The director of most of Chappelle’s Show brings us five tales of terror.
Three drug dealers, Stack (Joe Torry), Ball (De’Aundre Bonds), and Bulldog (Samuel Monroe, Jr.), arrive at a funeral home run by Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III) to purchase some drugs. As they head to where he stores the drugs, Mr. Simms relays four stories to them.
“Rogue Cop Revelation” concerns a young black police officer named Clarence (Anthony Griffith) whose partner Newton (Michael Massee) pulls over a city councilman (Tom Wright) who has been trying to eliminate police corruption. Smith watches as Newton is joined by two other officers (Duane Whitaker and Wings Hauser) mercilessly beat the man up, then murder him after framing him for drug addiction. However, it turns out that the blue line is no match for the revenge of the dead.
“Boys Do Get Bruised” is the tale of Walter Johnson (Brandon Hammond), a young boy who shows up to school with a black eye. His teacher, Mr. Garvy (Director Rusty Cundieff), asks about it and Walter says he was attacked by a monster. Later that night, Mr. Garvy visit’s Walter’s home, where his mother, Sissy (Paula Jai Parker), says that Walter is just clumsy. However, it soon becomes apparent that there is a monster living there when Sissy’s boyfriend Carl (David Alan Grier) shows up, but Walter finds out he has the power to deal with it.
“KKK Comeuppance” features Duke Metger (Corbin Bernsen), a former Klansman who is now a senator in the South. Rhodie (Roger Guenveur Smith), Metger’s image consultant, agrees to film a campaign commercial at Metger’s office, which is a former plantation. They find a mural of a former voodoo witch who supposedly put the souls of tortured and murdered slaves in her dolls. Slowly, Metger starts to realize that the dolls are hunting him.
“Hard-Core Convert” features Lamont Bentley as Jerome “Crazy K” Johns, a murderous psychopath. He murders a rival gang leader, whose associates show up to enact revenge. While Crazy K survives the killing, he is put in an experimental rehabilitation treatment under Dr. Cushing (Rosalind Cash), which might be worse than death.
This movie is one of the best examples of a horror anthology out there. I would put it in the same class of films as Creepshow, V/H/S, and Trick ‘r Treat, all of which combine great stylistic filming with creative horror stories. This movie was mostly the product of Rusty Cundieff, one of the few directors of Chappelle’s Show. The same kind of deep character-driven comedy that populated that show permeates this film, but it’s combined with some solid horror tropes and, most importantly, some strong social commentary. Unsurprisingly for a Spike Lee production, this film focuses largely on themes that affect African-Americans. I wish I could say the themes are no longer relevant, but, honestly, if you made this movie in 2020, the only thing that would shock everyone is the lack of cell phones.
While the stories are each very concise and powerful, the wrap-around segment contains an absolutely unforgettable performance by Clarence Williams III. If you’re older, you probably remember him as “Linc” from The Mod Squad or as Philby in the Mystery Woman series, and if you’re my age you probably remember him from Half Baked as drug kingpin Samson Simpson, but I will always remember him for his performance in this film as Mr. Simms. Sadly, he declined to reprise the role in either of the sequels (although he was replaced by the amazing Keith David and Tony Todd), but few people will ever forget his absolutely wild delivery, particularly of him riffing about “the shit” that the three dealers keep asking for.
I originally picked this film because it was supposed to be on Hulu, but unfortunately it’s not, unless you have Starz. I will say, it’s worth the rental on Amazon, particularly if you’re looking for a fun movie that still celebrates the Halloween season.
Spike Lee’s masterpiece manages to stay relevant for over 30 years.
It’s the middle of a heat wave in Bedford-Stuyvesant and everyone around the neighborhood seems to be going a little overboard. At multiple points of the movie, we see characters expressing their “inner voice” to the camera. Local highlights include: Radio DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson); friendly one-liner quoting drunk Da Mayor (Ossie Davis); wandering boombox enthusiast Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn); local horndog Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito); neighborhood watchdog Mother Sister (Ruby Dee); mentally disabled man Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith); and then there’s Mookie.
Mookie (Spike Lee) is a pizza delivery man for neighborhood pizza man Sal (Danny Aiello). Mookie lives with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee), and has a baby with his girlfriend, Tina (Rosie Perez). Mookie frequently fights with Sal’s racist son Pino (John Turturro), but is friends with Sal’s other son Vito (Richard Edson). Sal, an Italian-American, gets into a fight with Buggin’ Out over the fact that Sal puts famous Italian-Americans on the pizza wall, but not African-Americans. Mookie tells Buggin’ Out to just stay away for a while, but Buggin’ Out points out that since this is a black neighborhood, Sal should honor some black people. Meanwhile, in order to deal with the heat and the blackouts, local residents Ahmad (Steve White) and Cee (Martin Lawrence) open a fire hydrant. Some of the teens use the water to soak a local man until the police shut down the party and the hydrant.
Mookie and Pino get into a fight over the fact that Pino keeps using the “N word” despite idolizing black people. After Mookie leaves, Pino asks Sal to sell the pizzeria and move to an Italian-American neighborhood, but Sal insists that this is the only place where they can make money and that he likes the neighborhood. When Buggin’ Out tries to start a boycott of Sal’s to get a black figure on Sal’s wall, the neighborhood uniformly defends Sal’s, so Buggin’ Out is the only person boycotting. Jade and Sal have a conversation, leading Mookie to believe Sal wants to hit on her and he tells both parties not to associate.
