Directed by Rusty Cundieff in 1995 and written by Cundieff and Darin Scott, Tales From The Hood is an anthology horror film based around a series of stories ‘hosted' by Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III), an eerie funeral home manager in South Central Los Angeles. As the title implies, there's a Tales From The Crypt / E.C. Comics influence here in that there's a moral to each twisted vignette, but as you'd probably guess, there are black themes running throughout the movie as well. The framing device involving Simm sees a trio of teenagers out to grab a drug shipment from Simm's business. As Simms escorts them through the place, he tells them stories about some of his more interesting clients. This sets up each tale.
Rogue Cop Revelation is the first story. Here we meet a rookie cop named Clarence Smith (Anthony Griffith) who, along with partner, Newton (Michael Masseey), intercepts an altercation that occurs when two older cops, Billy (Duane Whitaker) and Strom (Wings Hauser), are found ruthlessly beating a black man named Martin Moorehouse (Tom Wright). It just so happens that Moorehouse is involved in local politics and that his attempts to expose police corruption aren't going over so well with some of the boys in blue. Smith tries to put a stop to it but it's no use, the elder cops kill Moorehouse and make it look like he OD'd. But of course, Moorehouse comes back from the grave to wreak his unholy vengeance and when he does, it ain't pretty…
The second story, Boys Do Get Bruised, stars Cundieff himself as a school teacher named Richard Garvy. One day at work Richard notices bruises on the arm of one of his students, a young boy named Walter (Brandon Hammond). Garvy suspects physical abuse might be at play here, but the boy insists that it's a monster, even producing a drawing he did of the beast he claims is responsible. The teacher visits the boys home and confronts his mother Sissy (Paula Jai Parker) about it, but she just shrugs it off as boys being boys. Soon enough, it turns out that mom's boyfriend Carl (David Alan Grier) is the real culprit here, and that he's not only roughing up the kid, he's beating up mom too. What he didn't realize, however, is that there's more to Walter's drawings than anyone could have guessed.
The aptly titled KKK Comeuppance tales the tale of a white politician named Duke Metger (Corbin Bernsin). He's a former Klansman who now lives quite comfortably in a huge old plantation home that once housed scores of slaves. The fact that the place is reportedly haunted by dolls containing spirits of the slaves that died on the property doesn't seem to matter much, at least not at first, even if there is a creepy old painting in the place that references this. As Jewish and black citizens protest outside his home, he consults with Rhodie (Roger Guenveur Smith), a black man he's hired to polish up his image, about their strategy for an upcoming campaign. This is all well and good until Rhodie dies from an apparent accident involving a nasty tumble down a flight of stairs. When Metget comes back to the house after attending Rhodie's funeral, he notices that the painting with the dolls in it has changed… the dolls that once surrounded the image of the plantations former owner are now missing from the painting, but are very much alive in the house.
The last of the four main stories is Hard-Core Convert, the story of a gangster named Crazy K (Lamont Bentley). After he's convicted of multiple counts of murder, he's sent off to prison where a strange white supremacist tells him how the end of days is nigh for black people, but given that K only killed his fellow black men, he just might be spared. Shortly after this meeting, Dr. Cushing (Rosalind Cash) has K sent off to a separate prison facility where he's counseled about his potential for rehabilitation and the potential to once again live life as a free man. This won't come easy, however, as
for this to happen he's going to be subjected to a series of experiments by way of a slideshow that will make him come face to face with the consequences of his actions first hand.
Oh, and of course the wraparound story featuring Mr. Simms and the three gangsters wraps up before the end credits hit the screen.
Smart, darkly comedic and still very much socially relevant in more ways than one, Tales From The Hood holds up really well. The anthology format allows Cundieff and company to cover a lot of different ground, tackling poignant social issues from police abuse, racism and black on black violence to domestic abuse and drug abuse. The film isn't always subtle, in fact sometimes it's pretty in your face, but it still smartly puts entertainment first, stopping short of beating you over the head with its message. There are a lot of elements of dark humor and social satire at play here as well, the best example being the KKK Comeuppance story and the wraparound story. The effects form the Chiodo Brothers (the guys behind Killer Klowns From Outer Space add some wonky charm to KKK while Williams' work in the wraparound, with his insane toothy smile and penchant for over annunciation, is completely unforgettable. It's also interesting see David Alan Grier, best known for countless comedic roles, play a complete bastard of a man, and hey, check out none other than Wings Hauser as one of the world's worst cops (and recipient of the film's best death scene!). Solid casting here all the way around.
The movie also features strong production values and a great score. It looks solid from start to finish, with some obvious effort put into the costumes, sets and props used for the shoot. None of the four stories overstays its welcome and while some are more effective than others, they all are at least successful. Most of Cundieff's work after this would be in television (he worked on Chapelle's Show and The Wanda Sykes Show to name just two). Aside from Tales the only other features he did were the genuinely funny Fear Of A Black Hat and Sprung, a romantic comedy released in 1997. It's a shame he didn't work in the horror genre again, as his work on this feature stands as proof positive that he's got a good feel for what works and that he isn't afraid to take some interesting chances with his films.
Tales From The Hood didn't get its due on DVD in terms of presentation quality. The old DVD was non-anamorphic and it looked very soft and very flat. This new 1.78.1 widescreen transfer, presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, blows that old disc out of the water. There are still some scenes that look a tiny bit soft but that looks to have more to do with the original photography than the transfer. For the most part, however, this is sharp and crisp without showing any pesky edge enhancement. There's grain, as there should be, but not much in the way of print damage aside from a few white specks now and again. Noise reduction and edge enhancement are never problematic and there are no obvious compression artifacts to complain about. Detail and texture are quite strong throughout, we get very solid black levels and color reproduction is spot on. This looks really good, it's quite a substantial upgrade over what we've seen in the past.
There are two different DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo tracks on here. The first sounds very full, very robust and has excellent dynamic range. Dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced and the effects really sound excellent. The second track sounds thin compared to the first, with less weight and power behind the
effects and the score. Aside from that, both tracks feature properly balanced levels and are free of any audible hiss or distortion. Optional closed captioning is provided in English only.
Extras for this release start off with an audio commentary featuring co-writer/director Rusty Cundieff that proves to be a pretty interesting listen. Carried over from the old laserdisc release, here we get to listen to Cundieff talk about the film's politics, influences and origins as well as share some interesting stories from his experiences making the picture. He talks about working alongside the cast and crew, the locations used, some of the effects set pieces and more.
Also well worth checking out is Welcome To Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood, a brand new featurette made up of interviews with Cundieff, producer/co-writer Darin Scott, actors Corbin Bernsen Wings Hauser and Anthony Griffith, special effects supervisor Kenneth Hall, doll effects supervisors Charles Chiodo and Edward Chiodo. This is really the only new extra feature on the disc but it is a very good one. If Cundieff covers some of the same ground here that he does in his commentary, so be it, getting the others involved more than makes this worthwhile. Lots of talk here about what it was like working in front of the camera, the different characters played by the actors involved, the effects work and more.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are a six minute Vintage Making Of featurette that runs six minutes and feels more like an EPK (though it is narrated by Mr. Simms!), the picture's original theatrical trailer, three minutes of TV spots, a still gallery, animated menus and chapter selection. It's also worth noting that for this release Scream Factory has also provided a reversible cover sleeve and a slipcover.
Tales From The Hood holds up surprisingly well as a really effective blend of horror and dark comedy. The script is smart, the concepts are unique and the performances are strong across the board. Shout! Factory has done a nice job bringing this one to Blu-ray, presenting the movie in great shape and with some solid extra features as well. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.