It’s that time of year again where we’re rounding up our pals for a delightfully frightening horror movie session. Or if you’re brave enough, you’re washing some of these alone, whilst your duvet is in easy reach to cover your eyes juuuust in case. Horror movies as a genre contain multiple common tropes; there is a spooky, haunted house, a guy in a fake ghost mask and the black guy dies first.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out the latter one is…misguided and lazy to say the least. The representation for black actors in cinema has gone from tokenism, to using stereotypes when black characters are present to the present day, where there are finally movies which have complex, layered black characters. The following list however does include movies (bar one) from the 1960’s to the present day where there is a leading character of melanin that does not fall prey to the typical horror movie tropes.
Get comfortable and watch a handful of the following scary movies that are all iconic in their own ways. The list ranges from sci-fi/horror, comedy/horror to full on jumping when you hear that door creak chillingly dramatic horror. Whichever you prefer, you can rest assured that the most frightening thing will not be cinematic racism and lazy stereotypes in this list.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman
This cult classic follow a group of Pennsylvanians barricade themselves in an old farmhouse to remain safe from a bloodthirsty, flesh-eating breed of cannibalistic monsters who are destroying the East Coast of the United States. It is gore-heavy so it might not be for you if nose bleeds make you queasy. You can’t go wrong with a movie that’s been added to the National Film Registry due to its critical acclaim. This movie has led to several remakes and 5 sequels.
Director: William Crain
Stars: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Denise Nicholas
Ok, don’t click away just yet. This may be a Blaxploitation flick, but it was one of the highest grossing films in 1972 and paved the wave for other movies in the genre so it deserves it place here. An ancient African prince, Mamuwalde, is turned into a vampire by Dracula, because he doesn’t want to help the prince suppress the slave trave. Dracula locked in his coffin. Mamuwalde wakes up in the present day in LA, biting people along the way.
Ganja and Hess (1973)
Director: Bill Gunn
Stars: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn
After being stabbed with an ancient, cursed knife, an anthropologist finds himself transformed into a vampire. Follow him on his quest to quench his insatiable thirst for blood. Dig a little deeper and you’ll see clever metaphors for addiction, black assimilation and white cultural imperialism. This film was remade by Spike Lee in 2014 as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
People Under The Stairs (1991)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Brandon Quintin Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie
Two adult robbers and a boy break into a house and get a lot more than they bargained for. They discover two children locked away by their parents and must fight for their lives. The movie satirizes gentrification, class warfare and capitalism in a way that is scarily relevant to the present day.
Director: Bernard Rose
Stars: Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Tony Todd
This supernatural slasher movie depicts the stuff of legends. The murderous, soulless Candyman, is unintentionally summoned to reality by a skeptic grad student doing research on the mythology surrounding the monster. What a way to immerse yourself into your college work!
Tales From The Hood (1995)
Director: Rusty Cundieff
Stars: Clarence Williams III, Corbin Bernsen, Joe Torry
Produced by Spike Lee, this anthology film tells four strange tales of horror with an African American focus. A funeral director traps three drug dealers at his place of work, in south central LA, and the stories all touch upon police corruption, domestic abuse, gang violence and institutional racism.
Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
Director: Ernest R. Dickerson
Stars: Billy Zane, William Sadler, John Kassir, Jada Pinkett Smith
An ex-soldier that is now on the run is hunted by a charming demon known as the Collector. He is after a key that can unlock great evil and initiate the apocalypse. Even rarer, we have a black female lead in a horror flick that as more than 5 lines!
Eve’s Bayou (1997)
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Jurnee Smollett, Meagan Good
Another film preserved on the National Film Registry, and set in 1960’s Louisiana. Throughout the summer, Eve see’s things she shouldn’t and some which haunt her. Husband, father and womanizer Louis Batiste may be the head of this affluent family, but it’s the women who rule this gothic world full of secrets, strange forces and southern mysticism.
Queen of the Damned (2002)
Director: Michael Rymer
Stars: Aaliyah, Stuart Townsend, Marguerite Moreau
In this loose sequel to Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994), the vampire Lestat becomes a rock star whose music wakes up the gorgeous yet horrific queen of the vampires. This was Aaliyah’s final film before she tragically died and she is reason enough to watch this fantasy flick.
Attack The Block (2011)
Director: Joe Cornish
Stars: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail
You may know him as the ex-Stormtrooper, but long before he was restoring peace in the galaxy with Rey, he was protecting his council block down in London. Follow these tough inner city kids in South London defend their block from a savage alien invasion, on Guy Fawkes Night.
Director: C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi
Stars: Gabriel Afolayan, Omowunmi Dada, Kelechi Udegbe
This zero budget Nigerian zombie thriller won the ‘Best Nigerian Movie’ against all odds when it premiered. A Lagos slum neighbourhood is suddenly in trouble, as its citizens begin manifesting symptoms of rabid river blindness. The water supply has been infected to transform the inhabitants into flesh eating figures. Who will survive and escape the infested neighbourhood?
The Girl With All The Gifts (2016)
Director: Colm McCarthy
Stars: Sennia Nanua, Fisayo Akinade, Dominique Tipper
This British sci-fi horror follows the breakdown of society after much of humanity is wiped out by a freaky fungal infection. A scientist, teacher and two soldiers living in this dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie.
Get Out (2017)
Director: Jordan Peele
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
This list would be sorely lacking if it didn’t have Jordan Peele’s thought-provoking, social critique of race in America that was portrayed in his directoral debut. A young African-American visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend, where he uncovers a disturbing secret hidden under the superficial façade of this seemingly liberal white family. If you’ve not watched this movie yet, then you’re missing out on the film of the decade.
The First Purge (2018)
Director: Gerard McMurray
Stars: Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade
We’re all familiar with the concept from The Purge (2013). There are no rules on Staten Island for 12 hours as part of a sociological test to see if this reduces the crime for the rest of the year. Anyone who stays on the island is given $5,000 and this movie serves as a prequel to the infamous series.
Director: Jordan Peele
Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
Peele strikes again with a film that will keep you up at night and not want to look in the mirror – and definitely never leave your parents at a carnival! Lupita Nyong’o excels in not just one, but two lead roles. Her family’s serene beach vacation descends into chaos as their more murderous doppelgängers appear one by one and begin to terrorize them.