Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Great Horror Performances: Clarence Williams III in TALES FROM THE HOOD

by Adam Riske
There’s never been a better horror emcee.

Clarence Williams III’s performance in Tales from the Hood is 12 minutes of total perfection. He plays host in this terrific horror anthology as a mortician named Mr. Simms, whose funeral home (SPOILER) is a rubber reality for purgatory and hell. Over the course of 98 spectacular minutes, Simms tells four tales to three drug-seeking gangsters named Stack, Bulldog, and Ball (played by Joe Torry, Samuel Monroe, Jr and De’Aundre Bonds), who have no idea what they’re in store for. Mr. Simms is a wild creation made even crazier by Williams III’s performance and serves a crucial role in the movie. Without his go-for-broke fun take on the devil, the movie might feel too preachy or depressing. Part of the brilliance of Tales from the Hood is that it balances its tones so deftly and Clarence Williams III is a major part of that.
Williams III said what turned him onto the project was using the horror genre to send a message to young black men about the evils of inflicting crime on each other. What’s so brilliant about the performance is that the actor knows how to make his piece of the puzzle fit -- he needs to lean against the very thing that drew him to the movie. The tales are doing the heavy lifting and, outside of respite from the darkness in the rest of the film, Clarence Williams III needs to create a presence big enough that it would intimidate and unsettle three hardcore gangsters. He does that with being big in every way. He’s sweaty, his hair is all over the place, he has a giant stain on his teeth, he wildly inflects his speech (going from lyrical mumbles to random shouting), he dresses like a mixture of a ‘70s lounge lizard and an antique store and he never, ever blinks. This is a perfect example of an actor building their character from the ground up.

I love the stories actor-writer-director Rusty Cundieff and writer-producer Darin Scott tell about the character of Mr. Simms and Clarence Williams III’s performance in Tales from the Hood. My favorites are when they describe Simms as someone who’s having fun in his work. He can take Stack, Bulldog, and Ball to hell at any time, but instead he wants to fuck with them before doing that. It’s why he’s playing the organ when they arrive or is constantly chomping on a cigar. I can just picture Simms picking out which tales he wants to tell these guys like a horror fan curating a Scary Movie Night. When he’s laughing hysterically at the end when he morphs into the devil (an amazing special effect), it’s because he’s having the best time anyone has ever had at work. It’s a phenomenal payoff and the best wraparound segment in any horror anthology. I also love that the studio asked Cundieff if he was using special effects at certain points on Clarence Williams III and he said (I’m paraphrasing) “No, the performance is just that amazing.” Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me Clarence Williams III really has a thin cartoon tongue.
I wanted to highlight this performance for a couple of reasons – 1) It’s brilliant and one of my all-time favorites in any movie and 2) I felt bad after dumping on Tales from the Hood 2 recently on the podcast. I still believe everything I said about the sequel, but I don’t want to get lost how much I love Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott’s 1995 original and thank them for making a horror movie that’s been a touchstone for me for 23 years. Well done Mr. Cundieff, Mr. Scott, and especially you, Mr. Clarence Williams III. I’ll leave you for now with some random thoughts:

A) After watching the movie with Rob a couple of months ago, one of his buddies pointed out a detail I never noticed. Simms holsters his lit cigar upside down in his breast pocket before the final segment. It’s either a funny filmmaking mistake or a great, subtle piece of acting from Clarence Williams III. Is the fire pointing downward meant to tease that they’re about to go to hell?

B) Since each segment in Tales from the Hood is around 20 minutes, is Simms just walking these guys around from room to room very slowly?

C) For Simms diehards like myself, make sure to watch the “Vintage Featurette” on the Scream Factory Blu-ray special features. He narrates in character!!!

D) Clarence Williams III was asked if he liked being in the devil make-up and he said (in Clarence Williams III monotone): “I did not.”
E) My five favorite Simms quotes:
5) “WHOO!”
4) “VERY!”
3) “what What WHAT??!!!”
2) Anytime he says “The Shit”
1) “This ain’t no funeral home! It ain’t the Terror Dome, neither! Welcome to hell, motherfuckers!”


  1. This is outstanding, and I strongly agree...between his work in Tales from the Hood, 52 Pick-Up, and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Clarence Williams III is unabashedly one of my favorite actors.

    Fav Simms Moment: the way he enunciates "THISSSSSS" in "This ain't no funeral home!" like a coked-up boa constrictor who's having a stroke while he just sort of hangs his open hands in front of his chest. It brings me so much joy. Give him all the Oscars retroactively!

  2. Hey, I was the friend who noticed that about the cigar!