Read This Before You Watch “Tales from the Hood”

Our chronological series moves into new territories of Black representation with “Tales from the Hood” (1995), directed and co-written by Rusty Cundieff (with co-writer Darin Scott) and executive-produced by Spike Lee. With this film, we finally encounter a commercially successful horror film not only aimed at Black audiences but one with a Black director, Black writers, a largely Black cast of actors, and (finally) Black producers holding the purse strings.

What’s more, “Tales from the Hood” uses its horror tropes and metaphors to address serious cultural issues such as corrupt and racist policing, domestic violence, white supremacist strains in American politics, and the nation’s collective challenges in reconciling its troubled history.

Not to mention the contemporary hot-button issue of gang violence afflicting urban neighborhoods during the 80s and 90s.

As an anthology-style film, “Tales from the Hood” relies upon a framing device where each episode connects to a mortuary and the stories are ostensibly narrated by the mortician Mr. Simms, played brilliantly by Clarence Williams III with facial expressions and a wardrobe reminiscent of Vincent Price during his years of working with Roger Corman on adaptations of grotesque and Edgar Allan Poe tales.

The individual tales are presented and structured very much in the E.C. Comics or “Twilight Zone” style, where seemingly normal everyday people are suddenly confronted with extreme circumstances. As things get weirder, the characters’ deeper psychological and spiritual troubles are gradually exposed. Eventually the characters’ darkest fears become manifest, evil is punished, and moral justice is realized, often through an eruption of supernatural, horrific, and ultimately cathartic violence.

I’ll leave it to you personally to discover the various twists and turns in each of the individual episodes, all of which hold up extremely well even 25 years later. We’ll have lots to discuss next week.

As a final coda, despite the critical praise and audience admiration heaped upon this groundbreaking film, “Tales from the Hood” didn’t spawn any sequels for over twenty years. That said, both “Tales from the Hood 2” (2018) and “Tales from the Hood 3” (2020) are worthy successors to the original. Their consistent quality derives in large part from the fact that both are also helmed by writer-director Rusty Cundieff. In the intervening years, Cundieff has stayed busy, working on a diverse collection of television and film projects. He publicly credits the success of “Get Out” with inspiring him to resurrect his old horror anthology series.

Horror fans everywhere are gratefully delighted to see more of Cundieff’s dark brilliance in this creepy, blood-soaked genre. Whether you’re revisiting this classic or watching it for the first time, I’m sure you’re going to enjoy “Tales from the Hood.”

Published by Chuck Caruso

writer of dark fiction (crime, horror & western noir), literary & textual scholar (american gothic, noir, po-co, sf), and cultural critic

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