One of the most prevalent trends in film from the early to mid ‘90s were the “hood movies.” These films, such as “Boyz n the Hood,” depicted the violence in poor African-American neighborhoods. Since it was such a big sub genre at the time it was only natural there would be a horror film about “the hood” at some point. What’s surprising though is how good the film is. “Tales from the Hood” is a little-known 1995 anthology film that has an EC horror comics feel to it.
The movie consists of four, short moralistic horror segments. These stories deal with mostly black characters and address issues prevalent in the black community, such as police brutality, domestic abuse, racism and gang violence. The wrap around segment introduces three young hoodlums out to pick up a drug shipment at a funeral parlor from a eccentric mortician named Mr. Simms. As the three punks wind there way through the parlor Mr. Simms tells them the last stories of some of his more interesting clients.
For this entry I will be discussing each segment in the film.
The wrap around segment “Mr. Simms Funeral Parlor” gloriously sets the tone. When the young hoodlums arrive at the funeral parlor we are introduced to gothic organ music and some good camera work, showing us the macabre, ghoulish and almost gothic tone but with layers of “hood movie” troops as well. Imagine “Tales from the Crypt” meets a “hood movie.” We are then introduced to Mr. Simms, played wonderfully by Clarence Williams III. He practically steals the whole show. Those who remember the movie almost always remember his performance. The ending of this segment reveals who Mr. Simms really is and it is…batshit crazy in a “Hellish” sense.
Our first true segment, as told by Mr. Simms, is called “Rogue Cop Revelation” and it deals with police brutality. The story is about three racist white cops that murder a black politician who has opened the lid on their corruption. Little do they know that a year later he has returned as a vengeful corpse hellbent on revenge. This one feels very much like something out of EC comics, with its plot of the dead coming back for vengeance. A pretty fun short.
The second segment is called “Boys Do Get Bruised” and it deals with domestic abuse. A new boy at a school shows up the first day with a bunch of bruises on his arm. His teacher is very concerned. When asked the boy tells the teacher the “monster” that lives in his house gave him the bruises. The “monster” turns out to be his abusive stepfather, played by 90’s comedy actor David Alan Grier. This segment feels very much like a “Twilight Zone” episode as you have the little boy using his imagination to figure out how to defeat his “monster.” This one is just ok.
Move on to the third segment, which is my favorite and in my opinion the best. It’s called “KKK Comeuppance” and it concerns a former KKK member running for office while controversially residing in a former plantation with a bloody history. He is warned that the house is haunted by voodoo dolls animated by the souls of the former slaves who were massacred there. What I like most about this segment is that it’s about the horrors of the past coming back to haunt him. I also like how the voodoo dolls are used to terrify him and the creepiness they brings. There is great use of the violin to amplify the horror.
Finally, our last segment tackles the one constant thing in the hood, gang violence. “Hard Core Convert” is about a murderous gangster who is arrested and sentenced to life, only to be offered the chance to be apart of an experiment in correction. This is an interesting one. It is the weakest in terms of horror but is the strongest at tackling an issue. The segment is basically a gangster version of “A Clockwork Orange” with “binding” experimentation and flashing scenes of real life violence.
“Tales from the Hood” is an enjoyable little piece of EC Comics style horror and a good horror anthology. It is also a very well-made African-American horror movie. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of African-American filmmakers out there working in horror. An entertaining but sadly forgotten 90’s horror film. Check it out.
-James J. Coker