Thursday, November 10, 2016

In short: Tales from the Hood (1995)

And it came to pass in the year 1995 that Spike Lee produced a Tales from the Crypt-style horror anthology movie directed by Rusty Condieff, adding the horrors of the African-American experience to EC’s patented mix of sadism and moralizing.

A funeral home director (Clarence Williams III in the sort of exalted performance that’d provoke Nicolas Cage to suggest he just might tone it down a little) tells a trio of gangstas the sad and tragic stories of the dearly departed while he leads them to the Shit he’s apparently trying to sell them. There might be a twist involved regarding the kind of shit the trio will encounter in the end.

The first of these tales concerns a black civil liberties activist being murdered by white cops (among them Wings Hauser as the nastiest of the bunch), the black cop who doesn’t say anything, a pretty lame use of Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, some choice crucifixion symbolism and zombie vengeance from the grave.

The next one tells the story of a little boy who is threatened by a monster, of his helpful teacher, and of random drawing-based psychic powers.

Story number three concerns the misadventures that happen to a racist good old boy politician (Corbin Bernsen being hilariously nasty, though calling him exactly a caricature would be too optimistic in the time of Trump) when he movies into the old family plantation without considering a very real curse. Dolls carrying the souls of slaughtered slaves and gut-munching become involved.

Last but not least, another gangsta agrees to a behavioural modification program to get off a murder charge. The doctor in charge (Rosalind Cash rather effectively attempting to outdo Williams in the scenery munching) likes her nurses to wear kinky outfits, and brainwashes through pictures of real lynchings.

So yeah, like EC comics, Tales from the Hood is crude, pretty nasty, and about as subtle as a sledgehammer. That’s not necessarily a problem, mind you, for the last time I looked, expressing anger and fear through violence and shock is rather one of the things horror seems to be made for, and asking one of the few black horror movies to be any different would be particularly hypocritical. For my tastes, using the pictures of real lynchings as elements in a film of cheap and angry thrills seems rather distasteful. But then, this is a film that tries in its own unsubtle way to very directly say angry stuff about the state of the (black American) world in 1995 (that isn’t much better twenty years and a black president later) as the director sees it, so it’s at least obvious where this is coming from, so while it’s tacky, it’s also honest.

For most of the time – I’m not terribly fond of the last story in any case, because it isn’t enough of a story even for an anthology movie – Tales from the Hood is a really great horror anthology, full of crazy ideas, actors who hit the needed unsubtle notes with great vigour and enthusiasm, sometimes dubious yet always fun and imaginative effects, a wicked sense of humour, and an honest anger that often turns the lack of subtlety on screen into a virtue. I have no idea what’s not to like about that.

No comments: