Day 16 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 16. Petey Wheatstraw presents. Watch a movie featuring African-Americans in the starring roles. Bonus if it’s written and/or directed by an African-American. We’re happy to answer all of those challenges with a brand new movie — Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott’s sequel to their 1995 film Tales from the Hood.
This was a difficult movie for me to write about, to be perfectly honest, for several reasons. First, I love the original. Often, it’s hard for me to warm up a band’s new album because I am so into what came before and I need to push past that. I had this DVD sitting on my to watch pile for some time until I could be ready to watch it. And I’ll be frank: it is not nearly as good as the original. But in the twenty plus years since the original came out, a lot of good — and bad — has happened in the American experience.
Which leads me to the second part that makes this movie hard for me to share my opinion on: I’m a white male that was born in a small town with a handful of black people in it. This is very much a horror movie made for a post-black lives matter and #metoo world. And yes, I can have an opinion on the actual film, but when there are moments that may feel heavy handed and obvious to me, they may also feel incredibly poignant and earnest to others.
Keep this in mind when I bring up points in this article. Because I really liked parts of this film. I know why they did what they did. I think my major issues with it were the lower budget, which can’t really be helped, and that there’s an inconsistent morality through the stories. Yet I found a lot of things to like in it. I’ve used the Frank Capra quote “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.” before. And this movie is anything but boring.
The movie starts with Robo Hell, where we meet Dumas Beach, a rich white prison owner who is creating an army of artificial intelligence Robo Patriots that can learn from firsthand experience, as well as secondhand stories so that they can become predictive.
He hires Mr. Simms (Keith David here, instead of Clarence Williams III who has retired from acting), a storyteller who will use his collection of tall tales, legends and parables to better teach these robots and prepare them to police America’s neighborhoods and borders.
Dumas asks him to tell the robots about the people who will fill his prisons, so the first story is all about black lives mattering. In Good Golly, two friends, one white and one black, visit the Museum of Negrosity, which features a history of racist propaganda, books and dolls. The white girl wants a golliwog doll named Golly Gee for her collection, but the owner refuses. Nothing there is for sale, it’s there to teach a lesson. That night, the kids come back and try to steal it, but everyone is killed by Golly Gee and the other golliwogs, other than the one girl. She is impregnated with Golly Gee’s horrible children, who burst forth from her stomach, killing her. Also, one of Miss Cobbs’ dolls shows up from the original, but he really serves no storytelling purpose other than fan service.
Here’s where my issues begin: every character in this scene other than the museum owner is a stereotype. Yet this is a chapter about stereotypes and how racist characters are the first marketing characters, a subject I found fascinating as I come from an advertising background. When the owner says to Golly, “How dare they call you a stereotype? You’re just the creation they designed you to be!” it resonates.
That’s where I have to figure out how to discuss this film. Parables are simple stories that need stereotypes and easily understood iconography to impart a moral message. They share some employment of those storytelling tools with exploitation films, which use stereotypes to create sensationalized narratives that make money, morals be damned. My issue here is trying to figure out when Tales from the Hood 2 wants to be a morality play and when it wants to titillate and entertain.
The next part, The Medium, feels like it’s on the side of the latter. A pimp named Cliff Bettis has given up the life, giving five million dollars to a foundation and building two magnets schools in the hood he once used for his own ends. Three criminals try to extort and torture him to find the money, but after Bettis accuses one of them of being a willing bitch in prison, it goes too far and he’s killed.
That’s when we meet TV psychic John Lloyd (obviously John Edward, the TV cold reader) who uses trickery and eavesdropping to make money from an audience that thinks he can speak to the dead. The three men think that they can get the money from the other side by kidnapping Bettis’ girlfriend and using Lloyd’s psychic powers.
However, the seance goes wrong and Lloyd discovers that he really has the power as Bettis possesses him. That’s when Bettis begins using mental powers and murders the three men before taking over Lloyd’s life, using his pimp mindset and real psychic powers to become even more successful.
