To say the '90s was a strange time for horror is an understatement. This is the decade that brought us Sphere… let that roll around in your head for a moment. There are three kinds of horror to come from this decade: gems (Scream, Misery), duds (The Haunting, Predator 2), and oddities (Event Horizon, An American Werewolf in Paris). And yes, we can't wait to hear your comments about how wrong those choices are. Tales From The Hood definitely falls into the oddities category, I remember sneaking in to see it at the dollar theater after buying tickets to go see Casper. As a white kid growing up in white suburbia with only MTV and Civil War history as a guide, I remember getting some of the references at the time while other stuff flew over my head. Now as an adult with an extra 20 years worth of culture and knowledge in my head, I rewatched this with fresh eyes as Shout! Factory released a collector's edition on Blu-ray.
The premise is your basic Tales From The Crypt setup with a twist: Three local gangsters show up to a funeral home to get back a lost drug stash currently held by a funeral home director named Mr. Simms. Stalling for time, Simms takes all three men on a tour of his parlor and shows off their corpses while telling them a frightening tale. You get treated to crazy special effects and weird as hell stories throughout the film, including watching David Allen Grier be twisted and mangled after beating a child with a belt. Or watching a cop who takes a piss on a gravestone get pulled into the ground by the crotch. But you're also confronted by some real life horrors, like a killer who seeks redemption in the most screwed up ways possible and ends up being confronted by a little girl who was killed by one of his stray bullets. Some of the stuff in this film will mess with your head in ways you don't normally think about with horror.
The scariest of the bunch, or at least the one that holds up after all this time, is the one about a southern racist senator (Corbin Bernsen) who is haunted by small dolls (who embody the souls of tortured slaves) who come to life and start terrorising him in his home. The dolls are basically claymation, not quite the best but better than most, and they look horrifying up close. Watching Bernsen search the house for one while a southern blues fiddle lingers in the background actually puts you on the edge of your seat. But I'm not going to lie, I laughed hysterically when his racist character got tortured in the end. It also doesn't hurt that he looks like every banker who ever foreclosed on your grandmother's home, so it's awesome to watch him and everything he stands for getting torn to hell.
At the time the film had a lot going for it, including being executive produced by Spike Lee and having a soundtrack featuring Wu-Tang Clan and Ol' Dirty Bastard. The film nearly doubled what it cost from the box office, but beyond the initial hype for the film, it never saw much success beyond the spring of 1995. Ever since then it's become one of those random films you might see on Starz, but it also earned a slight cult-film status in recent years among horror fans for breaking a lot of molds on the genre and giving it a dose of fresh blood. Even with a good chunk of it being super racist and stereotypical by today's standards. Tales From The Hood is a weird kind of gem that's worth watching and recognize that this was a successful horror flick prior to the new horror boom that would start happening a year later. An absolute buy if you're a collector or a horror aficionado, but you have to check it out at least once.