Tales from the Hood: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (11th July 2017).
The Film

Imbuing horror films with social commentary has been a consistent trend since the advent of cinema, one that is still going strong today as evidenced by the monstrous box office run of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” (2017). Some pictures weave it in more subtly, while others take a ham-fisted approach and risk muddying the message. “Tales from the Hood” (1995) is a cult classic horror anthology that, until this week, had escaped my eyes. My preconception was that it would be a riff on serious horror anthologies, as shown through the lens of Black America; something akin to a Wayans film. And while that is somewhat true the strong socio-political subtext and sharp writing, along with the wild-eyed madness of “host” Clarence Williams III, makes this more of a “brutha” to “Tales from the Crypt” (1972, 1989-1996). Yes, both the film and the series. Co-writer and director Rusty Cundieff tackles issues that are just as relevant to the black community today as they were over twenty years ago – police brutality, domestic violence, gangbanging, racism. Viewers will no doubt be entertained by the gross-out gags and sly twists in each tale, but the movie also offers a scary reflection of the past two-plus-decades by begging the question, “What, if anything, has improved?” The real scare is in the answer.

A trio of gang members arrives at Simms’ Funeral Home in South Central Los Angeles, intent on purchasing some “found” drugs that the owner, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III) claims to have found in an alley. As he weaves the triumvirate through a maze of coffins, he pauses at each to regale the impatient twenty-somethings with a tale about the person within.

Rookie cop Clarence Smith (Anthony Griffin) is fresh on the streets when he and his partner, Newton (Michael Massee), come across a seemingly routine traffic stop. Officers Strom (Wings Hauser) and Billy (Duane Whitaker) have pulled over a business-type black man who, despite complying with their orders, is being severely mistreated. Clarence checks his license plate and is shocked to discover the man is Martin Moorehouse (Tom Wright), a member of the city council and “political agitator” who has vowed to end police corruption. Tonight, he’s been targeted. Strom, Billy, and Newton beat Moorehouse within an inch of his life until Clarence finally has enough and insists the other officers drive him to the hospital. Sure they will. Instead, the three drive Moorehouse’s car to the docks, inject him with heroin (and throw a brick in the trunk for good measure), and drive him right off the pier. Moorehouse is labeled a hypocrite in the press and his crusade ends ignominiously. One year later Clarence, now a drunk who has since left the force, is visited by a vision of Moorehouse, who instructs him to bring the officers to his gravesite, setting up a reunion of sorts that ends poorly for all involved.

Young Walter Johnson (Brandon Hammond) has a problem at home: something has been attacking him at night. He shows up at school covered in bruises, drawing the sympathy and attention of his teacher, Mr. Garvy (Rusty Cundieff). When asked what caused his injuries, Walter simply says it was “a monster”. The shy and reserved type, Walter often chooses to sit inside and draw while the other kids play, making him the target of bullies. On one such occasion, Walter draws the school bully, Tyrone, and crumples the paper, causing the troublemaker to suffer immediate injuries. Mr. Garvy, still concerned about Tyrone, visits the boy’s home and speaks with his mother, Sissy (Paula Jai Parker), who insists Walter is just a clumsy child. Just as Mr. Garvy is leaving, however, Sissy’s boyfriend, Carl (David Alan Grier), arrives at the home. As the audience “sees” through Walter’s eyes, Carl is the monster. Enraged that Walter may have ratted him out, Carl begins to lay into both Walter and Sissy, prompting Mr. Garvy to take action. But all the power is truly in the hands of Walter and his special drawing abilities.