Later that evening, Radio Raheem, Smiley, and Buggin’ Out come into Sal’s as it’s closing and try to demand black people be on the wall, calling Sal and sons “Guinea Bastards.” Sal, angry, calls Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out the “N word” and smashes Radio Raheem’s boombox. Raheem attacks Sal and soon a brawl erupts into the street. The police arrive and arrest Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out, but not Sal. In the process, one of the officers, despite the crowd telling him to stop, chokes Radio Raheem to death. The officers then put Raheem’s corpse in the car and leave. A mob starts to direct their anger at the police, but with them gone, they direct their anger at Sal and his sons. Mookie walks away from Sal as Da Mayor tries to convince the crowd that it wasn’t Sal’s fault. Realizing that violence is imminent, Mookie throws a trash can through Sal’s window, leading the crowd to attack the restaurant as Da Mayor gets Sal, Vito, and Pino out of the way. Smiley sets the building on fire and firefighters arrive to put it out. They quickly turn the hoses on the crowd, leading to more fights and arrests.
The next day, Mookie goes to see Sal and asks for his money. The two have a tense interaction, but end up reconciling somewhat. Mookie walks back as another hot day begins and Love Daddy tells everyone to register to vote. The film ends with a pair of quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X on the nature of violence and a photo of the two leaders together, the same photo Smiley was selling throughout the film.
The prompt for this film was “Best Film Soundtrack (No Musicals).” My first thought was Purple Rain, because that soundtrack is amazing, but then I decided I wanted to eliminate movies where the musician starred in the film, because that seemed too close to a musical. Then I was caught between this film, Guardians of the Galaxy, Top Gun, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and a half-dozen others. I picked this movie because out of all of the movies, I think this one has stayed the most relevant.
The soundtrack to this film, much like Reservoir Dogs, is typically music that the characters are actually hearing, rather than just the audience. The music is almost entirely played by either Radio Raheem’s boombox or by DJ Love Daddy. The only times in which the music is entirely internal seem to be when the characters are directly addressing the audience. The central song in the film which is played both during Rosie Perez’s extremely powerful and energetic dance during the opening theme, and at almost every time that Radio Raheem is in the film, is “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. The song is, as you would think, an anthem dedicated to empowering black Americans and trying to rebel against the dominance of white culture and subservient images of black heroes. Public Enemy wrote the song at the request of Spike Lee and it ended up being one of the band’s biggest hits. The rest of the soundtrack intentionally includes songs that are particular to the scene, but were not major hits. Part of the reason is that DJ Love Daddy ran a small local station and probably only could afford independent music, and part of it is that it better showcased underground music. After being featured in the movie, several songs, including “My Fantasy” by Teddy Riley and Guy, shot up the Hot R&B Singles charts, with “My Fantasy” hitting number 1. There’s a great variety in the soundtrack, ranging from gospel to Latin to R&B, which is in part because it is ostensibly a variety radio lineup. The score for the film was composed by Spike Lee’s father and is a blend of Jazz, Classical, and R&B.
One of the film’s strengths comes from the variety of characters featured. The story isn’t really as much about Mookie or any single character as it is about this neighborhood. Most of the recurring characters don’t have real names, only sobriquets, because that’s how they know each other. The audience is treated as if it’s just another person in Bed-Stuy. Because of that, we’re given a heavy dose of honesty from the various people around, including the famous scene of many of the characters directly stating which race they hate the most.
Throughout the film, tempers flare as the temperature rises. The temperature is one of the most brilliant parts of the film because it simultaneously functions literally and as a metaphor for racial tension. When the characters are feeling the heat or deal with racial issues, they start sweating more profusely, the lens becomes a little more fish-eye, and the dutch angles start to take over, indicating unease or tension. It’s heavily used in the scene in which Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out confront Sal, pushing him over the edge until he finally responds with slurs and breaking Radio Raheem’s boombox. Was it the heat or the pressure that finally causes Sal to snap and Raheem to snap in turn?
The death of Radio Raheem is a large part of why I selected this film. Radio Raheem is needlessly choked to death by a police officer over attacking a man who had just destroyed his property. Raheem had confronted and harassed Sal in his place of business, but Sal destroyed the most important piece of property which Raheem owned, something which was tied directly to his identity. Raheem doesn’t even say “my boombox,” he says “my music” when confronting Sal, because being accompanied by music was part of who he is. However, when the police arrive, they don’t touch Sal or Pino or Vito, but they kill Radio Raheem. We’re required to watch the entire thing as multiple characters are yelling at the officers and saying that they’re killing him, including the officer’s partner. We’re even shown that the officer pulls Raheem literally off the ground as he chokes the life out of him. When he falls to the ground dead, what is the first response? The police yell at his corpse and kick it, telling him to quit faking. The police then get the hell out of there and leave Sal, Vito, and Pino to be their scapegoats.
There have been plenty of discussions about why Mookie throws the trash can through the window of Sal’s, but I’ve always stuck with the interpretation that Mookie realized that something had to happen. Losing Radio Raheem was too great of an inequity for the crowd to bear, a brutal reminder of the inequalities of the world they live in. The mob was going to try to balance the scales and Mookie decided that it was going to be either Sal’s or Sal and that property is not as important as life. Sal is insured, he’ll rebuild. Radio Raheem cannot be brought back. This is why the scales can never be balanced under the current system. At the end of the film, DJ Love Daddy reads a message from the Mayor that says that destruction of property will not be tolerated. That’s what the politicians care about: A burned-up building. Not the dead body of Radio Raheem. This movie is over 30 years old and yet this message seems so contemporary that it’s frightening.
I don’t think I can add anything else to this. If you haven’t seen this movie: See it. If you have seen it: See it again. And, as DJ Love Daddy reminds us at the end of the film: Vote. It’s a constitutional form of violence against the powers that be.