Twenty years later, and Rusty Cundieff’s horror anthology “Tales from the Hood” is probably the most socially relevant horror anthology ever created. 1995 gave way to some pretty tame horror entries, but “Tales from the Hood” doesn’t just try to scare, but has a good time delivering some schlock, and sneaks in a lot of social commentary about the race and class warfare that divided us then and continues to divide us more than ever, today. It’s too bad the movie never caught on as a cult classic, since re-watching it years later has allowed me to appreciate it so much more. “Tales from the Hood” tells four horror tales centered on an urban setting and social problem that ensues to this day, incidentally, and they end up being rather compelling and often very creepy.
Three vicious gang members get the lead about a potential stash of drugs located at a local funeral home in the city as owned by Mr. Simms. When they meet Mr. Simms, as played by a very memorable Clarence Williams III, he leads them to his shipment, but decides to first take them on a tour through four of his most hideous and memorable clients. Cundieff injects various horror facets of the EC Comics variety and injects social and racial subtext within them, offering tales of a civil rights activist beaten to death by a trio of white cops who rises from the grave for violent retribution, a young boy with a weird ability who is being terrorized at home by a monster, a former KKK member and aspiring politician who is terrorized by the relentless demonic dolls of a hoodoo witch, and a vicious gang member who is given a chance to turn his life around when faced with the souls of his many victims.
Sure, you can argue that Cundieff’s film certainly is preachy in some respects, but I view it more as taking an opportunity to impart some very pressing ideas and warnings that are more terrifying than zombies, and killer voodoo dolls can ever hope to be. It kind of falls apart in the finale with a surprise reveal any savvy viewer will see coming from miles away, but that doesn’t negate the very rich premise and unique concept that unfolds. Rusty Cundieff’s film could easily drop in to exploitative material, but it actually seeks to make a very courageous point with every story. I don’t know if I’d have implanted the EC story frame and mold on to the array of stories and very heavy themes, but Cundieff’s ambitious storytelling and tongue in cheek dark humor make up for it. There are also a slew of great turns by folks like Wings Hauser, Joe Torry, Michael Massee, and Corbin Bernsen, respectively.
Clarence Williams III is also fantastic as storyteller Mr. Simms, who doesn’t just chew the scenery, but steals the movie without hesitation. In a decade bereft of really vicious horror and ambitious horror films, “Tales from the Hood” stands out among the pack, embracing its genre and sprinkling bits of dark comedy on occasion. It’s just sadly hobbled by its goofy title and gimmicky set up. If you give it a chance, it’s a pretty sharp and creepy anthology horror film that has something of substance to add to audience conversation once the credits roll.
The new release from Shout! comes with a reversible cover with the original poster art. There’s an audio commentary with writer and director Rusty Cundieff. “Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood” is an hour long look at the development and making of the film. It features interviews with director/writer Rusty Cundieff, producer/writer Darin Scott, actors Corbin Bernsen Wings Hauser and Anthony Griffith, special effects supervisor Kenneth Hall, doll effects supervisors Charles Chiodo and Edward Chiodo. There’s a “Vintage Featurette” clocking in at six minutes which is a “Making Of” with interviews with the cast and crew, and Spike Lee. Finally, there is the original theatrical trailer, TV spots in multiple languages, and an HD photo gallery.