Tales From the Hood, a four-part horror anthology with an inner-city twist, may have come and gone without much fanfare at your neighborhood movieplex, but it's certainly worth a rental. Director and co-writer Rusty Cundieff (Fear of a Black Hat) ambles into some pretty dicey territory -- the real-world horrors of police brutality, child abuse, racist politicians, and gang violence -- and manages to avoid pretense and condescension. On the one hand, the various social issues are woven skillfully into stories that are resonant but not too preachy. But on the other, Cundieff seems hard-pressed to fill these 98 minutes, too often running out of ideas before he runs out of film.
The second segment, "Boys Do Get Bruised," is the shortest, simplest, and best. Grade school teacher Cundieff gets involved when a new student arrives for class with cuts and bruises, wounds he says he got from "the monster" -- he even draws pictures of the beast. (Comparisons to The Twilight Zone are apt, because here as elsewhere, the supernatural element only tweaks the stories a notch.) Startling special effects by Screaming Mad George bring this segment to a satisfying conclusion. "Rogue Cop Revelation" deals with revenge from beyond the grave of a black political activist who was killed by bad cops, "KKK Comeuppance" steals a good idea from an 70s TV movie (Trilogy of Terror) to chase a racist politician from his plantation mansion, and "Hard Core Convert" is a surreal gangsta update of A Clockwork Orange crossed with An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge.
The single best image in the whole movie may be the skeletal gang-banger that's mocked up for the credit sequence, pistol in hand (a similar creation graces the video jacket). This fella is a disturbing icon, because we've seen so many literal instances of gang violence that it's a very short stretch from reality to this figurative representation of death with a gold tooth wearing gang colors. But the movie itself is a little more playful than that. Clarence Williams III, playing a crazy mortuary attendant, is the wickedly morbid master of cermonies, popping coffins open and spinning these tales for a trio of hoods who've shown up to make a drug deal. These kids are wary and self-consciously tough, but they're intrigued and a little shaken by the comfortably ghoulish stories told here. Jaded viewers just might feel the same way.