Happy Black History Month Fiends!
Horror is often a reflection of, and draws inspiration from, the real-life horror and struggles of day-to-day living at any given point in history. It’s like looking into a cultural mirror and, as uncomfortable as it may be at times, it’s an important perspective. This is how we get great stories and furthermore it’s how we learn and grow. Film are entertainment and escapism but the best ones leave the viewer with a little something extra as well even if on a subconscious level. Horror films are no exception. Different points of view and new ways of looking at society informed by different life experiences do nothing but benefit and enrich the medium and we are all the better for it.
The horror genre has been making great strides the last couple of decades on showcasing a more diverse and inclusive array of voices both on-screen and off and this month is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the amazing content that is out there. Specifically, here is a list of 10 amazing horror films featuring Black directors!
The sophomore film from acclaimed comedy sensation Jordan Peele proved once again that Jordan is more than a one-trick pony.
Us (2019) is the story of a family taking a much needed vacation to a place that holds some dark memories for the matriarch of the family; Adelaide. Still haunted by an encounter there as a child, coming back does not bode well for her or her family and what follows is an amazingly crafted tale of murder, madness and the darkness within. While not as overt in its themes as Peele’s first film, Get Out (2017), it does tackle not only racial themes but class as well as privilege. In fact, a quote from the filmmaker himself sums up perfectly how he intended this message to impact his audience:
One of the central themes in Us is that we can do a good job collectively of ignoring the ramifications of privilege. I think it’s the idea that what we feel like we deserve comes, you know, at the expense of someone else’s freedom or joy. You know, the biggest disservice we can do as a faction with a collective privilege like the United States is to presume that we deserve it, and that it isn’t luck that has us born where we’re born. For us to have our privilege, someone suffers. That’s where the Tethered connection, I think, resonates the most, is that those who suffer and those who prosper are two sides of the same coin. You can never forget that. We need to fight for the less fortunate.
Us (2019) can be streamed right now over on Hulu and HBOMax.
9. The First Purge
For the fourth film in the bleak, and unfortunately not all that unrealistic at this point, Purge film series is a prequel set at the onset of the very first Purge event.
The films in this series tackle some very weighty concepts on society and societal collapse in an alternate timeline from our own and up until now have been directed by series creator James DeMonaco. For this entry, director Gerard McMurray came on-board following his success with 2017’s Burning Sands and really solidified the underlying theme on the actual intent of the “Purge.” In this twisted reality, the prominent political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, think they have found the solution to balancing the budget and cutting funding to social programs and the social safety net; kill the poor. And they’ll stop at nothing to ensure that this experiment is successful by any means necessary. Touched on in the previous three movies, here the ill will towards lower classes is on full display and a good, hard look is given into just how some people view those they deem lower than themselves.
It’s an excellent look into the origins of the series and can be streamed over on Hulu right now.
In this international release, a supernatural romantic drama, Atlantics tells the story of love, revenge and just how far some will go for it, even after death.
French-Senegalese director Mati Diop delivers a haunting tale of a young woman, Ada, and her partner Souleiman, while they navigate obstacles like employment and the struggle for a better life as migrant workers and the exploitation that all-too-often comes with it. Diop uses horror here to critique the plight of so many around the world in a very effective way while also staying true to the genre. Albeit in very unexpected and unique ways. The film was an overall success at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the Grand Prix and becoming the first film to be featured in the competition to be directed by a black woman. It was also the Senegalese entry for Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards. To top it all off, it was also among former President Barack Obama’s favorite films of 2019.
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The film had such an impact that despite only having a limited theatrical release, it was picked up and premiered on Netflix which is where you can find it right now.
7. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
A remake of another film on this list, this Spike Lee adaptation of 1973’s Ganja and Hess is a faithful retelling of two vampire lovers sharing this new life after death together. An undead romance, if you will. Without deviation from the original it is almost a shot for shot redux. The story follows the same line as the original, following Dr. Hess Green, an anthropologist, studying an ancient African civilization with a historic blood obsession. After being murdered with a ceremonial dagger he finds himself now a vampire and soon falls for the wife of his late, and unstable assistant; Ganja Hightower.
Spike Lee is a prolific director but this marks his first venture into the horror genre. It also marks his first film that was funded through Kickstarter, raising $1.4 million, topping the original goal of $1.25 million. Lee was not optimistic about shopping the adaptation around to the various studios so decided to take it upon himself. Although reviews on this one are mixed, it’s worth a watch if only as a fitting tribute to the original.
This iteration is currently streaming on Tubi.
6. Demon Knight
After years of a super successful run as televisions’ infamous horror anthology series, Tales from the Crypt made the leap to the big screen in 1995 with Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight.
Keeping everything that made the series great, blood, guts and comedy make Demon Knight one of the best horror films of the 90’s and one that still holds up today. On the run from a demon known as The Collector, played brilliantly by Billy Zane (Blue World Order), a member of an ancient order tries desperately to keep it from acquiring a key created not long after the creation of the universe itself. Holed up in a dusty New Mexico town, Guardian William Brayker and some colorful locals fend of Zane and his growing army of demonic creatures and possessed townspeople in a blood-soaked wild ride of a film.
Director Ernest Dickerson got his start taking film classes at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where he met and developed a close relationship with fellow student Spike Lee. After working on several of Lee’s projects, along with several different television series’ including the horror anthology series Tales from the Darkside, he signed on to direct his first horror feature film with Demon Knight. After Demon Knight, Ernest would continue to have a very successful career directing the Snoop Dogg fronted horror film Bones (2001) and multiple T.V credits to his name.
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight can be streamed right now over on Amazon Prime.
5. Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde
A wild reinterpretation of the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976) takes this iconic story and keeps the heart of it beating while shedding an uncomfortable light on some of the important and difficult racial issues of the time. Starring Bernie Casey and Rosalind Cash this version sees Casey’s Dr. Henry Pride working on curing cirrhosis of the liver with Cash’s Dr. Billie Worth when, due to desperation, takes a tragic turn for the worse. Experimenting on others and then eventually himself, Pride turns himself into a violent, blood-thirsty monster who begins murdering the local pimps and prostitutes he encounters. The caveat here is that Dr. Black is, well black, but the monster……he’s white.
While yes, a clear example of the stereotypical blaxploitation films during the 1970’s, there’s so much more here. While William Crain, yes the same director as Blacula (1972), had success with that more clear-cut horror movie, here he took the bold move of really attempting to reach his audience and force them to think. For better and worse, the film is still powerful and relevant today and deserves the cult following that is given to Crain’s previous horror contribution.
Again, Amazon Prime is the place to go to watch this one.
4. Ganja and Hess
Even though the remake by Spike Lee, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014), is also on this list it would be remiss to ignore the fantastic original that inspired it 40 years prior.
Story wise there isn’t much to say as again it’s the same as the 2014 film, or rather that one is beat for beat this one, but it’s really in the cinematography and production where this one stands out as the winner. Bill Gunn was a playwright and novelist who was hesitant about directing a horror/vampire movie but took it and decided to use the concept of vampiric bloodlust as a metaphor for drug addiction. Despite having a budget of a miniscule $350,000, the film made enough of an impact that it was selected for Critics Week at Cannes that year and also as one of the ten best American films at Cannes that same year.
While both are worth watching, this version is the superior one and thankfully Shudder is streaming this cult gem.
3. Horror Noire
A departure from the fiction filling up this list, Horror Noire is a beautifully put-together documentary that takes a deep dive into the history of Black influence and representation in horror films, both on-screen and off.
Based off the 2011 book of the same name by author Robin R. Means Coleman, PhD the documentary is brimming with history and enhanced by interviews with much of the talent seen over the years. Jordan Peele, William Crain, Keith David, Tony Todd, Rachel True and so many others recount their experiences and insights into this essential piece of work. Writer-Director Xavier Burgin was tapped to direct this documentary, the first original documentary exclusively made for the streaming site Shudder, and hopefully it will not be the last time he graces the genre with his skill and vision.
The book is worth picking up in its own right, and as for the documentary itself, Shudder is your go-to as it’s streaming exclusively there.
During the blaxploitation wave of the 1970’s several notable horror films were released but none more popular than the first, the original; Blacula.
Centering on the African prince, Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee), the story begins in the year 1780. Seeking the help of Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) in stopping the slave trade, he instead is attacked and bitten. Awakening almost 200 years later in modern day Los Angeles Blacula stalks the streets in search of his long, lost love. Blacula takes the best elements of this genre and pieces together a story that while yes, is horror, also has its comedic and endearing moments. A different spin on the classic vampire story that sees Blacula as more hero than monster. Not only was this film the directorial debut from UCLA alumni William Crain but it was also won Best Horror Film at the very first Saturn Awards in 1972!
If you haven’t seen this one yet you are most definitely missing out but you can correct that, it’s streaming for FREE on YouTube.
1. Eve’s Bayou
Kasi Lemmons directorial debut is the last film on our list. Although her first and only horror film as director, she can claim acting in films like Vampire’s Kiss (1988), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Candyman (1992) on her expansive resume.
Relying on mysticism and Voodoo to terrify instead of something a bit more traditional, this horror film is subtly unnerving and centers on a family in a small community in Louisiana. It’s the story of a family fraught with struggles and infidelity, of the damage done to children from witnessing the failures of their parents, while offering up dark and ominous solutions to their problems. Its cast has some standout names involved, from Samuel L. Jackson and Jurnee Smollet to Debbi Morgan and Lynn Whitfield. Maybe one of the least horror of the horror films on this list but definitely one of the most powerful and tragic.
Hulu and Amazon Prime are both currently offering this one up for your viewing pleasure.
While included are some of the best and most iconic it is by no means a complete list. There’s some other amazing one’s out there and more and more created every year. Have any additions to the list you want to add? Let us know in the comments, over on Twitter , Reddit, Instagram and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club over on Facebook!