Looking to get in the spirit of Halloween by having a scary movie marathon, but tired of the same old stuff? We know the formula: mix one black character that dies in the opening scene with a handful of Chads slashed by a masked murderer, then add one frantic Becky being chased through the woods, and you’ve got yourself a classic. Predictable, right? Fear not, The Root has you covered.
From early blaxploitation films like Blacula to modern psychological thrillers such as Get Out, black writers and directors have created horror movies focused on black narratives for decades. And while the representation of our people in major motion pictures is important, its equally important to support these lesser-celebrated productions. Here’s a list of horror films, made for us, by us:
A major influencer of the blaxploitation boom, Blacula features the big (and small) screen’s first black vampire in a creative take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In the film, Prince Mamuwalde (played by William Marshall) seeks the help of Count Dracula in putting a stop to the slave trade. Instead, Dracula turns him into a vampire and seals him in a coffin. Nearly 200 years later, the coffin makes its way to Los Angeles after being acquired by interior decorators in an estate sale—allowing Blacula to unleash terror on unsuspecting victims. Helmed by William Crain, Blacula received the first ever Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and went on to become one of the top-grossing films of 1972.
When producers commissioned Bill Gunn to make a “black vampire” film, they thought they were getting a blaxploitation film. Instead, Gunn created a metaphor for addiction in the form of an original vampire drama. In said drama, Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones), a well-to-do anthropologist is stabbed by his disturbed and volatile assistant, George Meda (played by Bill Gunn). After the stabbing, George commits suicide and Hess discovers that the dagger (which was used for ancient rituals) gifted him with immortal life, but also cursed him with a lust for blood. When his assistant’s wife, Ganja (Marlene Clark), comes looking for her deceased husband, she and Hess end up in a romance that results in drastically different paths for each of the lovers. Though the producers, disappointed by Gunn’s final product, took the film out of distribution, it was still selected for Critics’ Week at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, where it was given a standing ovation. Though Spike Lee released a remake of Ganja and Hess, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, the original still reigns supreme.
William Crain’s follow up to his directorial debut, Blacula, is a blaxploitation tale inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Henry Pride (Bernie Casey) and Dr. Billie Worth (Rosalind Cash) create an experimental serum that reverses cirrhosis of the liver. Pride tests the serum on himself, turning into a monster: a brawny, white, ashy, unmoisturized version of himself who possesses superhuman strength and an odd desire to murder sex workers.
In 1983, the King of Pop blessed us with Thriller. Though it is technically a music video, its 14-minute length pushes it into short film territory. The Grammy-award winning production, which remains the most popular video of all time, features MJ as a smooth-talking werewolf and zombie with dance moves that are still iconic, decades later.
Directed, written, and produced by James Bond III (who also starred in Spike Lee’s School Daze), Def by Temptation follows K (Kadeem Hardison) as he meets the perfect woman (Cynthia Bond) … or so he thinks. She is actually a vampire, who lures men with her feminine wiles … then feeds on them.
Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott mastermind this horror anthology film, which depicts the tales of a rogue police officer who gets his due; a young boy’s encounter with a monster; a racist politician’s demise; and gang member’s confrontation with the consequences of his choices. Each tale explores important themes and issues that are much scarier than Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees.
Eddie Murphy, Charlie Murphy, Wes Craven, Vernon Lynch and a very interesting wig teamed up to create this comedy-horror. In Vampire in Brooklyn, Maximillian (Eddie Murphy) arrives in Brooklyn, intent on locating Rita (Angela Bassett). Rita is a dhampir—a half-vampire half-human—who is the key to salvaging Maximillian’s doomed vampire clan. Unbeknownst to Rita, she is the last known descendant of the Caribbean vampire-tribe, which outside of her and Maximillian, is extinct. As Max tracks her down, murdering as he goes, Rita, who incidentally is a NYPD detective, investigates the deaths of Max’s victims. When she finally learns who she really is, Rita must decide which part of herself she will remain true to: her human half, or the vampire heritage in her blood.
Based on the Toni Morrison novel of the same name, Beloved concentrates on Sethe (played by Oprah Winfrey), a former slave who takes in a young woman named Beloved (Thandie Newton). As it turns out, Beloved is the reincarnation of the child Sethe murdered years ago to save her from slavery. To Sethe, death was better than bondage. However, it is not a warm reunion, as Beloved is a malevolent spirit, terrorizing the entire household and draining Sethe’s health. The film, which was also produced in part by Oprah, was nominated for a whopping six NAACP Image Awards, as well as an Oscar.
Scary Movie earns its spot here due to the fact that it is a product of the Wayans—directed by Keenen and co-written Shawn and Marlon. Scary Movie is both an ode to and parody of slasher horror movies. The comedy-horror stitches together spoofs of scenes from I Know What You Did Last Summer, the Scream franchise, The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project and more to create a hilarious story. The blockbuster grossed $278 million worldwide—more than any slasher film in box office history.
When Jimmy Bones (Snoop Dogg) becomes an obstacle to the introduction of crack/cocaine to his neighborhood, he is murdered by those close to him and buried in his home. Over twenty years later, after a group of teens accidentally stumble upon his skeleton in their search for a building to house their new nightclub, Bones returns to avenge his own death. Ernest Dickerson, known for directing the film Juice, episodes of The Wire and The Walking Dead, and for collaborating frequently with Spike Lee, directs Bones.
Though posited as a satirical horror film, as Jordan Peele says of his debut film, Get Out is a documentary. Through the premise of an interracial couple embarking on a meet-the-parents trip, Get Out explores a variety of themes involving race, and requires numerous watches to unpack. The film earned a wealth of international award nominations, and four Academy Award nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor (Daniel Kaluuya).
The Purge franchise finally gets an origin story in its fourth installment, under the direction of Gerard McMurray (who previously directed and co-wrote Burning Sands). The First Purge follows the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), a third political party that rises to power after overthrowing the government. To address pressing issues of national debt, the NFFA hatches an insidious experiment to eliminate low-income and minority populations: a 12 hour period during which all crime, including murder, is legal. Of course, like all barbaric government experiments, their initial test is launched in a predominantly black and brown neighborhood, and the party even promises financial compensation to those who participate. When residents refuse to engage in the event, the NFFA takes alternative measures to make sure the first purge is a success.
Executive producer Spike Lee, Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott’s sequel to their 1995 horror anthology provides a wealth of new tales—through the storytelling of an updated Mr. Simms (played by Keith David).
These films center black characters, but are not directed or written by black creators:
- Night of the Living Dead (1968): Duane Jones stars as the monster-fighting lead in the film widely credited as the pioneer of modern zombies.
- The People Under the Stairs (1991): After being evicted, a group decides to break into their vindictive landlords’ home, only to discover a legion of kidnapped, mutilated children being harbored by a sadistic couple.
- Candyman (1992): Say his name five times in the mirror and Candyman, a man whose punishment for falling in love with a white woman was death by bee-torture, will appear. Jordan Peele is allegedly in talks to produce a remake of Candyman.
- Blade (1998): Blade, the dhampir-vampire hunter, walked so that the entire Marvel cinematic universe could run.