“It’ll Take a Black One to Move Me!” – 5 Overlooked Black Horror Films
So spit Chuck D. in the immortal Public Enemy song “Burn, Hollywood, Burn!” and today I’d like to honor that combination of furious independence and Black History by examining some Black Horror films that I think everyone should see. I decided to highlight a few that I feel are vastly underrated. Some are available for streaming somewhere in the atmosphere, others on DVD, and at least one that I think is completely unavailable except by, um, “underground” methods. So let’s dip our toes into the tragically underrepresented world of Black Horror!
Scream, Blacula, Scream! (1973)
How can this be underrated, you say? It’s pretty well known, I get it, but I think, pound for pound, it’s better than the original. It’s got a little more meanness to it, a little more of that sleaze veneer, and yet it stays true to the cause. Also: Pam Grier. I mean, she would own this movie if not for William Marshall, and he just barely keeps it under his blood-sucking command. I really think this movie can be seen as a metaphor for the drugs that were flooding the Black community at the time (as vampirism in the film), and the combination of a cure sought by old, traditional means, and the interference of the police (the Man) is pretty potent social commentary. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Just enjoy the fun, kids!
Ganja and Hess (1973)
A strange, experimental film, starring Duane Jones of Night of the Living Dead fame, is a real slow-burn and not something you’ll want to put on for a raucous good time and popcorn munching. It is, however, an intelligent and extremely thoughtful movie, way more on the Art Film side of things than Exploitation. Dr. Hess Green (Jones) gets stabbed with a rare African dagger and wakes up to find he is possessed with the desire to drink blood. Yeah, he’s become a vampire. Hess has to kill and drink blood and dispose of his victims, all of which runs contrary to his Christian upbringing. Eventually he meets Ganja Meda (Marlene Clark) the girlfriend of a friend of his. They fall madly in love and he turns her. Thus they begin life together as a vampire couple. As time passes, Hess can’t live with what he’s become, wanting to return to God. Ganja is doing just fine, and it is here where the tragic couple come to their parting. A moody, sad, terribly melancholic film, Ganja and Hess is a real gem.
Sugar Hill (1974)
This one is a little problematic, what with the whole “black people turn to voodoo” trope, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a cracking little horror film, despite this drawback. Sugar’s (Marki Bey) boyfriend gets killed by the local mob when he won’t sell his prosperous nightclub to the bad guys. Sugar decides to get revenge by enlisting the help of a voodoo priestess who summons Baron Samedi who brings an army of zombies to do his bidding. The mobsters start getting knocked-off and the streets run red with blood! This is a dizzyingly good revenge/horror thriller and a nice mix of Horror and Blaxploitation.
This one was called the “Black Exorcist” and got in heaps of trouble for being a supposedly straight-up rip-off of The Exorcist. That claim is pure garbage. Is it about a female being possessed by a demon? Yep. And that’s really the only similarity. Differences? Well, she’s a grown woman, it’s set in the swinging 70’s scene, and the budget is considerably lower. But oh my, what it lacks in professionalism it more than makes up for in sheer insanity. When Abby (Carol Speed) gets possessed by the African spirit Eshu (a trickster) and starts cussing and spitting and getting all sexually wild, things get ugly. So ugly they call in William Marshall (not as Blacula this time; he’s just a priest) who can’t get the job done via the Catholic rituals, so he sheds the priest collar and dons the dashiki and goes to war with the demon old-school, Africa style. Yeah, it’s pretty badass. Add in some streaks of feminism vs. the patriarchy, and you get some very cool subtext, although it’s hard to accuse this film of being subtle about anything. Also, the shoot itself was reputedly cursed, so there’s that. In the end, it’s a wild ride, so strap yourself in.
Tales From the Hood 2 (2018)
I think the first one gets a lot of love, and it deserves that love, but my god the second one should not be ignored. Are there some cheesy computer fx going on here? Yep. Does the production wear its low budget on its sleeve? With pride. Here we get five more tales of devilish delight by filmmakers Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott, and the guys don’t hold back. In an age of Trump and “both sides were at fault” and Black Lives Matter, they let go with full-force comedy and horror, classic EC Comics style. The horror and satire is turned on all comers, from the racists to their enablers in the Black community itself. I really, really love this movie and admire the spirit of it. Go in looking to have fun, many laughs, and to get your heart broken more than a few times. It’s good. Really good.
So there’s a start. Dig in and celebrate Black History Month with some cool little Black Horror films and celebrate the spirit of independence and low-budget filmmaking.