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
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
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
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
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.