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  • Writer's pictureAllan Major

Must-See African American Horror Movies and Why They Matter

Updated: Jun 5

Featured Image For Must-See African American Horror Movies and Why They Matter.   Illustration of an African American woman running from monstrous figures in a dark urban street.
In the dead of night, the city becomes a hunting ground.

In the realm of horror cinema, there exists a subgenre that not only aims to terrify but also to provoke thought and reflection. African American horror movies, often categorized under the umbrella of "Horror Noire," bring unique perspectives and narratives that delve into the socio-political landscapes and cultural experiences of African Americans. These films are more than just spine-chilling entertainment; they are cultural artifacts that reflect the struggles, triumphs, and complex histories of Black communities. In this article, we explore some must-see African American horror movies and unpack why they matter so profoundly.

The Birth of Black Horror: "Blacula" (1972)

"Blacula" stands as a seminal film in the history of Black horror. Directed by William Crain, this movie reimagines the classic Dracula tale with an African twist. The story follows Prince Mamuwalde, who is transformed into a vampire by Count Dracula himself and awakens in 1970s Los Angeles.

Why It Matters

"Blacula" was groundbreaking for its time, offering audiences a Black protagonist in a genre dominated by white characters. The film tackled themes of colonialism and slavery subtly yet powerfully, making it more than just a horror flick. Its success paved the way for more African American horror films, setting a precedent for Black representation in the genre.

The Cultural Critique: "Ganja & Hess" (1973)

"Ganja & Hess", directed by Bill Gunn, is a film that defies conventional horror tropes. This avant-garde masterpiece tells the story of Dr. Hess Green, who becomes a vampire after being stabbed with an ancient dagger. The film delves into themes of addiction, religion, and immortality.

Why It Matters

"Ganja & Hess" is notable for its sophisticated exploration of Black identity and spirituality. Unlike other horror films of its time, it doesn't rely on jump scares or gore. Instead, it uses its horror elements to provide a deep commentary on the Black experience in America. The film's unique narrative style and thematic depth have earned it a cult following and critical acclaim, highlighting the potential for horror to be a medium for profound storytelling.

Illustration of an African American woman fleeing from a monstrous figure with glowing red eyes.
As the moon casts an eerie glow, the streets become a nightmare. African American horror stories bring to light the haunting battles against unspeakable evil.

The Revival: "Candyman" (1992)

Directed by Bernard Rose and based on Clive Barker's short story "The Forbidden," "Candyman" centers on a graduate student who discovers the legend of the Candyman, a vengeful spirit with a hook for a hand. Set in the Cabrini-Green housing projects of Chicago, the film blends urban legend with real-world issues of poverty and racism.

Why It Matters

"Candyman" broke new ground by bringing horror into an urban setting and directly addressing the systemic issues faced by African American communities. Tony Todd's portrayal of the Candyman became iconic, making the character a staple in horror cinema. The film's recent reboot in 2021, directed by Nia DaCosta and produced by Jordan Peele, further cemented its relevance by updating the story to reflect contemporary social issues, thus continuing the dialogue initiated by the original.

The Modern Classic: "Get Out" (2017)

Jordan Peele's directorial debut, "Get Out", is a masterclass in social horror. The film follows Chris, a Black man who visits his white girlfriend's family estate, only to discover a sinister plot targeting African Americans.

Why It Matters

"Get Out" is a groundbreaking film that uses horror to explore themes of racism, microaggressions, and the commodification of Black bodies. Peele's keen social commentary and innovative storytelling earned the film widespread acclaim, including an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. "Get Out" revitalized the horror genre and demonstrated the power of horror to address and critique societal issues, making it a must-see for both horror enthusiasts and those interested in social justice.

The Political Thriller: "The First Purge" (2018)

"The First Purge", directed by Gerard McMurray, serves as a prequel to the "Purge" series, exploring the origins of the annual night of legalized crime. The film focuses on the experiment conducted on Staten Island, predominantly affecting Black and Latino communities.

