More than 20 years before “Get Out” transformed widespread anxieties about racism into a riveting horror-comedy, Rusty Cundieff’s “Tales From the Hood” got the ball rolling. Taking a tip from “Tales From the Crypt,” the 1995 horror anthology tackled the issues that terrorized black communities in America, from racist police officers to gang violence and the KKK. With those themes still very much a part of the national conversation, “Tales From the Hood” is finally receiving a long-overdue sequel. With Spike Lee again attached as a producer, “Tales From the Hood 2” premieres this month at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal ahead of its direct-to-DVD release later this year.
For those who missed out on the original: Cundieff, whose 1993 hip-hop mockumentary “Fear of a Black Hat” was a breakout Sundance hit, used a framing device that stretches back to the E.C. Comics days. Creepy funeral home director Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III) welcomes a group of gun-wielding gang members into his abode for a series of grim stories that merge real societal issues with B-movie scares: a Civil Right activist murdered by the cops comes back from the grave for revenge; a household wrecked by domestic violence becomes an outrageous monster-in-the-closet dilemma; a white supremacist running for public office faces the ultimate reckoning when dolls endowed with spirits of a former slave plantation come to life, and so on.
“Tales From the Hood” brought a representational angle to horror that was in short supply, and the movie made nearly twice its production budget when it was released.
For the next several years, Cundieff struggled to get a sequel off the ground. Eventually, he turned to directing television, where his credits include “Chappelle’s Show,” “The Wanda Sykes Show,” and “Black Jesus.” On “Tales From the Hood 2,” Cundieff shares a directing credit with original co-writer Darin Scott. Plot details are under wraps, but enough time had passed that Cundieff had to recast Mr. Simms, since Williams III retired from acting years ago. (Keith David now plays the role.)
Cundieff spoke to IndieWire by phone about his ongoing efforts to resurrect “Tales From the Hood,” and how the recent interest in black horror driven by the success of “Get Out” helped the sequel finally get made.
When did you decide that “Tales From the Hood” could use a sequel?
We wanted to make a sequel since the first one. We just were not able to get it done. We finally ended up in a position where we could get a sequel made. But it’s been something I wanted to see happen for a long time. My relationship with the first one has been interesting. Over the years, it keeps growing its audience. People keep finding it, which is very cool. It’s also been kind of sad to see a lot of the main issues we dealt with in the first one become so relevant again — not that they’ve stopped being relevant, but it seems like right at this moment they’ve even more relevant.
How has the climate for a film like this changed since the first one?
There are a lot of issues that are still out there. Police brutality, dealing with sexual politics. One of the things that happened with the first one is that I’ve had people who were once gang members come up to me and say they stopped being gang members because of “Tales From the Hood,” which is an awesome thing to have happen. The “Crazy K.” segment made them rethink what they were doing.
What’s the reasoning there? Afraid that Mr. Simms will drag them to hell?
I think it’s more the sense that black-on-black crime was doing the job of the white supremacists for them. That resonated for a lot of people.
What was your feeling about the role of black cinema in the film industry when you made the first film? Movies like “Boyz n the Hood” and “Menace II Society” dealt with issues like gang violence, but as straight drama. “Tales From the Hood” stood out because you were working within the confines of the horror genre.
I thought those films that were coming out during that period, which were popular, had a service. They had a community they were talking to, stories you hadn’t seen before in the way they were told. So I thought they were extraordinarily valuable.
What we wanted to do with “Tales From the Hood,” and what we continue to do with it, is to deal with problems in the African-American community and showing how the scariest things that happen to you are the human things that happen to you. We wanted to use the supernatural as a redemptive element as opposed to the thing that you’re running away from. It’s the thing you’re cheering for. That’s what creates the entertainment value. You’re really happy to see things happen to people because they really deserve whatever comeuppance that they get. I don’t know that we set out to necessarily do something opposite from what “Menace” or “Boyz” was doing. I think it was just something that was inherent to the genre of horror films that we could take advantage of.
What was your reaction when you saw “Get Out”? Much of the attention around the film reflects the way you were using horror tropes in “Tales.”
Obviously, I thought “Get Out” was amazing. I’ve heard a lot of people say that “Tales” was doing what “Get Out” did first. In some ways, you could say that we were, but I do think there’s a difference. “Get Out” is one film from beginning to end, so there are more opportunities for nuance and character development. We hit things hard in “Tales From the Hood” because it’s an anthology. I couldn’t be more thrilled that “Get Out” happened and look forward to the opportunities that come for a lot of filmmakers to do stories that are like that, playing around with the genre a little bit more. I also think “Get Out” opened the door for us to do “Tales From the Hood 2.”
You felt there was more interest?
I don’t know what the conversations were on the studio side, but I do know that when “Get Out” came out and did the numbers that it did, a lot of people started to approach me and my writing partner Darin Scott, saying, “Oh, you’re doing ‘Tales From the Hood 2’ now, right?” I was like, yeah, we’ve been trying to do that for about 20 years.
What sort of hurdles did you face when you first tried to get a sequel off the ground?
One, the movie went from being distributed by Savoy Pictures to being a Universal property. [Universal purchased Savoy in 2006.] We finally got a nice Blu-ray transfer. That was difficult because Universal lost all the prints. To be quite honest, I don’t think Universal saw the value of the property. They had it for years and years. We approached them a few times. No one seemed all that interested in it. I don’t think they realized the audience that was out there for it. I’m not even sure they realize the audience that’s out there for it right now. Now we’re doing it with Universal 1440 [one of the studio’s home entertainment labels], and they’re releasing it as a Blu-ray. I don’t know, outside of some screenings Darin and I set, that this movie will be shown in a theater.
Did you ever try to recover the rights?
We looked at that, but from a financial standpoint, we couldn’t make it work. We had a few different moving parts. We tried to get Spike’s involvement back. That was a little difficult. I’m just glad we got it to this point. It was very frustrating for quite a while.