by Monique Jones | Shadow and Act
If you’re tired of Halloween celebrations that are all pumpkins, candy and costumes over the truly spooky, these 13 Black horror films will put the fear back into your holiday.
Every Black horror film binge should have Blacula somewhere in the mix. This 1972 Blaxploitation film stars William Marshall as 18th century African prince Mamuwalde who gets turned into a vampire and locked into a coffin by Dracula himself. Fast-forward to the ‘70s, and Mamuwalde is released by accident, allowing him to go on a murder/vampire-turning spree before meeting a woman he feels must be the reincarnation of his wife.
The film might have had a rough time with critics, but like many Blaxploitation films, Blacula became a cult classic, inspiring a sequel and paving a path for other Blaxploitation-horror films.
Grace Jones is probably best known for her role as Strangé in Boomerang and her earlier turns in Conan the Barbarian and A View to a Kill, but Jones also starred in the 1986 rarely-discussed horror-comedy Vamp as Katrina, a vampire who seduces men by posing as a stripper. Jones is the selling point for the film and is undoubtedly captivating in the role, particularly when she’s outfitted in white body paint by Keith Haring, a full white face, and electric red wig. Throughout the film, Katrina and her ever-increasing coven wreak havoc, but the fates of the victims aren’t particularly the draw–it’s all about Jones giving the audience her mysterious, enigmatic presence.
This entry might be more along the action side rather than straight-up horror, but Wesley Snipes’ turn as a dhampir (half human-half vampire) in the 1998 film Blade is the film that arguably started off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Blade’s limited vampiric abilities and his partner, retired vampire hunter Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) help Blade fight evil vampires on his quest to take down the vampires who killed his human mother.
Yes, Blade is Marvel’s biggest film before the MCU. But in a way, the Blade series could also be looked at as a spiritual relative to the Underworld series, seeing how both film series concern supernatural blood wars and martial arts. Simply put, Blade was a film that was ahead of its time.
Tales from the Crypt meets social injustice in 1995’s Tales from the Hood, a Spike Lee-executive produced horror anthology that covers topics like white supremacy and police brutality. The film stands out for its indictment of gang violence and the frightening consequences that come when Black people turn on their own. Each story is scary by itself, but it’s the ending that just might be the scariest part. If you watch the film and want more, check out the sequel, Tales from the Hood 2, which was released Oct. 2.
Wes Craven and Eddie Murphy become an unlikely creative duo with 1995’s A Vampire in Brooklyn, one of Murphy’s most interesting films due to how much of an outlier it is in Murphy’s filmography. For starters, Murphy isn’t playing the hero. Even though he’s the protagonist, his character Maximillian is actually the villain of the film, hoping to seduce police detective Rita Veder (Angela Bassett), a dhampir whose Caribbean vampiric lineage is the same as his own. As the sole survivor of his kind, Maximillian is hoping to keep the race going with Rita, but he also has to contend with human Det. Justice (Allen Payne), who is also in love with Rita. Kadeem Hardison also stars as Julius, a man who goes from being a human to an animated corpse to a full-fledged vampire, and somehow manages to keep a sense of humor about everything.
Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden turned into one of horror’s most beloved films and brought audiences one of the most iconic horror villains of all time in the 1992 film Candyman. Whether Candyman (Tony Todd) is an actual villain or just a wronged spirit seeking revenge is up for debate. In life, the Candyman was a former slave who rose to wealth through his portraiture and shoe-making inventions. But he was killed by his white lover’s father and a lynch mob through a highly vindictive method of torture, bees.
7. Get Out
Like many of the horror films on this list, Jordan Peele’s 2017 debut film Get Out is laced with tons of social messages and experiences from the real world. In fact, the beauty of Get Out is that he drew from experiences that are often understood between black people but hardly ever discussed in the mainstream–existing in white spaces. Even the horror of being labeled something like an Uncle Tom is real, so much so that the term “the Sunken Place” has quickly entered everyday slang as a signifier that a person has fallen prey to The Man.
