Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 96 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, Alternate DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Rusty Cundieff
Cast: Anthony Griffith, Corbin Bernsen, David Alan Grier, Clarence Williams III, Michael Massee, Duane Whitaker, Joe Torry. Paula Jai Parker, Rosalind Cash, Rusty Cundieff, Wings Hauser

Synopsis: It’s a place where your worst fears can come to life. A place where it’s hard to tell nightmares from reality. A place where you will discover Tales from the Hood. Lauded for its take on complex social issues like police brutality and domestic abuse, this cult horror anthology from director Rusty Cundieff and executive producer Spike Lee. 
In Tales from the Hood. Stack, Ball and Bulldog arrive at a local funeral parlor to retrieve a lost drug stash held by the mortician Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III). But Mr. Simms has plans for the boys. He leads them on a tour of his establishment, introducing them to his corpses. Even the dead have tales to tell and Mr. Simms is willing to tell them all. And you better listen – because when you’re in the ‘hood, even everyday life can lead to extraordinary terror.

When I first saw this horror anthology back on cable TV in the 90s the segment that stuck with me was the wrap-around story, a device all great anthologies use, and this is one of the very best, in my opinion. We open with a trio of South Central L.A. wannabe gang-bangers arriving at a funeral home in the dead of night to purchase illicit drugs from the eccentric funeral director, a creepy mortician by the name of Mr. Simms, played with delicious weirdness by Clarence Williams III (Maniac Cop 2), his toothy grin and the way he says "the shit" in reference to the drugs is so damn odd.  After unnerving the knuckleheads with his creepy ways the mortician offers a tour of the mortuary, pointing out the freshly deceased, each in a coffin, and the film is comprised of each of their stories, with Simms acting as the crypt keeper to this twisted urban tale of urban evil involving cop corruption, racisms, domestic violence and gang violence. 

The first segment "Rogue Cop Revelation" tackles the corruption of the police, with a good guy rookie cop Clarence Smith (Anthony Griffith) and his new partner, Newton (Michael Massee, Lost Highway) roll-up on a stop in progress by a pair of veteran officers, Billy (Duane Whitaker, Pulp Fiction) and Strom (Wings Hauser, Mutant), who are beating the snot out of black man Martin Moorehouse (Tom Wright, Creepshow 2), a prominent civil rights leader, who has been exposing crooked cops in the area. The rookie speaks up against the behavior but turns a blind eye, only to find out that the crooked cops killed Moorehouse and made it look like a heroin overdose. Eventually Moorehouse comes back from beyond the grave as a zombie to hand out punishment to the crooked cops. It's great stuff, Tom Wight played the Hitchhiker in Creepshow 2, manages to be even more terrifying here as the undead spectre out to off the racist cops in L.A.. It's a great segment, the use of Billie Holiday's mournful classic "Strange Fruit", which plays during Moorhouse's brutal killing, was a nice touch. 

Up next, "Boys Do Get Bruised" features kind hearted grade school teacher Richard Garvy, played director/writer Rusty Cundieff, who notices some strange bruising on the arm of one of his pupils, Walter (Brandon Hammond, Mars Attacks!), who tells him that a monster did it, showing him a crayon drawing of the monster. Teach heads to the kids home he speaks with his mom (Paula Jai Parker, Friday) who attributes the bruising to the boy's clumsiness, but it soon becomes apparent that the real monster is her abusive boyfriend, played by David Alan Grier of TV's In Living Color!. Not sure I bought the funnyman as an abusive type, and the segment gets a bit silly with an arc having to do with the boys ability to make what is depicted in his crayon drawings happen in reality, bit still a decent entry, and the abusive boyfriend gets a brutal comeuppance, as he is horribly contorted and burned, all the the while spouting off a verbal tirade of hatred.   

Back at the mortuary, Mr. Simms open a casket to reveal a doll, introducing the story "KKK Comeuppance", one of the more notorious segments of the anthology, featuring Corbin Bernsen (Major League) as Duke Metger, a white racist southern politician, and former member of the KKK, who has taken up residence in a former slave plantation, said to be haunted by the "negro dolls" containing the spirits of slaves who died there. There's a painting of the former owner, Miss Cobbs, an elderly black woman, sitting in a rocking chair, surrounded by little black dolls, which plays into the story. While Jewish and African-American protesters gather outside the plantation, Metger and his African-American image-consultant Rhodie (Roger Guenveur Smith), work on a new campaign ad, until the the uncle-tom Rhodie falls down the stairs to his death. After the funeral Metger returns to the plantation, noticing that some of the dolls in the painting have disappeared, leaving behind a blank white space on the canvas, soon he finds himself fighting for his racist life, screaming at the little "nigglins", draping himself in the American flag while trying to beat down the dolls. I love the slave-dolls, they're a bit on the goofy side, but the Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns from Outer Space) creations brought to mind the Zuni dolls segment of the TV anthology Trilogy of Terror (1975), lots of fun, and a deliciously twisted segment. 

The last of the main stories is "Hard-Core Convert" featuring an unrepentant gang-banger named Crazy K (Lamont Bentley, TV's Moesha) who is sent to prison after murdering multiple people, all of it black-on-black street violence. In prison he meets a murderous white supremacist who tells him of the end-of-days for black people, but also tells him that he might be spared, as the two have one thing in common, they have both only killed black people. One day Dr. Cushing (Rosalind Cash, The Omega Man) arrives and has Crazy K transferred to a different facility, where he is told that he has been given the opportunity to be rehabilitated, to learn the consequences of his actions, to show remorse for his crimes against his own people, including the innocents he has gunned down along the way. The experiment involves Clockwork Orange slide shows of racism, lynching and gang violence in addition to a deprivation chamber, where he must face the demons of the mind, his victims, which were pretty harrowing. The whole movie smacks of social commentary, I always found this one to be the most poignant and unpleasant, but it has powerful message. 

Now we come to the finale, the completion of the warp-a-round story with Mr. Simms and the knuckle headed wannabe gang-bangers, who have come for the "shit", which they get in spades, and as promised, they are "knee-deep in the shit" with Mr. Simms  transforming into Satan, cackling with glee as the truth about the trio's fate is revealed, a classic end to a classic horror anthology. 

Tales From The Hood (1995) is a wonderful horror anthology, one of the highlights of 90s horror and in the upper echelon of horror anthologies, it's right up there with Creepshow (1982), Torture Garden (1967), Trick R Treat (2007), Tales from The Crypt (1972) and Tales from The Darkside (1983), it's that good, and now that it is again widely available it's stature among horror fans will only grow. The stories are a nice mix of goofy horror and brutal social commentary, the effects are quite good, brutal, and only marred by some slight early CGI used to morph some of the effects, but this is the good shit, I promise.  

Audio/Video: Tales From the Hood has long out-of-print on DVD, it finally arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory looking spiffy, shot in the 90s the source looks crisp and clean for the most part, there's a bit of softness throughout, but overall we get nicely managed grain, good fine detail, and the colors are vibrant. The old DVD was cropped on all four sides, this is a huge improvement, and the clarity is impressive. Audio on the disc is handled by English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 track that is crisp and powerful. Dialogue, effects and the awesome Christopher Yong score come through  nicely balanced and free of any distortion, optional English subtitles are provided. There's an alternate stereo track, not sure what the source is, but it seems muted and much less dynamic, compared to the main audio track, I switched back and forth a few times wondering if perhaps there were different music cues, but I didn't notice anything. I
f anyone can clue me into what this alternate track is I would appreciate it.

Onto the extras we begin with the sole NEW extra, a brand new documentary Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood, which features new interviews with director/writer Rusty Cundieff, producer/writer Darin Scott, actors Corbin Bernsen, Wings Hauser and Anthony Griffith, special effects supervisor Kenneth Hall, doll effects supervisors Charles Chiodo and Edward Chiodo; it's a great watch with plenty of input from everyone, who all seemed to genuinely enjoy making the anthology, writer director/writer Rusty Cundieff, producer/writer Darin Scott are funny guys, the Chiodo Brothers offers some dun insights into creating a few of the special effects used in the film. There's also a vintage making-of featurette narrated by the character of Mr. Simms, plus the director's audio commentary from the laserdisc is included, as is the original theatrical trailer and a series of TV spots, plus a gallery of images including stills, behind-the-scenes, sketches, and promotional lobby cards for the movie. 

Notably, while I was listening to the Shockwaves podcast a few weeks ago writer Darren Scott said a new commentary was recorded for the movie but was lost due to a technical glitch, which is a serious bummer.  

The single-disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray comes housed in a standard blue keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original one-sheet poster art and a new colorful illustration by Joel Robinson, wjo also did some vibrant artwork for Scream Factory releases of The Exorcist II, Black Christmas and The Serpent and the Rainbow. The alternate artwork is also featured on the limited edition o-ring (slipcover).  

Special Features:

- NEW Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood – featuring interviews with director/writer Rusty Cundieff, producer/writer Darin Scott, actors Corbin Bernsen Wings Hauser and Anthony Griffith, special effects supervisor Kenneth Hall, doll effects supervisors Charles Chiodo and Edward Chiodo (56 min) HD 
- Audio Commentary with director/writer Rusty Cundieff
- Vintage “Making of” Featurette (6 min) 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
- Original TV Spots (3 min) 
- Still Gallery (10 min) HD 

It's been a long time coming for Tales from Hood to arrive on Blu-ray, the DVD has been out of print for years, and I was beginning to think it would never happen, but Scream Factory have come through with a wonderful Blu-ray with some cool extras, the A/V looks nice and the movie's blend of goofy horror and brutal social commentary truly is "the shit", worth the price of purchase alone for the performance from Clarence Williams III in the wrap-a-round, everything else is just the cherry on top!  4/5