Rusty Cundieff's Tales From the Hood deserved more attention than it probably got. It tapped the same “social horror” vein as Get Out, only twenty years earlier, tackling African-American issues and history through a wildly entertaining horror anthology. In 2018, when the president openly spouts white supremacist propaganda and black America feels under threat from the country's institutions and people alike, a follow-up just feels right.
Tales From the Hood 2, co-directed by Cundieff and Darin Scott (who co-wrote the original), feels rushed out to meet the times in which it was made. The cinematography is overlit and digital; the production design, tacky; references to Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, MAGA, and Fake News, forced and clumsy. It could've used another editorial pass, too. But there are two sides to that coin: Tales 2 feels just as righteously angry as its predecessor.
The disappointingly on-the-nose wraparound story features storyteller Simms from the original, now played by Keith David, contracted by a government agency to help program a pre-crime robot to identify the “right” kind of potential criminals. This cadre of white dudes wants stories about black folks, and stories about black folks are what they get. Just not in the manner they intended.
The first story, “Good Golly,” sees a pair of college girls - one white, one black - visiting a “Museum of Negrosity” - a collection of racist artifacts curated by an elderly black man. Among those artifacts is a golliwog, a racist caricature of a children's doll that the oblivious white girl wants to buy - or failing that, steal. The short starts as a lesson in passive, internalised racism, and ends in a spectacularly gory act of revenge, thanks to a giant, murderous golliwog (wielding a slaver’s whip, no less). A fine start to the proceedings, setting a satisfying over-the-top tone.
Next, asked to tell a story about gangstas, David’s character tells of a group of drug dealers who accidentally kill a former compatriot, then seek out a TV psychic to extract the location of a stash of money from his spirit. This short is anchored by a magnificently ridiculous performance from Mad Men’s Bryan Batt as the fraudulent psychic, at first terrified at being found out, then playing up his showmanship to satisfy his captors. Anyone who’s seen Ghost will know what happens next, as the con-artist becomes genuinely possessed. Silly in the best ways, this short is a high point of the film.
The third segment is set up, awkwardly, as a response to #MeToo, and follows a pair of bros meeting up with models from Tinder for a night of fun. What starts as a pleasant-enough (if way overlong) night of Cards Against Humanity soon takes a dark turn, though, as the bros drug their dates with the intent of raping their unconscious bodies. But surprise, the women are vampires! Shot as cheaply and male-gazey as this short is, there’s an unmistakably porny vibe to the proceedings here, undercutting the blindingly-obvious intent.
Last up is the film's most serious short - a morality tale filtered through a historical ghost story. The action cuts between the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, and a modern-day black political professional haunted by Till’s ghost. He's serving as a campaign staffer to a cartoonishly racist Colonel Sanders lookalike running for governor in the Trump mould. Till’s mission? To convince this staffer to sacrifice his career and do the right thing - with the assistance of numerous other ghosts, including MLK. Sadly, the politics and morals here are laid out in earnest, talky exposition, turning a powerful story into an after-school special. It’s a thought-provoking story with a lot of angles to it, but it’s delivered with the bluntest sledgehammer in the tool shed.
Luckily, Tales 2's climax, in which the Robo-Patriot is activated at a press event, makes up for any clumsiness that came before. The sequence of events may be predictable, but it's intensely satisfying - who doesn’t want to see a Trump surrogate suffer? Robo-Patriot gets the best line of the movie (apart from, perhaps, Simms' constant callbacks to his "the shit!” catchphrase from the first film), and some great Keith David scenery-chewing brings the film to a fist-pumping close.
Tales From the Hood 2 is at its best when it’s big, campy, and theatrical, and at its worst when swamped in overly-literal dialogue. So much dialogue and theory could have been delivered better with action and visuals. As it is, the balance of the film - and its palpable fire - gets a passing grade from me. I love its energy, its low-budget silliness, and even some of its flaws. That this sequel even exists is a miracle; that it wreaks its havoc with such relish is a testament to the filmmakers’ passion.