It can be difficult to know where to start looking for horror movies starring Black actors. Proportionately speaking, few well-known horror films that don’t fall into the Blaxploitation genre or don’t engage in racist tropes center Black characters. As I said previously, I watched a lot of horror films growing up, but as a Black Native woman, I rarely saw characters who looked like me in the films my parents rented, and when I did they were usually supporting characters awaiting early and gruesome deaths. But, there were exceptions.
1. Tales from the Hood
Tales from the Hood is an “urban” horror anthology written, directed, and produced by Black folk. The film follows three gangbangers dropping by a funeral home to pick up a stash of drugs the mortician and owner of the funeral home, Mr. Simms, purportedly found in the alley. Before they can buy the drugs, Mr. Simms subjects them to four grisly tales of horror before they meet their shocking fates.
I previously wrote about Tales from the Hood as a socially conscious horror film. It explicitly confronts issues such as racism, politic brutality, child abuse, domestic violence, white supremacy, the legacy of Black slavery, electoral politics, and intra-racial crime in ways I’ve seen few horror films do. Most importantly, it scared the hell outta me as a kid and still does.
The People Under the Stairs is written and directed by horror legend Wes Craven and stars Brandon Adams as “Fool” Williams, a kid living in low-income housing project in Los Angeles. Fool’s mother has cancer and the family faces eviction from their apartment. Desperate, a friend convinces him to rob the home of the Robesons, a wealthy but very creepy white family, in order to pay for medical treatment and rent. But, they learn that Mommy and Daddy Robeson have a terrible secret stashed away in the basement, and they’ll kill to keep it that way. This film manages to combine a touch of social commentary on coping with poverty and (in my interpretation) a metaphorical tale on confronting racist violence (i.e. Fool tangling with the dangerous Robesons) into a fun and campy horror comedy.
Gothika stars Halle Berry as Dr. Miranda Grey, a psychiatrist working at mental health institution with her husband, Dr. Douglas Grey (Charles S. Dutton). While driving home one stormy night, Miranda crashes her car trying to avoid a woman who suddenly appears in the road. When she approaches the woman to help, she realizes something strange is afoot but quickly loses consciousness. She awakes as a patient in her own institution, charged with having murdered her husband, and with no memory of any of the events after the accident. Miranda soon begins experiencing paranormal events and flashes of memories that lead her to discover a terrible secret about her husband that lead to his murder.
While Gothika received dismal reviews, it touched upon some of my own fears as a woman of color who struggles with mental health issues and who has dealt with my fair share of mental health professionals who haven’t had my best interest in mind. The film also thoroughly engages you in the mystery of just why Miranda would kill her husband when they appeared to have a very loving relationship. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys paranormal thrillers.
For the five of your out there who haven’t seen The Night of the Living Dead, the film begins when siblings Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Steiner) visit their father’s grave in lonely cemetery to bring flowers. When they spot a lumbering man there with them, Johnny infamously warns, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” Johnny doesn’t realize how right he is. The man attacks both of them, killing Johnny and chasing Barbara into a farmhouse where she meets with a group of people, loosely led by Ben (Duane Jones), trying to survive the night and the ever-growing hordes of the flesh-eating living dead.
Since its release in 1968, The Night of the Living Dead has become an almost legendary horror film and several critics and fans have spilled much ink analyzing the social and political commentary of the film. I’ll leave any readers to their interpretations, but I will say that the final few minutes of the film, presented as a series of stills, still deeply unsettle me.
Demon Knight comes to us directly from the Crypt Keeper who is making his big, Hollywood debut with this wonderfully campy film. Frank Brayker (William Sadler) possesses the last of seven, hollow keys containing the blood of Christ and scattered across the universe to hold evil at bay. But, he must evade the Collector, a powerful demon who seeks the key and to return the universe to darkness. The Collector tracks Brayker to a small town motel where Brayker and a small group of townspeople, including soon-to-be protégé Jeryline (Jada Pinkett-Smith), battle for the future of the universe.
It’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to say that Jeryline stars in this film as we don’t meet her until a good 10 or 15 minutes into the movie, and she never even gets a last name. But, Jeryline turns out to be the only person capable of resisting the Collector’s attempts to seduce them to the dark side. More importantly, Jeryline takes on the Collector directly and lives to tell about it, which is more than Brayker can say. That makes her a star.
Readers, do you have any horror movie recs starring Black actors or other actors of color?