By Alina Edwards, BA Liberal Arts
When we think of horror movies, we often think of films like Scream, Halloween, and The Exorcist—all movies that only feature white characters. However, Black writers, directors, and actors have been innovating the horror genre since day one, long before Get Out hit our screens. Here are five essential horror films that highlight Black voices, spanning a fifty-year cinematic history.
1. Us (2019) dir. Jordan Peele
Jordan Peele released Us only two years after Get Out landed in theatres and shook audiences to the core. It is, according to this reviewer, just as worthy of attention as Peele’s debut, and is guaranteed to have you glued to your seats in terror. The film follows Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), a woman scarred by a traumatic event in her childhood, as she and her family are tormented by mysterious doppelgangers who set out to destroy them. Complete with an enormously talented cast—led by an astounding performance from Nyong’o—and a series of petrifying twists and turns, Us is a modern cult classic within the genre. Rating: 5/5 stars
2. His House (2020) dir. Remi Weekes
In this Netflix original debut from director Remi Weekes, a Sudanese couple arrives in the United Kingdom, having fled the turmoil of their mother country. When they are accepted into asylum and placed in government housing, they are overjoyed— but they soon discover a darkness lurking behind the walls of the house, one that is tied to the past they have tried so hard to forget. While the film does offer genuine scares for its audience to indulge in, keep in mind that His House has a deeper purpose beyond providing the cheap thrills that cinematic horror is known for. This is a film that excels in leaving its audience moved by new understandings of trauma, positionality, and belonging— its relevance today cannot be understated. Rating: 5/5 stars
3. Blacula (1972) dir. William Crain
A staple film of the 70s Blaxploitation wave and a sleeper horror classic, Blacula follows Mamuwalde (William Marshall), an African prince from the 1700s who is transformed into a vampire by Count Dracula and wakes up hundreds of years later in 1970s Los Angeles. The film reincorporates all of the best tropes of the vampire genre into a freshly imagined horror-thriller, with hints of detective fiction and romance sprinkled in. Other elements, such as the supporting cast and the score, contribute to a campy atmosphere that makes for terrific fun. However, the real star of the show is Marshall’s Blacula, the first Black vampire to ever appear on screen. Marshall embodies the role with incredible grace, crafting a character that is both a formidable creature of the night, whilst also a tragic figure haunted by loss. Rating: 4/5 stars
4. The Blackening (2022) dir. Tim Story
If anyone still thinks the horror comedy is dead, they haven’t seen The Blackening. Seven friends, a remote cabin, and a killer itching for revenge: What could possibly go wrong? Screenwriter Dewayne Perkins, who also plays a major role in the film, is no stranger to the art of satire, and his writing especially shines when the satirisation of dangerous tropes in horror—such as the one Black character always dying first—takes centre stage. The crew behind The Blackening know all too well that we need pushback against conventions that audiences have become too comfortable with. As a result, the film becomes an exercise in self-awareness, exposing all of the tired beats in horror films to new forms of ridicule. Hilarious at one moment and thrilling the next, The Blackening is both an entertaining slasher flick and a significant step towards the centring of Black stories in horror cinema. Rating: 4/5 stars
5. Night of the Living Dead (1968) dir. George A. Romero
Arguably the first major zombie film in the history of horror cinema, Night of the Living Dead is one of the most popular low-budget films of all time and a classic fearfest. It is a movie defined by firsts, as it is also the first American horror film to feature a Black protagonist. At a time when most Black characters on American screens were only written into stories that deal with race—think of Sidney Poitier in Look Who’s Coming to Dinner—Ben (played by Duane Jones) is simply a man stuck in a terrible situation with people who keep making terrible decisions. He is a staple figure in the history of Black horror and is certainly one of the most iconic protagonists of the zombie genre, period. The film would not be what it is without Ben at the centre of it all, but for those who are mostly here for the scares, it does also offer a handful of truly terrifying moments—from brain-eating, to stabbing, to everything in between. Rating: 4/5 stars
Image + caption on next page
Caption: The title sequences of Blacula, Us, His House, The Blackening, and Night of the Living Dead, from left to right.