Cruise through South Central and acquaint yourself with these perennial hood classics
Jacked-up rides, barbeques, bungalows, hairnets, forties in brown paper bags, Uzi-wielding teens in vengeful drive-bys – all key ingredients of the LA hood movie. Sure, the setting is also crucial – typically East LA, South Central, Compton, Inglewood – but when it comes down to it, it’s not an LA hood movie unless homies with hydraulics bounce across the frame. The new N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton drops us on to the streets of Compton in the late 80s, and rest assured, there are homies with hydraulics. To celebrate the film’s release, we’ve been watching a bunch of LA hood movies. Here’s your one-stop shop before you install hydraulics.
BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT (1993)
You know you’re in a hood movie when virtually every character is sporting beige Dickies, a tight white vest and says holmes or esé in every line of dialogue. Shot in the Spanish-speaking neighborhoods of East LA, Taylor Hackford’s cult hood movie examines the deadly cycle of attacks and counterattacks between various LA gangs, to the point where, as with Boyz n the Hood, you’re left wondering, what’s the point of this never-ending bloody back and forth?
The gangs in the film – the fictional Aryan Vanguard, Black Guerrilla Army and La Onda – clearly represented the notorious real-life gangs the Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerrilla Family, and the Mexican Mafia, respectively (they didn’t change the names much). But the most remarkable thing about the film is definitely the fact that it made a tree famous. A tree.
BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991)
John Singleton’s prototypical hood film, in which N.W.A’s Ice Cube proved his chops as a Serious Actor, is seemingly authentic to the core. Filmed and set in South Central, it serves up a blistering snapshot of gang rivalry, vengeful drive-bys, police brutality – all depicted in a pre-Rodney King LA. It ain’t no fairy tale, as its poster proclaims. One year after the film’s release it would be partly blamed by right-wing firebrands for inciting the worst riots in the city’s history.
MENACE II SOCIETY (1993)
Riding the coattails of Boyz n the Hood – made two years prior – the Hughes brothers’ hard-hitting debut is about growing up (read: surviving) in South Central and resisting the hood’s temptations in a quest for a better life. It’s pretty terrifying stuff – unveiling a stark reality to those of us who didn’t grow up having to dodge bullets on a daily basis. A character is consoled: “You need to be glad that you graduated from high school and that you’re alive at 18.”
ONE EIGHT SEVEN (1997)
“187”, a California Penal Code, is used as a synonym for murder by gangs throughout the US – and also by Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg. The digits are seen by school teacher Trevor Garfield (Samuel L. Jackson) minutes before he’s stabbed in the hallway of a Brooklyn high school. He survives, just, and is transferred to an equally tough high school in LA where, entangled in hood life, he once again glimpses the digits 187. This ain’t no Hilary Swank extracurricular activity, either. The film draws obvious comparisons to Freedom Writers or Dangerous Minds – teacher struggles to help inner city teens caught up in gang life – but there’s a dark twist here that’s both OTT and implausible, even by hood movie standards.
MI VIDA LOCA (1993)
Set in Echo Park – which used to be a rough, impoverished Hispanic neighborhood but is now totally gentrified and populated by hipsters – Allison Anders’ raw flick lays bare the harsh realities of street life via the lives of a girl gang. Its budget shows. Aside from the hammy acting, there are dodgy gang tattoos, hairnets, and all the overcooked hood tropes you’d expect. Except wait, there’s Spike Jonze and Jason Lee in their feature debut as the two lanky white kids! Didn’t see that one coming.
SOUTH CENTRAL (1992)
In American History X, a hardman leaves prison newly reformed but finds that his younger brother has followed his criminal path. South Central is basically the same deal but with a father and son. It’s all about the paths you choose here, paths which, in the hood, are more like dark tunnels with no light at the end. As the heavy-handed trailer puts it: “It’s a story of loyalty divided, between violence and love, between death and life.” The film, an adaptation of the 1987 novel Crips, at times wags a moralizing finger, but with its grainy realism it somehow feels more raw and authentic than anything else on this list.
Because Friday is really, really funny you probably don’t think of it as a hood movie, but Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray’s stoner comedy contains all the elements – a South Central setting, drive-bys, robberies, thug life, etc. Ice Cube is back in the hood, unemployed, plumped on his momma’s porch. His best friend Smokey comes over to smoke a joint. Together they observe the goings-on in their hood, from the MILF next-door to the neighborhood dope dealer Big Worm, before getting caught up in some shit themselves. The best bit? When Ice Cube and Chris Tucker lean back in their chairs, in unison, and say daaaaaaaaamn.
TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995)
The film’s original tagline: Where nightmares and reality meet on the street… Chill or be Chilled, the latter of which was a pun on the LA gang maxim, “Kill or be killed”. In this South Central-set hood-horror anthology we follow three drug dealers who hear spooky stories from a strange funeral director called Mr. Simms. It’s not really scary – in fact it’s kinda funny – so in retrospect it seems rather bizarre that the LA Daily News dubbed it “one of the best horror films of the decade”.
BABY BOY (2001)
In 2001, Boyz N the Hood director John Singleton aimed for another gut-punching portrait of everyday life in the hood. He missed the target. The rather corny Baby Boy is about unemployment and boredom in the ghetto and what typically follows. It features bouncing cars, barbeques and LA rapper Snoop Dogg among its cliché-laden frame. Even Snoop can’t save this hood clanger. Maybe just don’t bother with this one.
DON'T BE A MENACE TO SOUTH CENTRAL WHILE DRINKING YOUR JUICE IN THE HOOD (1996)
This Wayans brothers caper parodies the genre – specifically Boyz n the Hood, Menace II Society, South Central and Juice – and boasts a bunch of quirky hood characters. There’s Loc Dog, who dreads his armpit hair and worries about what footwear works with his uzi; and Ashtray, who gets beaten to a pulp by his grandma. Break yo self! There are jokes about drive-bys, crack addicts prostituting themselves, welfare checks, mothers weeping over their sons’ dead bodies. Of course, it’s only funny if you’re acquainted with the films it parodies; meaning this LOL-fest is probably the best place to end your hood movie binge.
Straight Outta Compton is out in UK cinemas Friday August 28