Year of Release: 1995
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Source: Netflix (instant stream)
Average IMDb Rating: 5.8
Average Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 38%
What is it about anthology films that are so appealing to the horror fan? Could it be that we don’t just get one horror story, but multiple ones? I personally love anthology films, from Trick ‘r Treat to both Creepshows (let’s pretend that the third one doesn’t exist), it’s my favorite sub-genre in horror. However, there are a lot more bad ones than good ones. For every classic, like Creepshow, we get several bad films a la Campfire Tales and George Romero Presents Deadtime Stories. However, every once in a while we get a diamond in the rough. The gem I’m referring to is a Spike Lee produced joint from the mid 90s that never gets addressed in the world of horror: Tales from the Hood.
WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!
Three thugs from L.A. visit a funeral home to buy “the stuff” from an eccentric funeral home director. As he takes the boys on a tour of the funeral home to get “the stuff,” he tells them four tales of the macabre that gives them insight into the lives of the departed. The first story deals with a civil rights activist, killed by corrupt policemen, who rises from the grave and seeks revenge. The second story deals with a little boy who claims to be abused by his step-father, a real life monster. The third story showcases a former Ku Klux Klan member who seeks political aspirations in the Deep South, but bites off more than he can chew when he moves into a former plantation cursed by voodoo dolls. The final story has a thug who comes face to face with his victims and goes on a journey of self discovery before he meets his fate. The film wraps up when “the stuff” is revealed to be far more worse than the three thugs can possibly imagine.
One big problem with most anthology films is that there is usually one dominant story and several so-so stories that revolve around the one strong story. In the case of Tales from the Hood, while there is not one dominant story, every story is solid all around. And the frame story is brilliant in tying everything together. The twist at the end, that the three thugs are dead and are in hell, with the caretaker as the Devil, while a little cheesy, really works well.
The cast, all character actors, really do a fantastic job in their stories. It’s as if Spike Lee recruited his crew, Danny Ocean style, and picked the right people to handle their one specific job. Tom Wright is good as the civil rights activist who returns from the dead to slay his killers. Clarence Williams III really hams it up towards the end, but does the job as a sadistic caretaker. David Alan Grier, one of the funniest comedians at that time, keeps some of his humorous charm as he plays an abusive step father. Corbin Bernsen plays a southern white racist with such ease and brilliance that it makes you forget that he was the bumbling third basemen in the Major League films. And Lamont Bentley shines in his breakout performance as Crazy K, a cold hearted thug who has no remorse for his lifestyle. (Why Lamont Bentley never played a role as the late 2Pac is beyond me. His Crazy K character is essentially 2Pac if he wasn’t a rapper or had a full head of hair.)
The elephant in the room that I have not addressed yet is the extreme social commentary, specifically in the black community, that weaves itself throughout the film. This could be in part of the Executive Producer, Spike Lee, known for his extreme social commentary, but it could be due to what was happening in LA at the time: extremely high rate of crime, especially involving gangs, and the influence of hip hop artists like 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., etc. If films reflect and mirror the real world, then Los Angeles in 1995 looked and felt exactly like this film: raw, corrupt, and unrelenting.
The one downside of this film is how dated it looks, from the special effects to the wardrobe to the music, this film screams mid 90s. One of the big “effects” are the dolls coming to life and chasing Corbin Bernsen, however, it looks cheap compared to the other good practical effect shots throughout the film. Whoever was in charge of doing practical effects did a good job, for the most part. David Alan Grier being twisted like a pretzel still looks good even by today’s standards. The make up for Clarence Williams’ Devil looks revolting and grotesque, a true interpretation to how sinister Satan must really look.
Also, a lot of people hate the last story involving Crazy K because it’s not a traditional horror tale like the other three before it. I believe the whole point of this story was to show us, the viewers, that everything we’ve seen before is pure fantasy, that the real horrors in this world are gangs, racism, and death. The scene where they pump Crazy K’s head full of images of lynchings and deaths, all real pics mind you, is truly frightening and jarring to this day. Even 17 years later, those images really get to me and stay stuck in my head. I do appreciate the little homage to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in this final sequence. As a kid, I never got the reference but as I grew up and watched more films, I finally realized the connection between the two films.
After doing research for this review, I discovered that it was produced by Savoy Pictures, a defunct distributor/production companies from the 90s. For 7 years, this company pumped out some of my favorite films of my youth: Serial Mom, No Escape, Exit to Eden, Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, A Bronx Tale, and American History X. While only two of those listed were good films, the others, like Tales from the Hood, were just fun, over the top movies that are enjoyable despite their flaws.
If anthology films were females, then the popular ones, Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat, would be the hot, blonde cheerleaders who win prom queen and are loved by all. Campfire Tales and Deadtime Stories would be the loser band geeks who everyone hates. Tales from the Hood would be the shy girl who has potential to be cute, but once you start digging deep, you realize she likes comic books, video games, and other cool nerdy things which makes her hot. She’s not as hot in the traditional sense as the blonde cheerleaders, but she has her own unique way of being hot. What my terrible analogy is trying to say is that there are better and sexier anthology films out there, but Tales from the Hood is good in its own unique way, if you look past its flaws and heavy social commentary. Overall, the film is fun and I’d definitely recommend a watch, just don’t take the content too seriously.
What about you guys? Is this a good anthology film compared to the other greats out there?