Tales from the Hood

Last Sunday’s movie was supposed to be Lair of the White Worm, but since Netflix didn’t have that, I took my girlfriend’s sage advice and watched Tales from the Hood instead. I’m glad I did. Not because it was a great movie, but because half of it was, and because I’ve never really seen anything like it.

Of course I’ve seen “horror anthology” movies before — not Tales from the Crypt, to which the title is a clear allusion, but certainly the Creepshows, Cat’s Eye, and probably a few others. But I can’t remember seeing one before with such a split personality. Half of the tales are straightforward to the point of absurdity, featuring white men who are pathologically, unapologetically racist getting their just desserts. It’s hard to get too involved in these segments, partly because the characters in supernatural peril are so roundly unsympathetic that their deaths are both welcome and inevitable, and partly because the segments themselves are predictable from the beginning. The first has a nice twist, but nothing that really makes what’s come before worth watching. It’s almost pleasant to watch these cartoonishly horrible white people being picked off in relatively pedestrian ways, which is a problem, because a horror movie isn’t really supposed to be pleasant as far as I know.

Fortunately, if that’s the word I want, the other two segments are anything but pleasant. One concerns a young boy who’s being abused by a monster in his home and has an unusual power that helps him fight back. It’s startlingly vivid and well-paced compared to the foregoing Bad White Cops piece, and while it once again features a villain we’re happy to see destroyed, it has the storytelling sense to give us some real danger to characters we care about so that this matters to us. The resolution isn’t possible, but the premise is all too possible, and gut-wrenching to watch. Some of the characters are a little more three-dimensional; I particularly appreciated that the boy’s mother is allowed to be flirtatious without being punished for it. Maybe it’s only the whiter horror films that have a virgin-whore complex? I’d like to hope so.

Then there’s the last segment, which manages to outdo the second almost as much as the second outdoes the first and third. We follow up a lark about a Klan member turned politician, undone by a pack of ravenous voodoo dolls, with a gang fight in which one of the shooters, Crazy K, is wounded, jailed, and eventually admitted to a strange rehabilitation program. After a tense conversation with a white supremacist who points out that both of them are in prison for murdering black men (“you’re all right with me, brother”), K is taken to a nightmarish lab where he’s strapped to a metal rack, with tubes in his nose and various electrodes fixed to his mostly naked body. The setup led me to expect some kind of Frankenstein scenario where he’d be transformed via lightning and chemicals into some instrument of state revenge, but instead it’s more of a Clockwork Orange deal where he is (and we are) forced to watch a montage of masked gang members and shootings intercut with photographs of Klan rallies and lynchings. The lynching photographs are enough horror to carry the whole film, but the juxtaposition, showing us two subcultures dedicated (either by creed or by modus operandi) to murdering young black men, becomes inescapable and inexpressibly sad. The next step in the process confronts K with the walking, talking corpses of those he’s killed, including a young girl shot through a wall by a stray bullet, and when even this is not enough to change his mind about the life he’s chosen, we see the consequences of his refusal to rehabilitate. It’s powerful enough that I got the impression most of the foregoing derivative ghoulishness was a means of seducing the viewer to this point, where the horror is suddenly as immediate and profound as it gets.

Could this last part work independently of the rest? I’m guessing not; on its own, it would seem preachy, but presented as parallel to the other three horror vignettes it seems especially authoritative. And it helps that it ties into the framing story, whose ending would seem especially campy and throwaway otherwise. So it’s a strange, lopsided film, in which every single white person who speaks is a complete reprobate (and why not, really), but far from a waste of time.

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