When Jordan Peele released “Get Out” in 2017, the world was in upheaval. We were just coming off the heels of a stressful election year, and the discussion of race was one that America could no longer ignore. While using horror films as a vehicle for social and racial commentary isn’t unique to Peele, the accolades and praise for “Get Out” inspired a number of copycat films hoping to replicate the film’s success. Using horror to talk about racism is the easy part — what more is there to fear than the realities of life itself?
Decades before “Get Out” hit theaters, Black directors were pushing the boundaries of horror and creating their own worlds; here are the Black horror films directed by Black directors both past and present.
Despite mixed reviews upon its release, the Blaxploitation horror film (directed by William Crain) was such a box office success that it led to a wave of black-themed horror films. William Marshall stars in the titular role as Mamuwalde, an 18th-century African prince who turns into a vampire, thanks to Count Dracula, who refuses to help Blacula suppress the slave trade.
“Ganja and Hess” (1973)
The cult film, directed and written by the legendary Bill Gunn, follows Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones), who becomes a vampire after his unstable assistant (Gunn) stabs him with a cursed dagger. Dr. Green then falls in love with his assistant’s widow, Ganja (Marlene Clark), and the two form a sordid and bloody affair. This is the second horror film for Jones, who was the first African American actor to portray a hero in the horror film, “Night of the Living Dead.”
“Tales From the Hood” (1995)
Continuing in the Black horror-themed tradition, “Tales From the Hood” (directed by Rusty Cundieff) is an anthology horror film that — in four short stories — centers on issues that plague the Black community, such as police corruption, domestic abuse, racism, and gang violence. Executive produced by Spike Lee, the film spawned a franchise, consisting of two other films, and cemented its place in the Black horror canon. The soundtrack, which features the Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface, Gravediggaz, and more, went on to reach number one on the hip-hop charts.
“Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight” (1995)
From the mind of director Ernest Dickerson, “Demon Knight” is a feature-length film from the HBO series Tales From the Crypt. The film — which stars horror film queen Jada Pinkett-Smith — follows an ex-soldier who goes to great lengths to keep a demon from initiating an apocalypse with an ancient key.
Think of the scariest character you’ve ever seen on screen. Now, imagine that character being played by Snoop Dogg. “Bones,” another Dickerson-directed film, stars rapper Snoop Dogg and blaxploitation legend Pam Grier. Snoop plays Jimmy Bones, a murdered numbers runner, who comes back from the dead to avenge his own death. The film is an homage to blaxploitation films from the ’70s.
“The Final Project” (2016)
In the film, directed by Taylor Ri’chard, six college students explore an abandoned plantation for their documentary, only to encounter a malevolent spirit. “Final Project” has been compared to the “Blair Witch Project” for its found footage elements, and it was the first film directed and written by a Black person to have a theatrical release since “Bones” (and before “Get Out“).
By far the most experimental on the list, “Kuso,” directed by musician Flying Lotus (credited as Steve), is a series of connected short horror films that follows mutated survivors of an apocalyptic earthquake in Los Angeles. The film has been described by critics as the “grossest film ever” and has even experienced some audience walkouts during screenings.
“Us,” the latest in the Peele cinematic universe, follows Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband, and two children as they return to her childhood beachfront home. Fears are heightened when four attackers — their tethers — appear with the intent of them fighting for survival. While this film strays away from the heavy themes of racism that Peele is known for, it does speak to a louder social context: that the evil we fear is inside of us.
“Black Box” (2020)
This sci-fi horror film (directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour) is about a man (Mamoudou Athie) who loses his memory after a tragic accident in which his wife dies. In an attempt to regain his memory and raise his daughter, he consents to an experimental treatment to bring back his memory.
While the original 1992 film wasn’t directed by a Black director, the themes of race still linger underneath the surface, making director Nia DaCosta the perfect choice to helm the reboot. Twenty-nine years later, the tale of Candyman still terrorizes Chicago’s Cabrini Green. An artist (Yahya Abdul- Mateen II) begins to investigate the history of Candyman’s origins and unknowingly unleashes a wave of violence and insanity. The film went on to debut at number one at the box office, making DaCosta the first Black female director to achieve this. The original Candyman, Tony Todd, reprises his role in the new film.
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