Rusty Cundieff’s “Tales From the Hood” is a smart and sassy horror anthology that mixes blunt shocks and sharp satire. Pic should scare up big bucks in urban markets. While aimed primarily at black audiences, it has strong crossover potential.
As its title implies, pic is a clever commingling of elements from “Boyz N the Hood” and “Tales From the Crypt.” Script by producer Darin Scott (“Menace II Society”) and director Cundieff (“Fear of a Black Hat”) is singularly audacious, and perhaps controversy-provoking. (The influence of executive producer Spike Lee probably should not be underestimated.) The filmmakers take dead-serious subjects — racism, child abuse, police brutality, gang violence — and lace them with dark comedy and supernatural horror. Result is a genre-bending pic that is fearsome and ferociously funny as well as socially conscious. The framing device for the four “Tales” is a latenight visit by three street toughs (Joe Torry, De’Aundre Bonds, Samuel Monroe Jr.) to the inner-city funeral home of Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III). While the hoods impatiently wait for the mortician to turn over a drug stash, Mr. Simms entertains them with spooky tales about his “clients.”
First story has Anthony Griffith playing a black rookie policeman who isn’t able to stop three crooked white cops (led by an over-the-top Wings Hauser) from beating, and ultimately killing, a black community leader (Tom Wright). In true E.C. Comics fashion, the murder victim rises from the grave and wreaks havoc.
Cundieff plays the entire sequence mostly for melodrama. But he makes the actual beating of Wright just as repulsive as the events in the notorious Rodney King video.
The second “Tale” is the most discomforting, being a story about an abused youngster who claims a “monster” is responsible for his bruises. It turns out that the boy (affectingly well-played by Brandon Hammond) and his helpless mother (Paula Jai Parker) are regularly victimized by the boy’s brutal stepfather (David Alan Grier, effectively cast against type).
Ultimately, the youngster relies on magic to save himself and his mother.
The sequence in which Grier’s character beats his wife and stepson is, quite simply, one of the most terrifyingly realistic depictions of domestic violence ever seen in a feature film.
The third segment is a “Twilight Zone-style parable featuring Corbin Bernsen as an ex-Ku Klux Klansman who runs for governor of an unnamed Deep South state. The plot involves the grisly revenge of a legendary voodoo queen and her homicidal dolls.
Cundieff takes off the gloves for his fourth “Tale” and hammers home his message with earnest zeal. Crazy K (Lamont Bentley), a violent gang-banger, refuses to reform even after he’s nearly killed by well-armed rivals. Arrested and convicted, he volunteers for a “behavioral modification” experiment, and is briefly imprisoned near a homicidal white supremacist. The irony, of course, is that the white supremacist thinks Crazy K is “cool,” since both men have a penchant for killing black people.
Still, Crazy K adamantly denies his responsibility for his violent crimes. Dr. Cushing (Rosalind Cash) tries to make him see the light with a kind of shock therapy not unlike that depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.”
The finale of “Tales From the Hood” is hardly unexpected, but it’s good for a few nasty laughs. As Mr. Simms, Williams gives a deliciously overstated performance.
With the invaluable aid of cinematographer Anthony Richmond and production designer Stuart Blatt, Cundieff gives “Tales From the Hood” the look and ambiance of a baroque comic book.
Performances, especially those by Bernsen, Hammond, Grier and Williams, are on the mark. Musical supervisor Larry Robinson has assembled a strong lineup of rap and urban-contemporary artists for the killer soundtrack. Other tech credits , including makeup and special effects by Kenneth Hall and (Screaming Mad) George, are first-rate.