Now that we’re nearly 20 years removed and the dust has settled on the 1990s, the decade long believed to be a wasteland for horror movies is finally being reconsidered for the number of really good films it actually did produce. Because there weren’t as many horror movies being released as in the 1980s and because the genre wasn’t part of the cultural conversation the way it previously had been, critics and audiences didn’t know what to make of a number of titles as they slowly dripped out over the course of the decade. That led to some unfairly negative reviews and disappointing box office results as horror movies were given a bad name, until they began finding their audiences on home video just a few years later. This is great news, because it means that Tales from the Hood is finally getting its due as one of the great horror movies and the best full-stop anthology of the ’90s.
Three gang bangers enter a South Central mortuary to buy drugs from its owner, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III). He leads them inside and begins to regale them with the tales of the mortuary’s deceased residents, opening caskets one by one and explaining how each body arrived under his roof. First up is “Rogue Cop Revelation,” the story of a city councilman (Tom Wright) who is murdered by a group of corrupt, racist cops and then returns from the grave to exact his revenge. The second story, “Boys Do Get Bruised,” finds a teacher (director Rusty Cundieff) noticing that a young boy is coming to school with visible signs of abuse he claims to have suffered at the hands of a monster. Next is “KKK Comeuppance,” in which a KKK member-turned-racist-senator (Corbin Bernsen) is forced to face his bigotry when a collection of dolls comes to life looking for justice. Finally, there’s “Hard-Core Convert,” about a gang member (Lamont Bentley) involved in a shooting and taken to prison, where he undergoes an experimental procedure designed to “reform” him by confronting him with images of violence, racism, and the sins of his past.
Combining the structure and vibe of a 1970s Amicus production, the fun and inventiveness of ’80s horror, the twisted morality of 1950s EC Comics, and a ’90s social consciousness, Tales from the Hood is a horror anthology unlike any other. The stories are incredibly energetic and entertaining, the wraparound colorful, and the performances all perfectly in keeping with the spirit of what director Cundieff and co-screenwriter Darin Scott (who had previously written the excellent anthology From a Whisper to a Scream) set out to accomplish.
Each story in the movie tackles a different social problem of the ’90s, from police brutality to gang violence to institutional racism and domestic abuse, but the segments can just as easily be enjoyed as wicked little morality tales; they don’t need the messaging to function, but the messaging is what elevates Tales from the Hood from just “fun” to really great. That the issues Scott and Cundieff tackle in the movie are every bit as relevant today as they were more than 20 years ago is just further evidence of what a special horror movie this is—one that has something on its mind, but puts fun first.
Well, almost always. The fourth and final story in the anthology, “Hard-Core Convert,” has no interest in being fun. It’s a more serious-minded segment, an abstract urban take on A Clockwork Orange that is, for me, the weakest of the stories included. This is just a matter of personal preference, of course, as “Convert” is also the most serious and hard-hitting of all the segments. I get it. The approach is right for the material and I can understand why Cundieff and Scott would want to mix things up so not every segment has the same vibe. Putting it last makes sense, too, as it would have been hard to come back from this one with something lighter or sillier. That Tales from the Hood is able to stick the landing by returning to the wraparound with a glorious payoff proves what a cleverly constructed and paced movie it is. And just because “Convert” is my least favorite of the stories doesn’t make it bad, because Tales from the Hood is the rare anthology that has no bad segments. It is consistent and consistently awesome.
Long out of print on DVD and hard to come by, Scream Factory comes to the rescue yet again and brings Tales from the Hood to Blu-ray for the first time in an excellent special edition. The new 1080p HD transfer has been taken from the best elements available (it was long believed that no 35mm print existed from which to strike an HD master), so while it is imperfect, it is still very good. I refuse to complain about any small flaws, as we’re lucky to have the movie in high def at all. Director Rusty Cundieff sits down for a commentary track (a second track featuring Darin Scott and several cast members was sadly lost) that’s relaxed and informative, though I do wish he had someone else to bounce some of his ideas and memories off of.
More enjoyable is the hour-long retrospective featurette “Welcome to Hell,” which features Cundieff, Scott, and several members of the cast and crew (including the great Chiodo brothers, responsible from bringing the dolls to life in “KKK Comeuppance”) reminiscing about the production and discussing what makes the movie special all these years later. In addition to the original trailer, five TV spots, and a gallery of production and marketing stills, there’s a great vintage making-of featurette narrated by Clarence Williams III in character as Mr. Simms. It’s delightful.
It will be hard to top Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of Tales from the Hood as one of the most exciting horror home video releases of the year, if only because it’s a movie that is long overdue for a proper special edition and in need of a wider audience. It still stands out today as one of the best horror offerings of the 1990s, as it perfectly represents what was happening during the decade while remaining timelessly enjoyable—a movie both totally of its time and totally out of time. "This ain’t no funeral home. It ain’t the Terror Dome, neither. Welcome to Hell, motherfu**ers." I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.
Movie Score: 4.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5