Three drug dealers have assembled outside this funeral parlour tonight, where they have it on good authority that there is a stash of heroin to be had, theirs for the taking, they just have to approach the mortician Mr Simms (Clarence Williams III) to get it. They are perhaps behaving more bullish about this than they feel, and one offers to wait outside the building to keep guard because he does not wish to enter, but once they have plucked up the courage to go in, they are greeted by Simms who assures them he has the "shit", but first, if he may, he will regale the trio with a collection of tales connected to the recently deceased...
Director Rusty Cundieff chose to follow up his cult rap comedy Fear of a Black Hat with this Spike Lee-produced horror homage to the Tales from the Crypt television series, which had been based on the EC Comics run, and in turn had been adapted into a collection of British-made chiller anthologies from Amicus in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. The actual Tales from the Crypt was making movies too, though not portmanteau ones, proper feature length efforts which did middling business at the box office and sputtered out after two theatrical releases, but there was something far more traditional about the endeavours of Cundieff and his producer/co-writer Darin Scott.
The twist here was the African American experience which informed the titular tales, offering up a dose of social conscience to the proceedings that you could not say was completely absent from its inspiration, those stories being heavily moralistic all the better to explain why the terrible things were happening to these people, not all of whom have necessarily done enough to justify their fate. But there was an Old Testament aspect to these which basically punished everyone, reasoning that simple humanity makes each and every one of us guilty of something, which Cundieff and Scott carried over in what ended up as a quartet of shockers run through in around ninety minutes.
Once it had been established that the weirdo Mr Simms was being set up for some guessable revelation by the conclusion, and that he was going to tell the trio of dealers his stories whether they wanted him to or not (the only motive for sticking around is those drugs - they seem to have extraordinary reserves of patience with him otherwise), we launched into the first, where an upstanding pillar of the black community has been victimised by corrupt white cops led by Wings Hauser, winding up dead in a staged drugs overdose (the cops are dealers). The rest sees the zombified statesman exact his over the top revenge, marking this out as not a film where subtlety had any place being. Next up was a little boy whose teacher (Cundieff) is worried about him and his claims there's a monster attacking him every night.
In a Paperhouse-style development, the kid can control reality with his drawings, leaving us with an anti-child abuse message. Next, a racist politician who has stirred up social unrest with his faux-naive, "Who, me?" man of the people rhetoric and his new ex-plantation home is taught a lesson by some puppets of slaves, an instalment that had more resonance years later. Finally, the issue of black on black violence is raised as a gangsta is given a revolutionary new scientific treatment to change his ways, involving images of actual lynchings and staged gang murders. Again, there's no way you could come away from Tales from the Hood and not be aware of what it was trying to impart to you, and its constant telling off and ultimate conservative religious bent did come across as a nineties variation on those seventies Christian scare movies that would be shown in churches, only with more of a budget for the visual effects and makeup. But if you didn't mind being lectured to by your horrors, this was delivered with gusto. Music by Christopher Young.
[The BFI release this on Blu-ray in the UK, along with its 2018 sequel, a more comedic anthology, with the following features:
Limited Edition 2-disc set (3,000 copies)
Audio commentary by Rusty Cundieff (2017): the co-writer and director covers the film in detail
The Making of Tales from the Hood (2017, 56 mins): a lengthy retrospective that explores the film in detail
Interview with Rusty Cundieff (2020, 69 mins): the director is interviewed by music and film critic Adam Murray
Interview with Darin Scott (2020, 19 mins): produced exclusively for this release, the producer and co-writer is interviewed by the BFI's Abigail Yartey
Gallery featuring original storyboards and sketches provided by director Rusty Cundieff
***FIRST PRESSING ONLY*** Fully illustrated booklet with new essay by Adam Murray and full film credits.]