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  • Writer's pictureAllan Major

The Legacy of Black Horror: From Blaxploitation to "Get Out"

Featured Image For  The Legacy of Black Horror: From Blaxploitation to "Get Out".   Illustration of a frightened woman looking back in horror as a shadowy, monstrous figure reaches out towards her from the darkness.
Running from the shadows won’t save you. In the realm of horror noire, the darkness follows, and the terror always finds you.

Picture this: the velvet curtain twitches, the projector whirs, and a world of lurid shadows unspools across the silver screen. There's a raw energy to it – a pulse that echoes the frenetic nightlife of the Harlem streets bleeding through the celluloid. This, my friends, is blaxploitation cinema, and within its gritty embrace lies a cornerstone of Black horror.

We're not just talking cheap thrills and funky soundtracks (though those are delicious in their own right). The horror films nestled within the blaxploitation era dared to be something more – audacious, subversive, and yes, often deeply flawed. But from these rough-hewn gems, a vital cinematic lineage emerges. Let's chart this evolution, tracing the legacy of Black horror from its defiant origins to the bone-chilling brilliance of today.

Blaxploitation: When Vampires Walked the Streets of Harlem

Films like 1972's "Blacula" flipped the script on the classic monster. No longer was the creature of the night a pale European count; instead, an African prince cursed with vampirism became a figure both tragic and undeniably powerful. These flicks were often rife with problematic tropes, and their social commentary could be heavy-handed. However, they gave Black audiences a chance to see themselves reflected on screen in a genre that had historically excluded them.

"Ganja & Hess" (1973) took things a step further. Its exploration of addiction and exploitation within the Black upper class was infused with a haunting, experimental style. This wasn't mere monster fare; it was horror as art, as a vessel for complex sociopolitical introspection.

Illustration of a terrified woman with wide eyes looking over her shoulder, while a sinister figure with glowing eyes and a hood lurks in the background under a streetlamp.
Dark streets hold darker secrets. As she glances over her shoulder, the horror creeping closer reveals that some nightmares come to life under the dim streetlights.

The Ebb and Flow of Black Horror

Like many subgenres, the blaxploitation wave eventually subsided. But Black horror did not die. It lingered in works like "Tales from the Hood", a 1995 anthology that fearlessly tackled police brutality and urban decay. Yet, it was "Candyman" (1992) that truly stood out in this era. Its ghost story rooted in the horrors of the Cabrini-Green housing projects resonated on a visceral level, proving Black horror could transcend niche appeal.

The Modern Renaissance: Peele, "Lovecraft Country," and Beyond

Then came Jordan Peele. "Get Out" wasn't merely a brilliant horror film; it was a seismic shift. Its terrifying dissection of insidious racism and the commodification of Black bodies sent shockwaves through the industry and far beyond. Suddenly, Black horror wasn't just tolerated; it was essential, bankable, worthy of critical attention.

This momentum powered the likes of HBO's "Lovecraft Country", a sprawling, ambitious series that blended cosmic horror with the terrifying legacy of Jim Crow. While uneven, it proved the potential for truly expansive storytelling within the Black horror space.  And there's more to come – Nia DaCosta's "Candyman" sequel, the upcoming "Nanny" from Nikyatu Jusu, and countless other projects in development show that this renaissance is far from over.

Illustration of a woman with a horrified expression, illuminated by a burst of light, as a dark figure emerges from the shadows behind her.
In the eerie glow of the unknown, fear takes form. Her wide eyes capture the moment she realizes that escape from the lurking terror is impossible.

The Evolution of Representation

It's not simply the volume of Black horror that's shifted – it's the depth of representation. No longer relegated to stereotypes, Black characters in modern horror are nuanced and multifaceted. They're heroes, villains, survivors, and sometimes, all three at once. Women in particular are taking center stage, driving the narratives and shattering the tired tropes that have plagued the genre for decades.

Unflinching, Necessary, and Undeniably Powerful

The best Black horror doesn't shy away from pain.  It digs into wounds both historical and painfully present – systemic injustice, the lingering specter of slavery, the insidious anxieties of existing as a Black person in America.  But it also finds catharsis, moments of dark humor, and the unbreakable strength of community in the face of overwhelming odds.

As we chart the past, present, and future of Black horror, its enduring power becomes clear.  This is more than just entertainment. It's a reflection, a warning, and perhaps even a call to action. So, dear horror fans, seek out these often overlooked and underappreciated films. Let their shadows wash over you, and emerge changed by the unsettling truths they dare to reveal.


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