Racist Southern senator and former KKK member Duke Metger (Corbin Bernsen) finds no love lost between himself and the community, especially after he chooses to move his offices into an old slave plantation home. His image consultant, an African-American named Rhodie (Roger Guenveur Smith), does what he can to coach Metger but he’s just a dyed-in-the-wool bigot. The two come across a painting of an old voodoo woman, Miss Cobbs, surrounded by her dolls, which were said to be possessed by the spirits of tortured slaves. As Metger and Rhodie walk down the large spiral staircase, suddenly the latter is tripped up and falls to his death. At the funeral, Metger is warned he should leave the house or else he may suffer the same fate but, thick-headed and unwavering, he refuses. Later that night, Metger returns home to find a blank white space where one of the dolls had been, and soon after it attacks him. A few well-placed shotgun rounds give Metger the upper hand… briefly, as the next time he glances at the painting he sees that all the dolls have now vanished, and they’re thirsty for his blood.

Mr. Simms brings the gangster trio to one last body – that of Jerome “Crazy K” Johns (Lamont Bentley), an unrepentant gangbanger who takes life without hesitation. After spotting a rival gang member while driving around, Crazy K confronts the man and shoots him, at which point three of his friends exit a house and begin to blast away at Crazy K. Just as he’s about to be finished off, the cops arrive and engage in a shootout with the three assailants, killing them and unwittingly saving Crazy K’s life. Patched up and sentenced to life in prison, Crazy K is subjected to various experiments including being housed with a white supremacist, forced to watch images of lynchings, KKK rallies, and gang violence footage. Finally, Crazy K is placed into a sensory deprivation chamber and forced to confront the souls of his victims, one of whom is a young girl. But Crazy K, ever the misanthrope, isn’t much for redemption, leaving his only option to be a brutal exit of his own.

Finally, the secrets of Simms’ Funeral Home are revealed to the drug buying gangsters as one last twist is in store for them, and the audience, too.

The social issues being addressed by “Tales from the Hood” are evident to anyone watching and although the messages aren’t subtle none of the four (or five) tales comes across as preachy. Cundieff does a stellar job of combining still-relevant topics with horror and humor, striking the perfect balance to both entertain and educate audiences.

Video

Presented with a 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded picture, “Tales from the Hood” looks rather stunning for a low-budget 90's horror film. The image is beautiful and clean, with no visible signs of damage or heavy debris/dirt. Film grain is fine and remains so throughout. Colors are bold, black levels inky & dark, and fine details are present that haven’t been this sharp since theaters. No obvious DNR or other processing has been applied here, leaving this picture as pure and faithful as possible.

Audio

Scream Factory offers up two similar yet distinct tracks here – English DTS-HD Master Audio in 2.0 stereo or alternate 2.0 stereo. The former sounded the best to my ears, pumping composer Christopher Young’s score with excellent fidelity, while source music cues (nearly all of which are hip-hop) thumped with appropriate bass response. Dialogue comes through clean, clear, and never lacking in presence. Subtitles are included in English.

Extras

The extra features appear a touch on the light side but make no mistake these are well done and very much worth checking out. Expect to find an audio commentary track, documentary, featurette, and some promotional materials.

The audio commentary track features co-writer/director Rusty Cundieff, who has plenty to say about the film’s themes, production, and everything else along the way, given his heavy involvement in so many aspects.

“Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood” (1080p) is a documentary that runs for 56 minutes and 13 seconds. Cundieff, along with a handful of actors and special effects persons (including the Chiodo brothers), discusses each of the tales presented within the film. Lots of valuable insight can be gleaned from each interviewee.

A vintage featurette (SD) runs for 6 minutes and 4 seconds, this is essentially a 90's EPK with a basic overview of the film and its principals.

The film’s theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 1 minute and 41 seconds.

A collection of six TV spots (SD) runs for 3 minutes and 26 seconds.

A photo gallery (SD) runs for 9 minutes and 46 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. The cover art is reversible, featuring both new artwork and the original theatrical key art. A slip-cover with the new art is available on first pressings.

Overall

Socially conscious, sharply written, scary funny, and still relevant “Tales from the Hood” is one of the better horror anthology films ever made, one which didn’t quite gets its due upon release. Scream Factory’s release should hopefully extend its audience, and the inclusion of a slick a/v presentation and a handful of solid bonus features will definitely pique the interest of longtime fans who have waited patiently for a proper home video release.

The Film: B+ Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: B- Overall: B

 


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