Tales from the Hood I and II Blu-ray Review
Horror is a genre which lends itself to short forms, just as much on screen and in prose. While there have been anthology films in other genres, the form is particularly suited for horror. Darin Scott, producer and co-writer of Tales from the Hood, and in the same capacities plus co-director of the sequel, particularly drew on the films made by Amicus in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, From Beyond the Grave, Vault of Horror, and so on. Tales from the Hood contains four stories within the main story, and a framing narrative which pays off at the end.
Stack (Joe Torry), Ball (De’aundre Bonds) and Bulldog (Sam Monroe) are three small-time drug dealers who break into a mortuary run by the mysterious Mr Simms (Clarence Williams III). Simms has stories to tell, four of them in fact. But who is he, and what is his intention?
Tales from the Hood came about after co-writer and director Rusty Cundieff’s previous feature Fear of a Black Hat, which Scott produced. Spike Lee contacted Cundieff, who at first thought Lee was displeased at the parody of him and fellow director John Singleton in his film. But no, Lee simply wanted to work with Cundieff, and the result was Tales from the Hood, which Cundieff and Scott had been developing up to that point.
One difference Tales from the Hood has from many other horror films is that the two writers/directors bring Black themes and subject matter to the forefront. People of colour have featured in horror films before, of course, though often as the “other”. Some of the films Val Lewton made at RKO in the 1940s are more progressive than most of their time in their inclusion of Black characters. Rather later, George A. Romero cast Black actors in lead roles in Night of the Living Dead and its sequels. In 1973, Bill Gunn made Ganja & Hess (which Spike Lee remade in 2014 as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus). And while Tony Todd in Candyman is a monster, he’s one created in specifically racist circumstances, so he became an understandable monster. In Tales of the Hood, Cundieff and Scott tackle themes as anti-Black police brutality, domestic violence and white supremacism without the message overwhelming the medium of the horror anthology picture. Some of the tales are suitably gruesome and certain aspects of the special effects by Screaming Mad George (best known for the shunting sequence in Society) are standouts: almost entirely practical work with some digital enhancements.
Tales from the Hood was a success but a follow-up was a long time coming. Eighteen months or so before it was made, the industry word was that horror films with minority ethnic lead characters were not a commercial proposition (which was totally unfounded). And then came Get Out, and suddenly they were again. Tales from the Hood 2 (Arabic numeral rather than Roman one in the onscreen title) appeared in 2018. It’s the same form as before, with a frame story (which pays off in a direct homage to RoboCop) and four stories within it. This time, Cundieff and Scott shared directing duties, three and two stories each respectively. This time, the satire is at the expense of Trump-era “fake news”, and one of the stories takes on the now-infamous corporate symbol and children’s toy, the golliwog. Real-life victims of racist violence make an appearance as characters in the final story. Tales 2 is about a quarter of an hour longer than its predecessor and a little more hit and miss. It also demonstrates changes in filmmaking in the twenty-three years between the two films: practical effects are now CGI, and shooting on film is now capturing digitally, and a cinema release then is now to an increasing extent on disc and to stream. But there is clearly life in the franchise still. Tales from the Hood 3 (with Tony Todd in its cast) was released just last month.
The BFI’s release comprises two Blu-ray discs encoded for Region B only. The package carries an 18 certificate, due to the first Tales of the Hood and its making-of documentary. Tales from the Hood 2 is rated 15.
Tales from the Hood was a cinema release shot in 35mm, so is transferred to Blu-ray in its intended ratio of 1.85:1. Anthony Richmond’s cinematography is fine, and the transfer looks good with strong colours and natural grain. Like many films of its era, the film is a little overlit, so that it might show up better on the VHS tapes many people would have watched it on. The digitally-shot sequel is in a ratio of 1.78:1, that of the widescreen televisions most people would have seen the film on, including this reviewer. Given that the film has existed in the digital realm from start to finish, you’d expect it to look pristine and it does.
The first film was released in cinemas with a Dolby SR soundtrack, and that’s the basis of the LPCM 2.0 soundtrack, which plays in surround, on this disc. Music and some sound effects are intentionally quite loud. The sequel has a choice of LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks. I played the latter and sampled the former. Other than the fact that the LPCM is mixed slightly louder, there’s very little difference. English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are available. I emphasise the word “English” (as in “from England”) as every time an American “ass” or “asshole” is spoken, it’s rendered on the subtitles as “arse” or “arsehole”.
On the first disc, the main extra is "Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood" (56:13), made in 2017 by Shout Factory. This making-of documentary covers most of the bases, including interviews with Cundieff and Scott, actors Corbin Bernsen, Anthony Griffith and Wings Hauser, and from the special effects team Kenneth Hall and Charles and Edward Chiodo. Also on the disc is the film’s trailer (1:34).
The extras on the Tales from the Hood 2 disc are two interviews, conducted in 2020, seemingly by Zoom. Darin Scott (18:48) is interviewed by Abigail Yartey, though Scott does most of the talking. Rusty Cundieff (68:33) is interviewed by Adam Murray, and this is more of a conversation. Also, given the much longer running time, it’s quite a thorough overview of its subject’s career in the film industry and the difficulties facing filmmakers from Black or other minority-ethnic backgrounds. Also on the disc is a self-navigating image gallery (5:00), which includes as well as stills, storyboards a script page and a call sheet.
The BFI’s booklet, in the first pressing only, begins with a long essay by Adam Murray which you should read after having seen the films: “Tales from My Hood: An Autobiographical Take on Black Horror”. As that title indicates, this is a very personal piece, talking about black representation in horror, and the impact the first Tales from the Hood had on the then eighteen-year-old Murray. Also in the booklet are credits for both films, and notes and credits for the extras.
Tales from the Hood I and II is available now as a 2-disc Blu-ray set.