Black horror is in-demand in Hollywood thanks in large part to the daring vision of Jordan Peele. The Oscar-winning writer and director of the game-changing Get Out (2017) is set to release his much-anticipated scissors-wielding, evil doppelganger flick Us this March. And Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions just recently announced that Aquaman baddie Yahya Abdul-Mateen will star as the iconic and beyond creepy Candyman in its reboot of the classic 1992 horror flick of the same name. Which got us thinking: what other classic Black horror films are deserving of a second look?
We’ve compiled 10 such bone-chilling films either directed by, written or starring Black actors/actresses that should get the reboot treatment. Take a deep breath and read on!
One of the earliest films in the horror genre, Son of Ingagi is pretty much a groundbreaking cinematic statement that has been criminally forgotten. The 1940s monster flick, which was written by Black filmmaker Spencer Williams and boasts the first all-Black cast of the genre, follows Eleanor and Bob Lindsay, who inherit the house of doctor Helen Jackson. The Lindsays soon discover that Dr. Jackson has returned from her trip to Africa with a mysterious creature that goes into a murderous rage after drinking a potion. Here the brazen racial stereotypes that were a mainstream movie staple of the day take a backseat to some striking, fully formed characters. Son of Ingagi deserves a second look.
This film’s ridiculous title is no doubt a product of its over-the-top Blaxploitation-era roots. But underneath its cheesy theatrics is a sneaky good (and landmark) Black vampire film that ambitiously connects the slave trade of the 1700s to 1970s Los Angeles. Veteran actor Charles McCauley seriously sinks his teeth (sorry, not sorry) into what could have easily dissolved into a cartoonish romp without a hint of irony. This is good, delicious stuff which, in the hands of, say, two-time Oscar winner and True Detective star Mahershala Ali, would reach even more nuanced heights.
It’s kind of baffling that J.D.’s Revenge has not been given a second look for a modern twist given that the supernatural movie’s entire premise jumps off the big screen. Glynn Turman plays a law student named Isaac, who becomes possessed by the spirit of 1940s gangster J.D. Walker, who is out for revenge against the folks who framed the unforgiving hood for the murder of his beloved sister. There’s also a strong performance from future Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. How about Denzel Washington as the obsessed, bloodthirsty O.G. and Donald Glover standing in for the beyond-square Isaac?
A different take on the classic vampire trope, Ganja & Hess follows the art-house film approach. This Bill Gunn-helmed allegory about addiction features trailblazing Night of the Living Dead hero Duane Jones and former model-turned-actress Marlene Clark, who would go on to star as Janet Lawson, the girlfriend of Lamont on the legendary ‘70s sitcom comedy Sanford and Son. And from the jump, Ganja & Hess sidesteps the usual vampire hijinks by going fang-less. (Gasp!) But if the premise of the film sounds familiar, that's because legendary Oscar-winning director Spike Lee attempted an unofficial remake of Ganja & Hess with the 2014 movie Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
While eschewing the satire of The People Under the Stairs, the haunted house in Nailed is darker and much weirder. Previous reviews of the film described it as a Twilight Zone-like story in which two escaped convicts elude police and hide out in what they believe to be an abandoned building. Instead, what they find is a bandaged invalid and his perpetually upbeat caretaker whose murderous, violent streak seems to be controlled by the building. The gore meter here would be exceptional, and that's reason enough for a reboot. Black Lightening's Jordan Calloway and actor/mogul 50 Cent would make an interesting duo as the escaped prisoners.
OK. So The Brother From Another Planet may not fit the mode of “horror flick,” but it still makes our list. After all, what’s more horrific than a science fiction vehicle that utilizes the deep, still painful nightmare of American slavery as a powerful stand-in? The great Emmy-winning Joe Morton is “The Brother,” a nameless alien and escaped slave who, after crash landing on Earth, finds himself in Harlem, USA.
The gentle, big-hearted and brilliant humanoid, who looks just like the Black brothers and sisters in the ‘hood except for his eyebrow-raising feet (three toes), is hunted down by (white) alien overseers. From there, everything from the detrimental effects of drugs on the Black community to Black love and the power of Black humanity is dissected. In this ultra-woke era, a revival of The Brother From Another Planet is a socially conscious no-brainer.
In this horror comedy, the late criminally underrated Bill Nunn and A Different World stalwart Kadeem Hardison are childhood friends who reunite after taking decidedly different paths. Joel (Nunn) is a faith-stricken minister and K (Hardison) is now a movie star living it up in New York. The hilarity kicks off when K meets an intoxicating woman (Cynthia Bond) at a bar who, as it turns out, is a succubus that takes pleasure in draining the blood of men. While at times an uneven ride, Nunn’s and Hardison’s laughable bumbling and stumbling chemistry as vampire hunters makes up for the slow points.
Our second movie on the list is a light-hearted curve pitch from horror film deity Wes Craven. The People Under the Stairs is essentially a flip on the haunted-house genre that follows a young boy (Brandon Adams) and two robbers (one played by an up and coming Ving Rhames) who find themselves trapped in a creepy home owned by an even creepier couple. They soon discover that the house is inhabited by cannibalistic children. Nice. What’s especially cool about The People Under the Stairs is the fact that the heroes being Black is beside the point. Craven plays it fast and loose and lets the comedy flow organically. And yeah, the horror is legit and still manages to take on gentrification and the seriousness of class warfare, issues that are as prominent as ever in 2019.
Let’s start with the inside story that legendary producer Joel Silver did not want any parts of Jada Pinkett-Smith for the leading role in the horror cult classic Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight. According to Ernest Dickerson, who found mainstream accolades after directing the beloved 1992 ‘hood crime drama Juice, he was over the moon with the idea of Pinkett-Smith playing the strong-willed heroine hunted down by a demon. But Silver had other ideas. He wanted The Mask’s decidedly whiter Cameron Diaz, sarcastically trolling of Pinkett-Smith, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but does she got big tits?”
Good thing Dickerson got his way. While HBO’s big-screen adaptation of its popular Tales From the Crypt series underperformed somewhat at the box office, it garnered positive reviews, much of it in part to the empowering Jada Pinkett-Smith, who bucked the usual early deaths of Black actors in slasher/horror films. There are a myriad of talented Black actresses who could fill the shoes of the respected Hollywood voice and Will Smith’s better half. But Kiki Layne of If Beale Street Could Talk fame would make for some intriguing casting.
This is the movie that basically launched the impressive career of John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Detroit, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Pacific Rim: Uprising). Like Brother From Another Planet, Attack the Block is rooted in the sci-fi tradition, but it doubles brilliantly as a good old-fashioned monster mash. Director Joe Cornish seems to be having the time of his life in this tale of a crew of street toughs who must protect their South London council estates (in America we call them the projects) from flesh-ripping aliens. Now imagine that same premise taking place in early ‘80s Chicago at the now demolished Robert Taylor Homes on the city's South Side. Make it happen.
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