Rusty Cundieff is back, and he means business. In 1995, writer/director Cundieff unleashed upon the world a powerful and provocative horror anthology film called Tales From the Hood, which serves as both a hilarious anecdote about a wacky funeral parlor owner named Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III) who tells outlandish stories to gullible men, but also as a groundbreaking commentary about the mistreatment of African Americans in a corrupt society which masquerades as enlightened and just. Now, more than twenty years later, the long-awaited sequel Tales from the Hood 2 is finally here, and with it comes the reunion of the powerful trio Spike Lee, Darin Scott, and Cundieff himself – three men who will stop at nothing to shed light on a nation that still oppresses people of color while simultaneously promoting the idea of progressivism.
The wrap around segment titled “Robo Hell” begins with a horribly insensitive little man named Dumas Beach, who just happens to be the largest builder and owner of private persons in the country. Racist, sexist, and overall insufferable, Mr. Beach constantly degrades his guest Portify Simms (Keith David) when he’s not busy making passes at every female employee in the building, putting his alarming white privilege on full display. Mr. Beach is currently developing a “Robo Patriot”, a.k.a. an updated version of artificial intelligence which can learn from both real life and fabled stories in order to help evaluate persons of interest and better determine who is the most likely to commit a crime. That way, these pedestrians – who more likely than not, happen to be people of color – can be incarcerated before they ever step one foot in the wrong direction. Eventually, Mr. Beach hopes that this terrifying talking piece of scrap metal will be able to lead an entire Robot Police Force, which will inevitably prey upon every single minority, immigrant, and anyone else the 1% deem unworthy of existing peacefully within America. Brought in to help tell the robot stories, Mr. Simms details what he calls “true life” accounts to the machine, each one more wild and saddening than the last, which ultimately angers Mr. Beach, who was hoping to create a robot that would give way to much more bigoted tendencies.
The first story Mr. Simms tells is called “Good Golly”, and it shows how subtle racism can be just as damning as explicit hate crimes and slander. When best friends Zoe (Jasmine Akakpo) and Audrey (Alexandria DeBerry) take a trip inside the “Museum of Negrosity”, they learn first hand about the vast and troubling history of racist iconography as they walk in and out of rows filled with a plethora of xenophobic historical evidence. There’s a giant, exaggerated character of color on the wall whose mouth serves as a doorway, a ‘children’s book’ filled with prejudiced perceptions of young black boys, and even a shout out to the infamous voodoo puppet from the “KKK Comeuppance” segment in the first Tales from the Hood film. But all Audrey wants is the Good Golly doll. When the museum owner refuses to sell the doll to her, explaining how “slave owners used to brand people, but when people became free, they used pen, ink, and art to brand people in new ways”, Audrey argues that the doll isn’t offensive simply because she always grew up with one in her household. Still, the shop owner sticks to his guns, so Audrey takes it upon herself, along with her brother Phillip (Andy Cohen) and a reluctant Zoe to break into the place after dark and steal what she deems rightfully hers. It’s a decision she’ll regret the rest of her life – although to be fair, as a result of her ignorance, she doesn’t have much longer to live.
The second story Mr. Simms relays is titled “Medium”, and it begins with a punch to the face. Three hardened gangsters are beating an old friend to death in the privacy of a private parking garage as he sits bound to a chair, but he still won’t tell them where the money is. The man in the chair, known as Cliff, used to be a pimp back in his prime, but that world is behind him now, and all he wants to do is take his five million dollars and use it for his charitable organization to help put kids through college in his community. After making a wisecrack that goes a touch too far, one of the gangsters beats Cliff to a lifeless pulp, leaving the other two men without a cash prize or a person to hit for information. Desperate, the trio decide to invade a known TV psychic named Mr. Lloyd’s house and hold him hostage until he agrees to host a séance and help them channel Cliff to finally figure out where he’s hiding the bounty. Unfortunately, their plans go askew when Cliff enters the medium’s body and refuses to leave, or answer their questions, or do anything but return the favor they bestowed upon him when they decided that greed was more important than encouraging a positive change within the toxic environment that birthed them into the criminals they are today.
“Date Night” is the name of the third story that Mr. Simms narrates, and it is easily the wildest segment of the bunch. Two notorious players Ty and Kahad fib to two attractive aspiring actresses Carmen and Liz that they are casting directors, looking for possible subjects for their upcoming projects. Once the bait is on the hook, the pair mosey on over to the ladies’ surprisingly lavish estate, starting out the evening with a harmless game of Cards Against Humanity and ending it with a dangerous dose of GHB. As the guys set up their tripod to film their latest conquer, an act which, judging by their casual ritualistic routine, has happened many times before, they witness for the very first time the tables being turned, as the women suddenly and without warning bite back – both literally and figuratively. If nothing else, this is a devilishly entertaining vignette that hopefully teaches malicious men the dangers of assuming that their horrific actions will never come back to haunt them.
The fourth and final story is called “The Sacrifice”, and it is without a doubt the toughest to watch. Told across two timelines, this segment demonstrates the ease with which bigotry can become normalized if given the prospect of ascending the sociopolitical ladder. The first timeline occurs in the year 1955, and it shows two white men picking up two young African Americans, driving them to an isolated location, and viciously physical assaulting them. The second timeline occurs in present day, and tells the story of an African American man named Henry and his white wife Emily, who becomes crazed with pregnancy blues, claiming that the ghost of a boy in their front yard is coming for their baby. Concerned with appearances for his boss’ campaign, Henry shuts Emily up in her room while he hosts a gathering downstairs for Mr. Cotton, the politician for whom he’s organizing a support group, and hopefully gaining many votes in their favor. Henry fails to heed his mother’s warnings about supporting a man who is so overtly racist in the name of power and financial gain, and as a result, he is confronted by the apparition of the little boy who was beaten to death in the 1955 timeline – none other than Emmett Till, a real life victim of skin based hatred. Fourteen-year-old Till was infamously murdered by a gang of white men during the 1950s after he whistled at a white woman, and his mother responded with an open casket at his funeral to show the world the injustice that had been committed. Most historians would argue that this moment helped spark the Civil Rights Movement, ultimately paving the way for voting rights and equal treatment for African Americans across the board. As the ghost of Till stands in Henry’s front yard, questioning his morals for supporting such an evil man, he gives the traitor two choices: either step down as the campaign manager for Mr. Cotton, or bear the repercussions of history becoming undone in the name of cowardice. Henry must make a sacrifice, just as Emmett did years ago, or else all of the fighting the men who came before him carried out will have been in vain.
Given the harsh reality of our current political climate, as racism rears its ugly head in the most aggressive form displayed in many years, it becomes more apparent than ever before that an anthology like Tales from the Hood 2 is the one we need right now. The horror/comedy elements draw viewers in who might otherwise overlook such a raw commentary on our current state of affairs, but the uncomfortable debate at the center of the film forces the audience to pause and think about how they and others are behaving in a world that’s becoming increasingly comfortable carrying out everyday hate crimes under the guise of free speech. Although as a whole, this movie plays out as a bit of a mixed bag, in the end, Cundieff’s daring nature allows him to push the envelope farther, more honestly, and onto a more widespread audience than arguably any of his filmmaking peers working in any type of genre. “The Sacrifice” is obviously the strongest segment of the bunch, but just as its 1995 predecessor demonstrated years ago, Tales from the Hood 2 proves Rusty Cundieff has a knack for balancing light-hearted comedic gore gags with a heartfelt discussion about what’s wrong with humanity, and what we can do to fix it.