Why It Matters

This installment stands out for its overt political commentary, addressing issues such as systemic racism, economic inequality, and government corruption. By placing Black characters at the center of the narrative, "The First Purge" provides a poignant critique of the real-world systems that oppress marginalized communities. The film's blend of action, horror, and social commentary makes it a significant entry in the African American horror canon.

The Genre-Defying Film: "Us" (2019)

Jordan Peele's follow-up to "Get Out," "Us", is a psychological horror film that delves into themes of duality and identity. The story follows Adelaide Wilson and her family, who are terrorized by their doppelgängers during a vacation.

Why It Matters

"Us" is notable for its complex narrative and rich symbolism. Peele uses the horror genre to explore deeper themes of societal inequality and the duality of human nature. Lupita Nyong'o's dual performance as Adelaide and her doppelgänger is both haunting and captivating. "Us" reinforces Peele's position as a visionary director in horror, offering a film that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

The Supernatural Thriller: "Spell" (2020)

"Spell", directed by Mark Tonderai, follows a man who crash-lands in rural Appalachia and is taken in by a sinister Hoodoo practitioner. The film blends elements of Southern Gothic and supernatural horror.

Why It Matters

"Spell" brings attention to Hoodoo, a spiritual practice rooted in African American culture, and integrates it into a horror narrative. The film offers a fresh take on the supernatural thriller, with strong performances and a unique setting. By incorporating elements of African American folklore, "Spell" enriches the horror genre with cultural specificity and depth.

The Psychological Horror: "His House" (2020)

Directed by Remi Weekes, "His House" tells the story of a refugee couple from South Sudan who struggle to adjust to their new life in England while being haunted by a sinister presence in their new home.

Why It Matters

"His House" masterfully intertwines psychological horror with a poignant immigration narrative. The film addresses themes of trauma, loss, and the refugee experience, providing a fresh and deeply moving perspective within the horror genre. Its innovative storytelling and powerful performances have garnered critical acclaim, making it a standout film in contemporary Black horror.

Illustration of an African American woman escaping from sinister figures under a streetlight.
Under the cold, unyielding glare of the streetlight, shadows come alive. Experience the chilling tales where African American protagonists face their darkest fears.

The Groundbreaking Anthology: "Tales from the Hood" (1995)

Directed by Rusty Cundieff, "Tales from the Hood" is a horror anthology that weaves together four stories dealing with police brutality, domestic abuse, racism, and gang violence. The film uses supernatural elements to deliver its social messages.

Why It Matters

"Tales from the Hood" is a pioneering film that blends horror with social commentary. Each segment tackles critical issues facing the African American community, using horror to amplify its messages. The film's unique approach and enduring relevance have cemented its status as a cult classic in the horror genre.

The Afro-Futuristic Horror: "Atlantics" (2019)

"Atlantics", directed by Mati Diop, is a genre-blending film that incorporates elements of romance, drama, and supernatural horror. The story follows Ada, a young woman in Senegal whose lover disappears at sea, only to return as a spirit seeking justice.

Why It Matters

"Atlantics" is significant for its Afro-futuristic themes and its exploration of migration, loss, and social justice through a supernatural lens. The film's haunting atmosphere and lyrical storytelling offer a unique contribution to the horror genre, highlighting the versatility and depth of African American horror cinema.

Conclusion: The Importance of Black Horror

African American horror films are more than just scary movies; they are powerful narratives that address crucial social issues, reflect cultural identities, and challenge the status quo. From the pioneering days of "Blacula" to the modern masterpieces like "Get Out" and "Us," these films offer rich, diverse perspectives that deepen our understanding of the horror genre. By watching and appreciating these films, we not only entertain ourselves but also engage with important cultural and societal conversations. In doing so, we honor the legacy of Black horror and its vital place in cinematic history.


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