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In the 1960s and 70s the UK company Amicus -- driven by an ambition to become a rival to Hammer -- made the anthology horror film its own, producing titles such as Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Asylum (1972), and Vault of Horror (1973). One of the pinnacles of the genre had come a few decades earlier: Dead of Night (1945) -- a creepy horror anthology of five stories contained within a creepy over-arching narrative that actually works as a unifying concept. Amicus' servings were fairly decent entertainments, if generally less powerful than their predecessor -- well served by Hammer stalwarts such as actor Peter Cushing and directors such as Ray Ward Baker. They did, however, suffer from patchiness.

Patchiness is a problem endemic to the subgenre. Anthology horror films (perhaps all anthology films) tend to suffer from their disconnected story structure, rarely coalescing as a whole, despite brave attempts to impose some sort of coherent narrative framework over the "shorts" (one exception being Pulp Fiction, I hasten to add). Nevertheless, there is a certain ongoing appeal to them, and though Amicus gave up the ghost, there have since been many forays into the same territory. Creepshow (1982) and its sequels, under the auspices of Stephen King and George Romero, took their inspiration directly from the EC pulp horror comics of the 1950s. These comics were lurid, tongue-in-cheek and colourful, full of startling imagery and displaying a sort of moral irony that revelled in stories where less-than-admirable characters meet their end in ways that give a gruesome veneer to the term "poetic justice". Creepshow effectively captured the tone of these comics, even using bookend comic animation to cement the connections.

Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror clearly wants to take its place within this tradition. Translating the EC revenge tale into a modern urban context (for the uninitiated, "hood" is street slang for "neighbourhood"), complete with rap (hip-hop)-culture personalities, a blaxsploitation overlay and gangsta language, it offers three stories that are in essence little different from those told in preceding comic-horror opuses. As such it takes the lead from Tales from the Hood (1995), but with a more tongue-in-cheek, guts-on-the-wall approach and upping the ante in terms of lurid imagery and a sniggering desire to cause outrage. Rapper Snoop Dogg is the Cryptkeeper-style host – here called the "Cribkeeper" -- whose demonic origins and role are outlined in an effective anime-style introductory/concluding sequence. Though fans will no doubt appreciate the Dogg's efforts throughout, I find his affected layback style rather flat and monotonal. He is most effective in the music video that ends the film, doing what he does best, singing the theme song ("There goes the neighbourhood...") against the background of assorted gruesome scenes from the movie. Yet though this sequence may have been effective as a standalone and is all well-and-good as a promo, what was it doing here as part of the film itself? It comes over as time filler.

Hood of Horror consists of three stories, of inevitably variable success – though identifying which of them works best is a rather subjective exercise. The first concerns a graffiti-artist given the power to "clean-up" the neighbourhood by a mysterious street dero. Reviewers generally give this one the nod, but while it starts well, for me its thematic point becomes rather confused and weak and it quickly hits the wall with a dull, if colourful, splat! The second story features a whitey couple so melodramatically exaggerated in their obnoxiousness that it is impossible to reconcile their comic "reality" with the initially serious depiction of the disrespected Vietnam vets they victimise. As with the first story, the ending of this one – its "revenge" climax – is confused thematically, coming over as gratuitous and unimaginative.

For me it's the third story that earns its keep, though I may be the only one who thinks so. It tells of the rise-to-fame of a rapper and the gradual revelation of his past iniquities – leading to the inevitable supernatural comeuppance, of course. As a whole, Hood of Horror takes onboard the posturing of rap/gangsta culture in such an exaggerated way that you never believe in any of the characters. But because it is about the adoption of such a persona the third story seems less artificial in its posturing and has an emotional content that uses the comicbook "reality" to comment on the real world rather than simply to provide superficial impact.

The trouble is, while it's clear we're not meant to take any of it very seriously, Hood of Horror's moralistic overlay asks us to give it all due respect – and that isn't easy to do. Confused ethics and shallow characterisation prove to be alienating and continually push the viewer away. And while there are good performances, much of the thespian activity is amateurish, and the direction veers from reasonably effective to dull and clumsy. Good music though.

In the end, of course, any discussion about honesty, reality and depth of theme and presentation is probably irrelevant. Those satisfied to chortle at the occasionally imaginative gore -- such as an obnoxious vandal tripping and impaling his own head with a beer bottle (accompanied by an appropriately witty aside from the protagonist) or rapper host Snoop Dogg squelchily plucking an eyeball off a wall decorated with bloody, ironically graffitified remains, and then eating it – will have a ball ... most of the time anyway. Those wanting something genuinely scary or something a tad more narratively imaginative and convincing might be less keen.

Note: the comicbook traditions of the film are reflected in the existence of artwork for a comic version -- or at least the cover for one. I have no idea if this is more than a promotional gimmick. See it here.



Country: US

Production date: 2006

Snoopadelic Films Inc.
Social Capital

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Director: Stacey Title

Cast: see IMDB

This review was first published on the Horrorscope website.
copyright©Robert Hood 2007

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