Rarely in a horror film are we characters of substance. Indeed, we are barely characters at all.

-Andrew Keahey

by Andrew Keahey

This essay contains spoilers for Tales from the Hood (1995)

Tales from the Hood is a 1995 horror anthology masterpiece from director Rusty Cundieff and producer Spike Lee. The films follows three gang bangers visiting a funeral home to retrieve drugs from the eccentric funeral director, Clarence Williams III. The funeral director instead takes them on a grim tour that includes stories of the recently dead corpses within his coffins. The result is four spine-tingling tales which fit together to form what I believe is one of the best entries into the horror anthology genre ever made.

Rusty Cundieff announced on Twitter that he was recently in New Orleans scouting locations for the long-awaited follow-up to Tales from the Hood, but he soon after deleted the tweet entirely and cast us all into a world of mystery. A tweet needs only a moment for the internet to latch on and for the hype to become very real. Fans of the 1995 film took to the web, rejoicing at the news and giddy with anticipation. It is not often enough that there are horror films made for, by, and about Black people.

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There are, of course, Black people sometimes included in the typical U.S. horror film, but we all know what happens to them. They’re often shoehorned in to form some kind of “urban” connection, given throw-away, stereotypical lines, and dispatched swiftly and brutally. Usually portrayed as brutish characters that come face-to-face with whatever horror is on the menu and killed off so that a white character may triumph. Rarely in a horror film are we characters of substance. Indeed, we are barely characters at all.

This is not the case with Tales from the Hood. It features dynamic Black characters, both good and bad. It’s easy to find something to relate to within them. This is something that I wasn’t able to do with media very often as a kid, but Tales from the Hood allowed me to make that connection. I loved the animation, I adored the creepy stories (because I was “the creepy kid”), and I secretly wanted to become Clarence Williams III when I grew up –hovering over bodies in boxes and telling their stories to whomever would listen. Needless to say, the film was formative to who I am.

When I learned that there would be a sequel, I decided to dig up a copy of the film and watch it again. It had been quite a while since I last saw it and trust me when I say that there is never a bad time to watch it. Again, I was blown away by 98 minutes of mastery.

As a kid, I wasn’t big into analyzing the horror genre quite yet. I simply enjoyed the scary stories. What I found upon this most recent viewing was hardly a scary movie at all. It’s commonly touted as a “Black horror movie”, and while being technically correct, it isn’t totally accurate in my opinion. In naming something as horrific, certain expectations are attached to its categorization. Horrifying things are expected to happen to the characters on screen in such a way that elicits a fear response within the viewers. Tales from the Hood, pushes against those norms, instead opting for a very different narrative.

It is the perpetrators of gross injustices who meet terrible fates. This isn’t just a horror film about Black people. It’s also a horror film for Black people. It confronts us with the frightening realities of an anti-Black world, and then uses the power of fantasy and storytelling to give us the justice that we rarely see in real life.

Crooked cops beat a Black man senseless, but the true horror in this tale of police brutality is in the subsequent terrorizing of officers who think themselves they above the law. A young boy is tormented by his abusive stepfather and retaliates using the power of art. A former KKK member runs for office, in an all too familiar scenario, and learns the hard way that the past has fangs and hundred little mouths with a thirst for blood.

There is so much justice that we are owed, but rarely, if ever, receive. Tales from the Hood feels like a catharsis in the midst of this. It speaks to our struggles within our community as well as larger social injustices. Things like the toxic masculinity associated with gang activity and domestic violence are set before us in all of their ugliness and are rightfully condemned.

This film shines a light where many other films from its era do not. During this time, there was a shift in focus media-wise towards the plight of the inner cities. It was the peak era of touching stories about the underdog teacher inspiring inner city kids to go to college and make it out of the hood. These films often portrayed the teacher as a white savior and painted our problems as if they were all of our own making, rather than presenting them with truth and nuance as they are in Tales from the Hood.

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A new installment is exactly what we need. There are so many issues that another film could bring to light and interrogate. There are also many of the same issues explored in the 1995 film that could be revisited, like the police brutality that now happens in front of high-definition cameras, or racist and anti-Black politicians continuing to do real damage in office. The perpetrators of this state violence are punished with paid vacation and a KKK-endorsed candidate made it all the way to the oval office.

I’ve wanted another Tales from the Hood since I first watched it over twenty years ago. With the way that the world looks right now, I’d say it’s arriving right on time.

Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry