Thursday, October 15, 2020

Tales from the Hood 3, on Syfy

Can a horror anthology series maintain its identity without its iconic host? Is it still Tales from the Crypt without the Cryptkeeper? Is it still Creepshow without the Creep? Frankly, most fans probably do not have the same level of nostalgia for Mr. Simms, the creepy undertaker who spun the yarns in the prior two installments in the Tales from the Hood franchise. The 1995 original, starring Clarence Williams III has a strong cult following, but the 2018 sequel, with Keith David assuming the mantle of Mr. Simms, mostly underwhelmed fans and critics. Instead of Mr. Simms, this time we get the great Tony Todd providing the framing, but it is the little girl with him who will tell the tales of terror (we hope) in alternating writer-directors Rusty Cundieff & Darin Scott’s Tales from the Hood 3 (with Spike Lee still on-board as an executive producer), which premieres this Saturday on Syfy.

If you are not deeply invested in Mr. Simms, Cundieff’s “The Mouths of Babes and Demons,” the connective sequences featuring Todd, are indeed quite eerie. He plays a grandfatherly figure, who is desperately fleeing a pack of hooded ghouls with six-year-old-ish Brooklyn. However, as he listens to her sinister stories, we get a sense that there could be any even darker dynamic at play. Frankly, these are the only bits most viewers will want to re-watch, because they build up to a real “huh-what” climax and they are driven by vintage Tony Todd.

The first Tale from the Hood is also sturdily serviceable, following squarely in the EC Comics tradition. Scott’s “Ruby Gates” takes its name from the apartment building David Burr hopes to renovate and gentrify. He stands to make a small fortune is he can convince the last tenants holding out to vacate. Logically, he hires his go-to arsonist to start a small grease fire in their kitchen, because what could go wrong? It all proceeds in an orderly, by-the-numbers horror movie fashion but Scott’s execution is tight and effective.

Without question, Cundieff’s “The Bunker” is the low point of the film and maybe the last ten years of anthology films. It isn’t really even horror, but rather an attempt at an ironic
Outer Limits-style tale with a twist, focusing on a ranting and raving racist survivalist. Unfortunately, it is really more of an exercise in projection that sacrifices narrative and character development to ideological point-scoring. It is also marred by some really gross sexual references.

The sequel rebounds somewhat with Scott’s “Operatic,” starring Lynn Whitfield (the second most recognizable name attached to
Tales 3) as Marie Benoit, a Norma Desmond-ish opera diva, who hires Chela Simpson, an aspiring R&B vocalist to be her companion. Inevitably, Simpson and her lover start conspiring to murder the rich and demanding Benoit. Right, good luck with that. Again, we’ve seen these elements many times before (for instance, there are a number of similarities with Twilight Zone’s “Queen of the Nile” episode), but Scott cranks up the sexuality and the creepy imagery, so it is still fun to watch.

As it turns, both the best and worst of
Tales 3 come from Cundieff. Whereas “The Bunker” was the latter, the concluding “Dope Kicks” is far and away the most satisfying self-contained story in the sequel. Percy Woodhouse is a remorseless street criminal responsible for a vicious string of street muggings, who will be forced to physically and metaphorical walk in the shoes of his latest victim. Cundieff unleashes some wonderfully twisted body horror—descriptions really don’t it all justice. He also incorporates voodoo elements in original and satisfying ways.

Most anthology horror films are uneven, but that is especially true of
Tales 3. It ranges from solidly competent to nearly unwatchably stilted and then over to massively creepy. Don’t be afraid to click away from it if you start watching, but consider coming back, because the best stuff comes at the beginning and the end. Earning a mixed notice (that’s how it often goes with anthologies), Tales from the Hood 3 airs this Saturday night (10/17) on Syfy.