Tales from the Hood Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)
Stack, Ball, and Bulldog arrive at a local funeral parlor to retrieve a lost drug stash held by the mortician, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III). But Mr. Simms has plans for the boys. He leads them on a tour of his establishment, introducing them to his corpses. Even the dead have tales to tell and Mr. Simms is willing to tell them all. And you better listen – because when you're in the 'hood, even everyday life can lead to extraordinary terror. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
As a horror film about the black American experience (Get Out) made by black filmmaker (Jordan Peele) continues growing into the box office Cinderella of 2017, the time seems right to revisit the period throughout the 1990s and early 2000s when black culture had a measurable influence on pop culture in general, leading to perhaps its biggest impact on genre filmmaking. These films tend not to be looked back on with the same affection as the shorter ‘70s blaxploitation horror boom, but many, including Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992), and Ernest Dickerson’s Bones (2001), enjoyed major studio backing and were released on a mainstream theatrical scale. On the pseudo-independent side of things was the modest success of the first and, as far as I can tell, only horror anthology written, directed, and produced by Black Americans, Tales from the Hood. Co-writer/director Rusty Cundieff was known at the time for writing, directing, and starring in the 1993 hip-hop mockumentary Fear of a Black Hat, but is now more famous for his work on television, specifically directing 25 episodes of Chappelle's Show. He had written Tales from the Hood alongside producer Darin Scott, another African American filmmaker who was a vehement fan of the British horror anthology tradition and who had cut his teeth writing & producing Jeff Burr’s fabulous From a Whisper to a Scream (aka: The Offspring, 1987).
In the EC Comics-style tradition, Tales from the Hood features a framing device, entitled Welcome to My Mortuary, in which three hoods visit a funeral home to buy drugs from a wild-eyed mortician, who, in classic Cryptkeeper fashion, regales them with tales of terror. This wrap-around gives Cundieff a chance to play with Fear of a Black Hat’s more campy comedy, before diving head-first into the most politically-driven story of the entire anthology. Rogue Cop Revelation follows a rookie cop (Anthony Griffith), who more or less witnesses his fellow officers murder a civil rights activist (Tom Wright). Wracked with guilt, he is visited by a vision of the dead man one year later and ordered to lead his murderous co-workers to the grave, where they are supernaturally dispatched for their crimes. With more room to breathe, Rogue Cop Revelations could’ve been a particularly dramatic piece of wish-fulfillment horror, but it is sold short by the anthology structure. Wings Hauser is in prime scumbag form, though, as the leader of the dirty cops, and Cundieff orchestrates one heck of an action/horror set-piece.
The second story, Boys Do Get Bruised, follows a sensitive young man (Brandon Hammond), who is beaten by bullies at school and by a ‘monster’ at home. When the adults around him aren’t able or willing to help, he takes the advice of another child, who suggests he illustrate his fears and then destroys them by crumpling, tearing, or burning the paper. Again, Cundieff (who plays the boy’s concerned teacher) could’ve got a lot of mileage out of this particular subject, especially given its dual supernatural elements (a monster and a boy with art-based superpowers), though I doubt it could support a stand-alone movie (especially considering how much it has in common with Bernard Rose’s kid-centered fantasy-thriller Paperhouse, 1988). Even truncated, Boys Do Get Bruised is a pretty powerful indictment of child abuse that still fits the over-the-top EC Comics style. Some of the sting may be lost on modern audiences, however, specifically those that don’t know that David Alan Grier, who plays the ‘monster,’ was exclusively known for his comedic performances at the time.
The showstopper and middle-piece is KKK Comeuppance. Corbin Bernsen plays a David Duke-like former Klansman and current senator who is running for governor and who lives on a plantation haunted by the souls of murdered slaves. These slaves are represented by the paper mache dolls that appear on a mural in the senator’s office. One night, the dolls emerge from the painting to demand reparations in the form of the senator’s blood. KKK Comeuppance’s mythology is a bit overcomplicated (the plantation is haunted, the dolls are haunted, and they live in a mural?), but it fits the short story structure better than any of the other episode, has a wonderfully slimy turn by Bernsen, and features some awesome, though brief, stop-motion puppet effects from the renowned Chiodo Brothers. The filmmakers were obviously influenced by the Zuni fetish doll episode of Dan Curtis Trilogy of Terror and ended up outclassing their inspiration with a clever and cohesive theme.
The final part is entitled Hard-Core Convert and tackles the futile nature of gang violence, the brutality of the country’s prison system, and, of course, racism by mashing-up elements of typical prison dramas, A Clockwork Orange, and Frankenstein. A homicidal gangbanger (Lamont Bentley) finds himself rotting in prison when he’s offered the chance of an early release if he participates in an experimental rehabilitation program. This is easily the most horror-centric episode of the bunch, including massive gothic sets, super-gory staged gangland murders, and mortifying photographs of real lynchings. It lacks the gleeful punch of KKK Comeuppance and over-simplifies a complex issue with a lot of strobe lights and gore make-up, but still makes a good capper, thanks to its dark brutality and uncompromising message.
Tales from the Hood was released on non-anamorphic, barebones DVD by HBO in 1998 and...that was about it. That version went out of print and no one ever bothered to rectify the situation until now. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray does not come fitted with a remastered transfer, but the 1.85:1, 1080p master provided to them by the studio. The results are pretty good, especially considering the lack of an anamorphic release, but there are a few typical problems; many of which might’ve been avoided had, Scream been able to work from the original materials. Details and dynamic range are very nice, assuming they are in close-up and cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond isn’t hiding too many things with spooky shadows. The darkest scenes, especially wide-angle ones, are a bit murky, sometimes verging on downright ‘smudgy.’ There’s not a whole lot of digital noise, which puts it ahead of Scream Factory’s weakest transfers, but this is in part due to DNR tampering. Fortunately, this isn’t a waxy/plasticy Cat People situation, even though I’m sure readers can see what I’m talking about in the skin and clothing textures of the screencaps on this page. There are also edge haloes fluttering about the aforementioned murky wide shots. The color quality is wonderful throughout, alternating between neutrally warm and cool locations, and highlighted by neon-baked set-pieces.
Tales from the Hood comes fitted with two different 2.0 soundtracks, each presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The menu doesn’t explain the difference and box art doesn’t even mention the presence of two tracks, so I’m not sure what the difference is. The best I can tell is that the first track is a bit louder than the second, specifically in terms of Christopher Young’s musical score, but I gave up looking for more obvious differences after about 15 minutes of skipping around on the timeline. So then, if we stick to the first track, the results are pretty great, though they’re limited by the relative thinness of the original tracks. Most scenes are dialogue-driven and only feature the most basic incidental sound effects. There are exceptional stereo effects attached to each section of the film, such as gunshots, car crashes, growling monsters, creepy-crawly dolls, and the industrial noise of the ‘rehabilitation machines.’ For his part, genre veteran Young mixes his typical Hellraiser-styled theatricality (typical to the point that he’s kind of plagiarizing himself here) with bits of jazz and just enough hip-hop to merge into some of the film’s many soundtrack tie-in songs. The music is punchy and strong, despite the lack of a discrete LFE track.
Commentary with Rusty Cundieff – The Tales from the Hood Laserdisc actually featured this director’s commentary. Since it was never carried over onto the DVD release, this is the first chance many fans have had to hear it. Cundieff gets right down to business telling behind-the-scenes stories, talking about his inspirations, and recalling some of the controversy surrounding the film when it was first released.
Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood (56:13, HD) – This brand-new retrospective documentary features interviews with Cundieff, producer/co-writer Darin Scott, special effects supervisor Kenneth Hall, doll effect animation supervisors Charles & Edward Chiodo, and cast members Corbin Bernsen, Wings Hauser, and Anthony Griffith. There is some overlap with the commentary, but the interviews offer plenty of alternate perspectives as the discussion moves chronologically from story to story.
Vintage EPK featurette (6:04, SD)
Theatrical trailer and TV spots
The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality