Wednesday, October 31, 2018

TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995) Blu-ray review

Tales from the Hood (1995) d. Rusty Cundieff (USA) (98 min)

Stack (Joe Torry), Ball (De’aundre Bonds), and Bulldog (Samuel Monroe, Jr.) sneak into the local funeral parlor, seeking to recover a rumored drug stash held by “professional and courteous” mortician Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III). Before the transaction takes place, however, Simms insists on leading the trio on a tour of the establishment, getting the stories straight from the corpses’ mouths.

This ambitious omnibus from director Cundieff (Fear of a Black Hat) and executive producer Spike Lee fuses elements of horror, comedy, and social commentary, all depicted from an African-American point of view. The script by Cundieff and producer Darin Scott (From a Whisper to a Scream, Stepfather II) tackles numerous hot-button issues within a genre context, including police brutality, domestic violence, racism, and gang violence. As our mysterious organ-playing host, former Mod Squad star Williams steals the show with his over-the-top portrayal, exuding comic zeal and menace from every strand of his Don King hairstyle.

The first tale, “Rogue Cop Revelation,” deals with an idealistic black cop (Anthony Griffith) who witnesses the brutal slaying of a civil rights activist (Tom Wright) at the hands of his racist squad mates (led by professional B-movie heavy Wings Hauser). On the anniversary of the crime, the spirit of our murdered crusader returns for vengeance, spelling plenty of red for the white in blue.

The next story, “Boys Do Get Bruised,” concerns an abused young boy (Brandon Hammond) who blames his frequent bruises upon the “monster in the closet” (David Alan Grier, playing well against comic type in an unsympathetic role). When a kindly schoolteacher (Duane Whitaker) attempts to intervene, the stage is set for a slippery, voodoo-inspired showdown, with Paula Jai Parker caught in the middle as the boy’s conflicted mother and enjoyably twisted effects by Screaming Mad George (who also provided the wraparound segment's final monster moment).

In a yarn all-too-relevant in today’s political climate, the third offering, “KKK Comeuppance,” features an unrepentantly racist candidate (Corbin Bernsen, in a turn clearly modeled on Klan leader David Dukes but who might remind viewers of a certain current U.S. president) who inadvertently incurs the wrath of the spirits of murdered slaves in the form of bloodthirsty dolls. Brought to life through the Chiodo Brothers’ stop-motion animation, these pint-sized terrors are quite memorable and vicious, but no more upsetting than Roger Guenveur Smith as Duke’s black image-maker, working against his own people’s interest.

A violent gang member’s (Lamont Bentley) attempted rehabilitation is the subject of the final chapter, “Hard Core Convert,” a combination of A Clockwork Orange and Boyz N the Hood, with Rosalind Cash (The Omega Man, Death Spa) malevolently authoritarian as program head “Dr. Cushing.” The historical imagery flashed before our test subject’s eyes, with newspaper clippings of lynchings, KKK rallies, and burning crosses married to contemporary sequences of black men shooting black men, prove admittedly tough to watch. But then again, that’s the point and Cundieff is not about to let anyone off the hook.

While the social angle is none too subtle and the onscreen brutality occasionally overwhelms the sense of fun that Cundieff appears to be striving for, the film remains an accomplished injection of diversity into a notably pale genre.

Hood makes its high-definition debut courtesy of Shout! Factory in a Collector’s Edition packed with gruesome goodies. Cundieff and Scott reunite for a good-natured and reflective audio commentary, layering in behind-the-scenes memories with the challenges of bringing their politically charged genre effort to light. There’s also Thommy Hutson's handsomely produced, hour-long making-of documentary, “Welcome to Hell,” assembling many of the major players before and behind the camera, with a pair of TV and theatrical trailers topping things off.

Tales from the Hood is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:


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