Goon Review: Tales from the Hood (1995)

(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)

When I was going through high school in the ‘90s, I remember the whole surge of gang violence that was taking our country by storm. Kids wearing loosely buttoned, colored flannels, the bandanas, both of which were colored to signify what gang you were representing. Hey, they managed to be color coordinated, so that’s something. I also remember the media taking complete advantage of this and making lots and lots of TV and movies about gangs. There’s a good message to send to the youth: Violence is cool! Well, I’m not here to be the moral police, but I wanted to touch on the gang violence of the ‘90s and rise of the urban movies (I really hate calling them that), like Boyz N the Hood, Juice or Menace II Society. All the ones I mentioned are great films and captured the economical troubles and gang wars that plagued black culture while we ignored it and they deserve their place in the spotlight, but one that is often overlooked is 1995’s Tales From the Hood.

At a glance, Tales From the Hood would appear as a Tales From the Crypt knock off to the casual movie goer, mostly because of the anthology format and, of course, the title. Okay, so the title seems like it may be ripping off the popular TV show, but Tales From the Hood is an homage to the old Amicus films that made all those moody ‘70s horror anthologies, including Tales From the Crypt. So, there. Whereas most anthologies fall apart during one of the segments or a paper thin wrap around, Tales From the Hood is solid from start to finish. I’m going to say that it’s one of the better anthologies out there since Creepshow. It has a very dark moral theme that stays persistent throughout the movie even when the segment changes tone, which it does. While one of the segments may be more sinister or dealing with a domestic issue, the next one might be a comedy, but there’s no denying that the film is trying to say something with the underlying oppressive, racial tone.

Being an anthology, the wrap around segment or the overall main arching story revolves around three gang bangers, Stack (Joe Torry), Ball (De’Aundre Bonds) and Bulldog (Samuel Monroe Jr.) looking to buy “the shit” from some old guy who runs a funeral home and claims he found the drugs in an alley. Nope, nothing bad happening here. Immediately, their senses are telling them to flee, but their pride won’t allow them and they are greeted by Mr. Simms, played by The Mod Squad TV show’s Clarence Williams III (who totally steals the show with his performance as the enigmatic and rebarbative funeral home director). He’s quite the character to say the least, with a devilish grin and hair sticking up like he’s some Looney Tunes character that stuck his finger in the light socket. Needless to say, he’s not the kind of guy you’d want to visit at night, much less buy drugs from in the middle of the night. Once inside, he asks the youngsters to help him with the drugs, so now they tour the inside of the place and this gives Mr. Simms the opportunity to talk about some of his “customers,” which act as segways into their stories.

Rogue Cop Revelation is about a rookie cop named Clarence who, on his first day on the job, witnesses a couple of white cops (the most racist of which is played by Wings Hauser) beating a black man who just so happens to be an important public figure, much in the vein of Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Moorehouse. Clarence interjects and the other cops break up the beating and tell him that they will take him to a hospital, but instead murder him. A year passes and Clarence has quit the force and spends his days drinking, haunted by the fact he did nothing to prevent the murder. He begins hearing Martin’s voice commanding Clarence to bring them to him. Martin eventually convinces those cops to visit Martin’s grave where at first you are sure of what’s going to happen, but as they begin pissing on his grave, you aren’t sure. It plays with your expectations a bit until the inevitable happens and then it turns into a supernatural zombie flick. Martin rises from the grave to get his revenge and has super powers that vary depending on what the script calls for in that situation. It’s a bit silly, but it definitely feels like a ‘60s b-movie and has some great gory effects, including one of the cops getting his head ripped off.

The following segment, Boys Do Get Bruised, is probably the most serious and deals with abuse and a monster of sorts as a teacher begins to notice bruises on one of his students, Walter, a quiet and shy kid. He tells his teacher that he’s being attacked by a monster. Oh, and Walter also crumples up a drawing of one of his bullies and the bully immediately succumbs to an accident. (That’s important for later.) His teacher visits Walter’s home to talk to his parents where we meet his stepfather, played by David Alan Grier. You remember him for his comedic roles in movies and TV, right? Well, this is a total departure from that and he really displays what a serious actor he can be, playing both menacing and frightening. This isn’t the David Alan Grier you remember from In Living Color otherwise Walter would probably be in stitches, get it? Anyway, this story has a pretty good effect of a body mangling and contorting in all kinds of directions and Paula Jai Parker (who plays Walter’s mom) is absolutely beautiful.

The third segment, KKK Comeuppance, is probably my favorite segment, because it’s also the most ridiculous, but I think it’s because it sort of rings more true now with what’s going on politically. A racist, ignorant piece of shit politician named Duke Metger, who also happened to be a clansman at one point, decides to set up his office in an old slave plantation. Classy and tasteful. A protester shouts tales of haunted dolls possessed by tortured slaves don’t want him there, and I’m sure you can figure out what happens from here. It’s actually pretty tense and Corbin Bernsen is solo for the last half of the segment, leaving it to just his intensity and rising fear. He does a damn fine job of switching attitudes like a pair of drawers, from cocky to puzzled to angry to frightened. The stop motion with the puppets is pretty damn good as well and the situation escalates as the story nears its end. You really feel like you might be going crazy with Duke, so this particular segment is truly a wild ride.

Finally, Hard-core Convert is more, well, I hesitate to say psychedelic. Maybe psychological. Three gangbangers gun down a rival, Crazy K, who’s saved by the 5-0. How’s that for, um, irony? Is that the word I’m looking for? Crazy K is put into a special government program in an attempt to rehabilitate him. They do this by strapping him to vertical table, shaving his head and forcing him to watch horrible footage like he’s Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange, but the intention of this is to show him he’s just as violent towards his own community as white supremacists. There is a heavy underlying message in this story, but it gets bogged down in glorifying gory images and maybe is cut a little too quick for those to understand. I think what could have been a really strong story gets lost in reveling in violence instead of speaking against it, which is was it was originally trying to do. Not saying it’s bad, because it’s actually good… but it could have been really good.

Well, that was the last story in this movie, so the only thing left to do is wrap up the main story. Our three gangbangers have a connection to that Crazy K fellow in the last segment there, and it has to do with why they are the funeral home. Mr. Simms is acting whackier than ever and seems to be going crazy. The boys wanna bail, but they still need the shit! What’re they to do? I have to admit, it’s an ending that I’m not sure is fitting for the moral, but fitting for the theme of the movie. It’s one that I didn’t see coming the first time I saw it, but after another viewing it becomes pretty obvious.

I have a very strong fondness for this movie. I first discovered it at the video store when I was fourteen or fifteen with my stepbrother. We rented it and thoroughly enjoyed it and I still do to this day. I couldn’t be happier that it finally got a Blu-ray release, especially from a company like Scream Factory. The transfer looks pretty crisp and clean, but doesn’t take away from the ‘90s vibe of lower produced films that Tales From the Hood has. There’s also a new “Making of” featurette called Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales From the Hood, which includes interviews with Director/Writer Rusty Cundieff, Producer/Writer Darin Scott, actors Corbin Bernsen, Wings Hauser, Anthony Griffith, Special Effects Supervisor Kenneth Hall, and Doll Effects Supervisors Charles Chiodo and Edward Chiodo. There’s also audio commentary from the director and a vintage featurette with your usual still gallery, trailer and TV spots to round it out.

Tales From the Hood is a solid anthology, mostly overlooked because of its theme that has been lampooned to death, especially around that era. It does have some comedy, but for the most part, it’s very dark and very serious, and unlike most of those other films, it has something to say. It’s incredibly well made with lighting that would remind you of the old Amicus films. The performances are incredible to say the least. I know I already mentioned David Alan Grier and Corbin Bernsen, but I really have to hand it to everyone else in the cast and Clarence William III makes for the most bizarre and likable host. Hopefully the film will get more recognition now that it will be more widely available.

Creepy Comic Carnival: The “You Big Dummy” Edition

Dedicated to Don Rickles. xoxo

“Ladies and gentlemen, attention please!
Come in close, so everyone can see!
I got a tale to tell.
A listen don’t cost a dime..
..And if you believe that, we’re gonna get along just fine!”

Salutations from the Carnival, culture vultures! Our dead-lining act is real wooden one from the demented dummies at EC Comics! It concerns a voice-thrower with a secret so shocking, it’ll leave you speechless! From the putrid pages of Tales from the Crypt #28, it’s The Ventriloquist’s Dummy!

Y’know, my fabulously freaky friends… horror dummies are a rather dull bunch. They either come to life to engage some rather tired terror or they play mind games with weak-minded. Well. our performer ain’t no dummy-dummy! This seasoned pro has an act that’s really FLESHED out! Impressively, for a monster from the ’50s, there ain’t a single termite to be found. Armed with a twinning secret, this old-timer is ready to show Today’s dull dolls how it’s done!

For your amusement and education, I give you The Ventriloquist’s Dummy!

Heh. How’s that for a punchline, creeps? I gotta HAND it to Larry: he kept his brother close!

Of course, with a yelp yarn this disgusting, HBO just had to take a stab. They got a Scream Team to Hand-le this one! Richard “The Omen” Donner helmed this doll scripted by Frank “The Walking Dead” Darabont. The late. great Don Rickles played the ventriloquist with a fistful of terror. As a terror-ific tribute to the creep-comic, Rickles’ voice-thrower shares a last name with artist “Ghastly” Graham Ingels. Don’t be a dummy! Check out this Chiller-Diller below!

Sorry, Folks! The Carnival is closed. All Out and Over, All Out, All Over!