at this point.
Sights and Sounds: Speaking of, enjoy the entire transformation of Cracker. Because this is crackers.
Movie Review: Geh. Anthology movies are hard, and this one is pretty typical. You're only as fast as your slowest soldier, they say, and anthologies are only as good as your worst story, for the most part. While each story has some fun moments, they are poorly matched, and the style of one messes with the style of the other. They MIGHT have been wise to put Burke's slower story first, and THEN Pete's. But they didn't, and this is what happens. After Ray's chase through the halls, that got you some action and setup, then you coulda gone for the slower more thoughtful story of Burke and Phillip, and THEN finished up with crazy bulldemon, before going back to Ray. That may well have flowed better. But even then, the stories have to try and cram their ideas each into about 30 minutes, which is tough under the best of circumstances, and they don't quite pull it off. I never really care about anyone, even with their best efforts. Just as I might start to, oops, on to a new story! The movie is low-budget from start to finish, and it shows. The production values leave a lot to be desired, and there's just not quite anything new and fresh here, if you've watched enough Twilight Zones. Two out of five torn off ears.
Entertainment Value: But there sure is some entertainment here. I oddly found myself enjoying the stories. Not everyone can be a Rod Serling, and since this IS so clearly a low budget affair, they pull things off well enough. They never *escape* or *exceed* their trappings, but they do okay. This is clearly something you might've seen on late night tv in the 90s, or during Tales from the Darkside, or Monsters. Which is no small compliment. Those shows were still better, but if you took this as maybe a pilot for another anthology series? I could see this going somewhere. A little more polish, a little more money...there's SOMEthing here, this anthology just never quite found it. It's also worth pointing out that the first two stories were made separately, both obviously too short to be movies on their own, so they crafted the anthology idea, and added Ray's story. On that account, it works even better than you'd think, and I commend them for pulling it off. A fun, harmless romp that's not terrible, with some fun moments and better than one might think at first glance. Three out of five bowls of Pete.