The mainstream selling point of 2018’s The First Purge is that fans of The Purge series can finally see the origin story. But the story is underpinned by some very scary realities, much like Get Out. The New Founding Fathers first tested the Purge system in the inner city, i.e. where the Black and brown people live. That kind of detail is so indicative of the type of real-life “tests” the government and other organizations have pulled on Black and brown communities for decades, such as the unethical U.S. Public Health Service’s unethical “study” of untreated syphilis in black men in Tuskegee, AL, the forced sterilizations of thousands of Latina women in California, just to name a few. Not to mention how many actual American racial tragedies resemble the Purge, such as the 1924 massacre of black families in Tusla, OK and lynchings in the south, both inspired by or spearheaded by the Ku Klux Klan, who imagined themselves as American patriots, not too dissimilar from The New Founding Fathers. In short, The First Purge is deeper than you think.
Duane Jones jumpstarts Hollywood’s fascination with the zombie-fighting hero with George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.
Jones plays Ben, the man who ends up leading a group of scared white individuals who find refuge in a remote farmhouse as the zombie outbreak approaches them. The role of Ben was originally written for a white person, but according to Alan Jones’ The Rough Guide to Horror Movies, Romero said Jones simply gave the best audition, thereby securing the role. That casting decision changed the film from being a good movie to a film that helped change the trajectory of Black actors in film forever.
The 2016 film The Girl With All The Gifts makes the Chosen One a young Black girl. The girl in question, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), is a girl who is a stand-out among a group of hybrid zombie children who stand as humanity’s last hope for survival after a mutated fungal infection turns living people into flesh-eating monsters. Like with many of these entries, describing the film any more would spoil it. But while the film does delve into some of the common themes of “chosen one” films such as a single kid embodying the future, it uses horror to describe how older generations often aren’t ready to cede power, fearful of the unknown. Even though we are supposed to believe the children are our future, people who are used to power are often scared of that new future signaling their obsolescence.
11. Ganja & Hess
Duane Jones makes a second appearance on this list in Ganja & Hess, the 1973 Bill Gunn-directed film about Dr. Hess Green, a rich anthropologist who is investigating an ancient civilization of African blood drinkers when his assistant (Gunn) accidentally stabs him with a cursed dagger, turning him into the very type of person he’s been studying. Hess then marries Ganja (Marlene Clark), the wife of his poor assistant, and turns her into a vampire as well. Any more about this film could spoil the ending, which leaves you wanting more. But the film itself tells a larger story about Black life in Western society. To quote Variety’s Scott Foundas, who reviewed Spike Lee’s reboot Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Ganja & Hess “used vampirisim as an ingenious metaphor for Black assimilation, white cultural imperialism and the hypocrisies of organized religion.”
Spike Lee is one of the many people who have been entranced by Ganja and Hess, remaking it into 2014’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Starring Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaraah Abrahams and Rami Malek, the film updates the characters from the original film and transplants them in Brooklyn, Lee’s stomping ground. Even though the film is set in a different locale than Ganja and Hess, much of the original plotting remains, showing how unique and salient the film remains. Sometimes, you can’t improve on a classic.
Wes Craven has said in a Fangoria interview that his 1991 film The People Under the Stairs was inspired by a 1978 news item that revealed that two Black people attempting to rob a home led to police finding two children who had been held captive by their own parents. The film expands on that bit of horrific inspiration by having Brandon Quintin Adams star as Poindexter “Fool” Williams, a man whose family has been evicted by their landlords. Fool, Leroy (Ving Rhames) and Spencer (Jeremy Roberts) attempt to rob the landlords, only to find out that they have held children captive for so long that they’ve become cannibals.
The film is definitely scary, but it’s also been praised for its satirical edge, with The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray calling the film’s villains a “cartoonish parody of conservatism” that drew on previous filmmakers’ work that “puckishly subverted the Reagan-era value system.”
Which of these horror films is your favorite?