The ‘90s often get a bad rap with horror fans. After the numerous successful slashers and creature effects films of the ’80s, the ‘90s offered a different variety of horror fare. Though there were plenty of hits, hidden gems, and misunderstood classics, the ‘90s usually don’t get the kind of love that other decades get when it comes to horror. It’s time to change that.
The ‘90s were a great time for anthology horror. It was so good that we even got shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps for kids! Yes, there were plenty of cinematic short story offerings in the ‘90s, but one that stands out from the crowd is Rusty Cundieff’s Tales from the Hood.
Like most anthology horror setups, we’re given a framing story and a selection of ghoulish morality tales. The wraparound centers around three young men who visit a funeral parlor to buy some drugs from the bizarre owner, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III). As they make their way through the mortuary, Mr. Simms begins to tell the trio stories revolving around some of his recent arrivals.
Before we dig into the movie, there’s something we have to acknowledge upfront: Clarence Williams III is giving the performance of a lifetime as the kooky Mr. Simms. He’s absorbing, hilarious, and totally unhinged in the best of ways. It’s impossible to walk away from Tales from the Hood and not be amused by his go-for-broke act.
As with all anthologies, you’re bound to enjoy certain stories more than others. What’s great about Tales from the Hood is that all the stories have a unification of purpose thanks to a single director being at the helm. I’ve always maintained that the best anthology approach is to have one vision guiding all the different stories. Cundieff displays a sure hand when it comes to balancing the different tones of each piece. This doesn’t feel like a random assortment of short films (like many anthologies) but a united collection of tales that are working towards a particular purpose.
And while Tales from the Hood certainly wants the audience to have fun, there is also a far more deliberate agenda behind this movie. Tales from the Hood is using horror to examine issues that are relevant to black communities. The stories in Tales from the Hood cover difficult subject matter such as institutionalized racism, police corruption, abuse, gang violence, and malicious cultural ignorance. While most anthology horror is just out to deliver a good yarn, Tales from the Hood wants to try and give a voice to important issues through the use of genre storytelling. That’s admirable and often very effective.
Adding to this is a cast that feels in tune with the material and its goals. Special commendation should go to David Alan Grier as Carl in the story “Boys Do Get Bruised.” Grier was primarily known as a comic actor at this point in his career, and to see him take on a dark and dramatic role showcases his real talent. There are also appropriately slimy turns from Michael Massee and Corbin Bernsen as virulent racists that get their just desserts.
When it comes to anthology horror, Tales from the Hood is a must-watch for lovers of the format. The various tales balance out well, and the direction from Cundieff helps keep everything feeling tight. More importantly, Tales from the Hood deserves its reputation as a horror film that utilized the genre to make some tough statements. It’s unflinching in its feelings about the matters it’s exploring, and that kind of approach to horror should always be praised.
Also, Clarence Williams III turns into a giant demon. How can you not love that?
Be sure to check out the documentary Horror Noire on Shudder to learn more about Tales from the Hood and other excellent horror films.