Tales From the Hood 3 is a solid return-to-form for the horror franchise. Not great, but strong enough to make me hopeful for a Tales From the Hood 4, one that can hopefully clean-up this film’s lone, glaring weakness and build on its strengths.
The previous entry was a major misfire, much too silly and corny to be effective as either horror or comedy, while the first film has gradually become valued for being a very good horror anthology in the mold of Golden Age horror comics and horror radio stories. The same types of stories that directly influenced Creepshow and the many Amicus “portmanteau” movies that preceded the first Tales from the Hood.
I’m always appreciative of a well-told “karmic comeuppance” horror story; I’m a man currently re-reading some classic horror comics and I’m a regular listener of an “old-time radio” podcast called The Horror! I feel such stories are appropriate to the Halloween season. They can have messages and explore important, heavy topics, but always feel comparatively “non-threatening” to me, because even if innocents suffer, the worst person in the story usually gets theirs, and often gets the worst of it.
I was in my early teens when the first film was released, and my friends and I talked about it in a way reminiscent of the Key & Peele sketch where they’re in blatant denial about how much a movie scared them. Although we could all admit that that ending had an impact. Years later, as the series has returned to that ending as a trademark final punchline, it has lost some impact, although this time around it had a chance to come closer to that original dark magic. This is thanks to one of this film’s most obvious positives, its performances.
The headliners this go ’round are Tony Todd and Lynn Whitfield, both legends. They don’t share any screen time but are respectively great and incredible in their segments. Seriously, Tony Todd can do no wrong and if I don’t see Lynn Whitfield as a slightly sinister and suspicious yet still seductive older woman again in the very near future I might slap myself. Dear horror film producers, find a prominent place for her in your movie.
But Todd and Whitfield aren’t the only ones turning in good performances. Every segment is well-acted, which is vital since the stories are largely predictable (which is not necessarily a bad thing for horror “comfort food,” which this is, just a point of reality). Savannah Basley is interesting as a believably self-destructive and selfish aspiring singer who is the paid companion of Whitfield’s more tragic version of Norma Desmond. When she has to turn her emotions up in a couple of moments, however, Savannah’s believability elevates the performance to outstanding. In the final segment, Patrick Abellard manages to be loathsome, funny and convincingly terrified as needed. Even little Sage Arrindell is a pleasure as the storyteller in the wraparound story. And in a segment I expected to be the weakest but turned out to hold its own, Cooper Huckabee is surprisingly watchable as a mentally crumbling mega-bigot isolated from the rest of the world in an unexpected way. 1
The film is also bolstered by its mood and atmosphere. Rusty Cundieff indicated that they were able to find good locations for shooting this sequel, and that shows up onscreen, although there are times when it feels a little more could have been done regarding the set dressing. A burned apartment, for instance, looks barely singed compared to what you see if you do an image surge for “burned apartment.” Are those search results worst-case scenarios? Perhaps, but the burning in this film leads to a horrific family tragedy; I think the worst-case scenario imagery would have been more appropriate.
Unless, of course, they were going for a ghostly, crossover visual–showing the apartment partly in its burned state and partly in its previous condition to screw with and terrorize the man responsible. That would work too, presuming that was the goal, if the visual was better. Unfortunately it’s not, and that’s the one significant drawback of Tales 3, especially when it comes to special effects. While its practical effects and ideas are solid overall, its CGI, for the most part, is painfully bad. A ghostly bouncing basketball, for instance. A solid idea in context, reminiscent of the bouncing ball in The Changeling, but executed poorly. The ending–which actually has some of the creepiest visual imagery–likewise suffers from a laughable depiction of a disembodied head and some PS2-cutscene digital fire. The artistic concept of the angels in one segment is interesting–they have wings that are like tree limbs full of bright, beautiful leaves that might wither in the presence of evil–but what appears onscreen lets the concept down.
I’ve never made a film, so I don’t know what all goes into working on the effects, but when you see better special effects in short films presumably made on a budget of the filmmaker’s savings and some donations, it’s hard to be forgiving of a professional project that has some unacceptably, glaringly bad visuals. I have to believe that nobody associated with Tales was happy with that CGI basketball, for instance, but they went with it anyway, and I have to presume time or some other constraints played a factor. It’s just a shame, especially because I don’t think the effects team was wholly incapable of better work; a moment with a pair of flaming, running CGI ghosts is actually pretty effective, for instance. Unfortunately, those ghosts are the exception for Tales 3.
The good news is that the film isn’t heavily reliant on special effects, so these moments are typically fleeting and therefore didn’t drag the picture down too much for me. If you’re someone who can’t get past that sort of thing, however, they’re potentially bad enough to kill your enjoyment of the picture. Which is unfortunate, because everything else about it has restored my faith in the viability of a legitimate Tales franchise.
Final Verdict: Effects aside, a good anthology horror film. Sign me up for Tales From the Hood 4.
- I was guessing it would be something along the lines of the “Shelter Skelter” episode of the 80’s Twilight Zone revival, and I was pleasantly proven (mostly) wrong.