October 31, 2020

Here’s why the 1995 film ‘Tales from the Hood’ still matters


Rosalind Cash (I.) and Lamont Bentley (r.) star in an eerie and offbeat take on humanity’s dark side. Savoy Pictures releases “Tales from The Hood,” a 40 Acres and A Mule Filmworks presentation of a Darin Scott production of a Rusty Cundieff film. Co-written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, produced and co-written by Darin Scott, with Spike Lee as executive producer.

Photo: Savoy Pictures

There may never have been a “Get Out” if there had not been “Tales From the Hood.” The blockbuster horror movie by Jordan Peele that broke box office records and scored an Academy Award for its screenplay owes a lot to the movie from 1995.

“Tales,” widely regarded as the godfather of Black horror films, has the vibe of such earlier horror anthologies as “Trilogy of Terror” and takes its smarts from the social-commentary themes that coursed through so many of the best “Twilight Zone” episodes.

For $6 million and a nonunion crew, stand-up comedian-turned-filmmaker Rusty Cundieff and co-writer Darin Scott created a horror-comedy classic that’s spawned two sequels, the latest being “Tales From the Hood 3” debuting Oct. 17 on SyFy.

In its 25th anniversary year, the original will be part of a special community screening Oct. 18 at The Drive-In at Sawyer Yards.

The film was first conceived, in part, as a one-act play that focused on lycanthropy, the disease of being a werewolf, according to Cundieff. He had success early in his filmmaking career with the satirical “Fear of a Black Hat” in 1993, and he wanted his next project to be a politically conscious horror film.

“Tales From the Hood”

When: 10 p.m. Oct. 18

Where: The Drive-In at Sawyer Yards, 2301 Summer

Details: A special community screening for $5, with proceeds going to Houston Food Bank and Black Lives Matter; rooftopcinemaclub.com/houston

When: 9 p.m. Oct. 17

Network: SyFy

“My take on it was I like horror, but if I’m going to do a horror anthology, I want it to be about something,” he said during a weekend panel marking the film’s anniversary as part of the streaming Nightstream horror film festival. “How I was raised, my dad used to drag me to every march, every political event, it was a very natural thing for me to want to see social issues addressed inside the film.”

With enough material circulating in the early ’90s to pick from, including the beating of Rodney King, the O.J. Simpson trial, gang violence and the Oklahoma City bombing, Cundieff went to work crafting a horror tale that was relevant to the times. Maybe not surprising, the themes in this film are still important today.

“All these things are still plaguing us times 10, apparently,” he said.

Houston-born director Justin Simien, whose upcoming horror movie “Bad Hair,” screening at Moonstruck Drive-In Oct. 17-18 and landing Oct. 23 on Hulu, also acknowledged Cundieff and his film for its multigenerational inspiration.

“Hats off to Rusty, man, ‘Tales From the Hood’ is one of the reason’s why I thought I could even do this,” Simien said during the recent New York Comic-Con panel “The State of Black Horror Post-‘Get Out.’”

The movie consists of four separate tales, connected through a main narrative of a group of LA drug dealers going to a creepy mortuary to collect some dope. The mortician is played by a brilliantly sinister Clarence Williams III.

Each story ends with a supernatural twist, and there’s a running social commentary through each vignette, with ideas aimed at both Black and white audiences.

The first story is about police corruption and rogue cops, an all-too-relevant tale for stories about policing in 2020. The second tale looks at family domestic violence and toxic masculinity. The third, featuring some killer puppets, also has some relevance to today and looks at white supremacy and politics.

The final piece in the anthology is a “A Clockwork Orange”-inspired gang tale that juxtaposes images of street violence and public lynching’s in the Old South.

What helped the film stay as true to its mix of horror and social relevance was the involvement of Spike Lee as the producer (Lee has also produced the sequels). “The battles that we had, truly ended up being more on the marketing side. The studio did not want to market the film, a film that had any kind of social message whatsoever,” Cundieff said. “The marketing really let the film down.”

But the film was discovered on home video and went on to gain a cult following.

A solid mid-’90s hardcore street-rap soundtrack didn’t hurt either, with tracks by Wu-Tang Clan, Texas-bred rapper Spice 1, California group The Click and the film’s closing credit track, “Face Mob,” by Houston’s Face Mob, featuring Scarface.

Cundieff plays down his impact on the social commentary Black horror film genre. “If for some reason, ‘Tales From the Hood’ helped Jordan Peele get to that point, then that would be the greatest news,” he said.

Camilo Hannibal Smith is a Houston-based writer.







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