Street Tales of Terror (2004)

Let’s talk horror. We of course know the classic horror stories—the ones with Freddy, Jason, Michael, Leatherface, and a whole bunch of forgettably attractive white people. These fictional, goopy, squishy barnstormers slash and saw their way into our twisted little hearts and minds. But there are also the horror stories of real life. And I’m not talking about John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, or America’s favorite vegan Jeffrey Dahmer. I’m talking about the real horrors that happen to real people all the time—bullying, rape, suicide, gang violence, homelessness. We escape from these real-life horrors by going to a fictional street where a pedophile has gloves with knives. Our favorite horror stories are well beyond the realm of what’s possible, which is why they’re fun. The horror section of your local video store will never have a film about a young woman considering options for her unexpected pregnancy. This is because there are no more video stores. 

Street Tales of Terror takes the horrors that people—particularly women—face every day and adds a bit of the supernatural and a few dashes of blood. This shot-on-video anthology contains three stories that examine the exhausting tribulations that come with just being alive. The first short explores what happens when the ghost of a girl haunts her bullies twenty years later (hint: someone soaks in the hot tub with a boombox). The second story examines the terror a woman feels as she considers an abortion, and the final segment tells the story of a college student who gets drugged and raped at a party—and no one helps her. While there are elements of pearl-clutching exploitation, Street Tales of Terror isn’t a nonstop ride of gushing head wounds or masked men wielding machetes. There are ghosts, sure, but you don’t watch this movie for the practical effects. You watch it because the stories and themes are seated more in reality and less on Elm Street, and it’s refreshing to see them play out on video. A woman takes her own life because she can’t graduate (and would’ve been the first in her family to do so). A little girl feels left out by her so-called friends and struggles with loneliness. A woman wonders if terminating her pregnancy is the right choice. Sure, the budget is low and photography is dark, and sometimes the background noise becomes the foreground noise, drowning out the actors. But this is all easy to overlook. 

There are many reasons to watch and enjoy Street Tales of Terror: the witty dialogue, the drug dealer named Peaches, the character who wears a shirt that says “You have your whole life to be a jerk … why don’t you take today off?” (Words to live by.) But perhaps the most important reason is that you want to experience the stories told by Black people, especially in a genre that’s dominated by white voices. The writers, directors, and cast are all Black, with special shout outs to Prairie View A & M University, the prestigious historically Black university. Similar to Tales from the Hood, which examines police brutality, gang violence, and racism, Street Tales of Terror explores the real-life problems that are far more terrifying and gripping than that tiresome weirdo from Saw. Independent Black filmmakers have been making horror films rooted in real life for years (see Tales From the Quadead Zone), and continue today (see Jordan Peele), it’s just a matter of finding them and lifting their stories to the forefront. This makes Street Tales of Terror all the more poignant.

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