Here’s my issue with this segment over every single other one in this film. As you’ll discover, this movie wants people to understand the sacrifices of the generations before them and make better choices. If Bettis really has made a foundation and is helping improve his neighborhood, he quickly abandons that plan and simply murders everyone in his path before becoming an even bigger swindler. Nobody learns anything. No lives get bettered. It’s just revenge for revenge sake and seems to feel morally hollow versus other moments that will follow.
Date Night is a much simpler affair, where internet predators end up facing vampires after a game of Cards Against Humanity that goes on way too long. It’s one thing to have fun and play it at a party. It’s another thing to spend endless time on it in a film when it doesn’t really move the plot forward. This story is by the numbers and doesn’t raise the questions that the other stories do.
The Sacrifice is the longest and most troubling part of the film. It concerns a councilman, Henry Bradley, whose white wife has had several difficult pregnancies. She fears that her visions of a boy about to be lynched will make all the difference, as she thinks that boy doesn’t think her child deserves to be born.
It turns out that Bradley is a Republican who is helping William Cotton run for governor. To ensure that less black people will vote, he’s working on shutting down voting sites in their neighborhoods. Bradley’s mother is aghast and as time goes on the baby begins to slowly disappear.
The black child is, of course, Emmett Till, and the theme of this episode is that the black people of today must honor the sacrifices of those who have gone before. At one point, the world makes a startling narrative shift, where we see what the world would be like if Till, Carol Denise McNair (who was killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing), James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mamie Till had not made their sacrifice.
Now, instead of running on a platform to return Mississippi to its old values, Cotton leads a paramilitary KKK to Bradley’s house. The doctor and Bradley’s white wife have turned against him. And the only way out is for him to die the same way as all of these martyrs if he wants the world to be better and his child to live.
This is where the morality/exploitation question really hit me. It’s an audacious gambit here and really a grandstand that demands to know why black people, knowing the past, would vote for people that want to “make America great again.” You can say that you’re taking the race out of things, but if we’ve learned anything from Golly Gee, it’s that racism is so ingrained in our American DNA, you can never take race out of anything else ever again.
Like I said earlier, I can have an opinion on the quality of the film but not on the content of this scene. I can say that it feels exploitative to me, but the truth is, this segment may empower someone. Or it may make them think. It certainly did that for me. So often we forget everything that everyone has worked so hard to change. I try not to get political on this site, but my constant real life worry is that the last two years have erased so much progress. And often, I use horror movies as an escape. But exploitation can often be morality and vice versa and perhaps they can both serve the same purpose. This movie doesn’t have a square up reel ala IIsa, She Wolf of the SS, so I think it really wants to be more sermon than sensationalism.
Finally, the framing device, Robo Hell, ends with the Robo Patriot showing how it can identify ex-cons and illegal immigrants. But now, it’s predictive abilities, powered by Mr. Simms’ stories, allow it to see the most immediate clear and present dangers to American civilization. And that threat is obviously Dumas Beach and his people, who are so complicit in his crimes that they must die as well. We get Old Testament justice mixed with low comedy wordplay (Dumas Beach is really Dumbass Bitch) and Mr. Simms reveals that he is Satan as he takes the evil white rich old man to Hell.
The fact that the devil has a higher moral standing than someone who seems to be a red hat wearing Republican is not lost. It’s just another of the interesting stances that this movie takes.
Executive produced by Spike Lee and written and directed by the same team who produced the original, Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott, this one really is much more of a mixed bag than the first film. I wanted to love this and ended up left with more questions than answers. That isn’t to say I hated the film. I can see why other critics would attack this film. It’s not subtle at all. It has noticeable flaws, like the cheesy robot in the wrap around. And the vampire story could be removed and make this a much better movie. Yet Keith David is great. And I actually thought a lot more about the issues raises here than I have in any other movie I’ve watched this year. That’s what a good moral story should do, right? I just wish this had a better point of view of whether it wanted to educate or entertain when it struggles to straddle the line and do both.
You can watch this on Netflix.