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‘Tales From the Hood’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 24, 1995

There's a too-short list of horror features by African American filmmakers (it runs from "Blacula" to the much-underrated "Def by Temptation"), but "Tales From the Hood" is the first black-focused anthology project. It's also the first genre venture from director Rusty Cundieff and producer Darin Scott, who made an auspicious debut with their rap mockumentary, "Fear of a Black Hat." They're not so fortunate this time around.

Like "Tales From the Crypt" and other anthologies that are its models, "Tales From the Hood" features short stories wrapped around a convenient storyteller. Here, it's Clarence Williams III as the manic-demonic Mr. Simms, who owns a funeral home invaded by three homeboys looking to retrieve a stolen cache of drugs. As it happens, every casket tells a story, and as Mr. Simms relates how each "customer" met his end, he's also serving up not-so-subtle social parables.

Cundieff and Scott, who co-wrote the script, put a topical spin on typical fare by addressing such issues as police brutality, child abuse, racism and black-on-black violence. In the opening episode, three drug-dealing racist cops (led by Wings Hauser) kill a black social activist (Tom Wright); the entry quickly devolves into standard zombie revenge masquerading as social commentary. The next story is a variation on the monster-in-the-closet gambit in which a young boy (Brandon Hammond) blames his frequent bruises on "the monster." When his concerned teacher (Cundieff) shows up to investigate, he finds an abusive stepfather (David Alan Grier, playing quite nastily against comedic type).

In another episode, Corbin Bernsen plays racist politician Duke Metger, living in the mansion of a plantation whose Civil War owner massacred his slaves rather than set them free. Local legend has it that the slaves' souls transferred into the tiny bodies of voodoo dolls. Snidely dismissing them as "niglets," Duke quickly incurs their wrath.

The final episode is the most disturbing, and the most immediately violent, as it follows the downward spiral of trigger-happy gangbanger Crazy K (live wire Lamont Bentley). After a typically eventful day of killing and almost being killed, K winds up in a sinister prison where Dr. Cushing (Rosalind Cash) tries shock rehabilitation, sort of "A Clockwork Orange" and "The Parallax View" meeting "Menace II Society." This involves some bruising video montages of historical lynchings and contemporary urban shootings. In case anyone misses the point, K meets a nasty Aryan (Rick Dean) who compliments him for sustaining white supremacist schemes by killing his brothers.

Budget limitations are apparent throughout "Tales," particularly in the effects and sets; even the ending, in which Mr. Simms turns out not to be who he seems to be, is a major disappointment, both for its brevity and its weak payoff.

Tales From the Hood, at area theaters, is rated R and contains some graphic effects and much profanity.

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