I know, seeing the title Tales from the Hood automatically incites eye rolling to near painful degrees. An immediate chuckle of indignant laughter is probably uttered as well. It’s easy to write off Tales from the Hood based on its title alone, and well, even its simplified synopsis. Moments of Tales from the Hood are just laughable in that cheesy, dated, over-acting to the point of discomfort type of way. But I admit, as a child this film petrified me. In fact, it was the most terrifying film my horror-addicted adolescent self had seen; on par with Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest and the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
My first time watching Tales from the Hood resulted in a sleepless night where I laid in bed breathing as shallow as humanly possible in an attempt to not be heard. My covers tightly covered me from the nose down as I stared daggers into my closet door. It was filled with an array of Barbie dolls that had in my mind now become vessels for lost spirits just waiting for the right moment to slide back the closet door in order to exact revenge because of my years of unintended mistreatment of them.
Look Barbie, I’m really sorry I made you sleep with Ken and Stacy before marriage… please don’t kill me.
Tales from the Hood features four vignette stories told to three thugs as they make their way through a funeral home. Their promise is a stash of drugs to sell off. Their seller is the parlor’s eccentric mortician. As the boys grow more anxious to get their hands on the “shit,” the mortician’s stories grow closer to the true reason the boys are in his presence.
I was nervous when I started re-watching Tales from the Hood in my dark, lonely apartment after having a few drinks. At first, I was anxious of revisiting the spooks that shook me in childhood, then I was worried that the entire watching experience would be sullied if the scares were brainless and cheap. Luckily, Tales from the Hood reminded me that even as a kid I had pretty good taste when it came to movies (except for Mighty Ducks 2. That movie can rot in hell). The episodes featured throughout Tales from the Hood all share a theme of urban horror that blurs the line between fictitious fears and real life tragedy, an element that always stuck with me on a personal level, exasperating my biggest fears tenfold.
Director Rusty Cundieff proves his skill by delivering striking, creating visuals that carry the story foreword. His choice of filming techniques cleverly plays on expectations in order to shock and awe viewers. Notable moments include an extreme low angle that transforms into a crane shot over a graveyard and scenes when the camera revolves 360 in a disorienting haze that reflects the mood of a guilt-ridden character before revealing the fate of a doomed other. There are moments where lighting of shadows are brilliantly orchestrated to frame a villain. Other times the editing is (semi) tight enough to pack a brutal punch – pun intended. Sharing writing credits with Darin Scott, Cundieff’s dual efforts snowballs the Tales from the Hood’s story into an avalanche of the uncanny.
“It’s a 1 eight-seven on an undercova cop”
Sure, it’s easy to laugh at the absurdist elements within the Tales from the Hood but the screenplay is aware of these, using them to its advantage in order to push terrifying moments to the extreme. Yet, it’s the engaging commentary effectively strewn throughout that makes the overall tale significant. Racism, abuse, black-on-black crime, drug use, police brutality; all are sociological horrors transformed into tangible concepts of monsters, voodoo dolls, and zombies. Cundieff and Scott not only focus on the problems of the hood as a whole, but they take a psychological approach as well, fleshing out characters’ weaknesses in order to contrast against the needed virtues to survive.
Tales from the Hood takes the issues within black communities and presents them under the guise of traditional horror elements. It lampoons young black males’ appropriation of thug culture and the cycle of violence and abuse that takes place within it. It questions hood mentality while bringing up the question of who is to blame for the perpetual cycle of violence on the streets. It even explores the spiritual implications of personal actions, urging those involved to take responsibly for their actions or inaction.
Q: Is there a heaven for a G?
A: Tupac… how do I break this to you?
Now, I won’t pretend Tales from the Hood is a perfect film. As mentioned previously, there are some truly dated elements present within it. Characters are over the top in their portrayals and to the core. A resistant thug isn’t just prideful, but he angrily holds on to his convictions despite the chance of redemption from imprisonment. An abusive character is constantly filled with unquenchable rage at the ones around him for no apparent reason than to hate. A racist character lacks the tack to barely stop himself from making racial comments in everyday conversations. While I understand that these stereotypes are needed to drive home the film’s message and exemplify its designated monstrosities, they tend to drag the film down.
I enjoyed Tales from the Hood more as an educated adult than I did as an impressionable child. What before was frightening because of its creepiness is now affecting because the fearful images are just another harsh reminder of existence. Elements of Tales from the Hood are heartbreaking and an awareness of the types of horrors it presents needs to be experienced. Tales from the Hood was the reason I took extra good care of my Barbie dolls, going as far as to leave food on their mouths in hopes that I was appeasing the lost souls within. It was the reason that when I drew people, I was questionable of destroying the picture afterwards in fear of hurting someone. Now, it’s another reason to advocate in the community, to reach out to people in abusive situations and let the world know there’s never an “only option” when growing up in the hood or anywhere with less opportunities, just the option you choose.
Take a Drink: every time the lead thugs act like members of the Three Stooges.
Take a Drink: every time the mortician’s overacting makes you feel embarrassed for him.
Take a Drink: every time a gun is drawn
Do a Shot: if you get the heebie-jeebies from any story.