The new Shudder documentary Horror Noire tracks the relationship between horror films and the black community and features onscreen contributions from directors Jordan Peele (Get Out), Ernest Dickerson (Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight), and Candyman star Tony Todd, among others.
“The black community has always been a fan of horror films, but in terms of the participants, they’ve been few and far between,” Todd told EW earlier this week. “But the ones that have participated have been significant, all the way back from Blacula and the original Night of the Living Dead with the late, great Duane Jones — I was able to do the remake of it and work with George Romero. You have Keith David in They Live, Ken Foree in Dawn of the Dead. Then there are new people on the horizon [like] Jordan Peele. I think the beauty of the documentary is to tie all that together.”
Horror Noire is directed by Xavier Burgin and written by Ashlee Blackwell and Danielle Burrows, inspired by the book of the same name by Robin R. Means Coleman. The film’s executive producers include Coleman, Tananarive Due, who teaches “The Sunken Place” course at UCLA, and Phil Nobile Jr., editor-in-chief of the recently revived horror magazine, Fangoria.
“After the critical and mainstream success of Get Out, Phil Nobile Jr. thought it would be a really great idea to produce a documentary about black horror,” says Blackwell, founder of the horror website Graveyard Shift Sisters. “We wanted to tell the history of what happened before Get Out, what led to Get Out, to help people understand that Get Out is not a flash in the pan thing, it doesn’t exist independently, it comes from this long history of blacks in horror.”
Below, Blackwell talks about what she regards as the five most important black horror films.
Son of Ingagi (1940)
“That was written by Spencer Williams. He was a black filmmaker. What is so revolutionary about this film is that it fully fleshes out its black characters. They’re doing things that aren’t caricature-ized. But it’s also really important because it is kind of a creature feature, so there’s some cool genre elements going on in it.”
“That’s important for everyone to see. It goes from moments where you’re dealing with the slave trade in the 1700s to the modern-day, 1970s. It also features, I think, the first black vampire onscreen.”
Ganja & Hess (1973)
“It’s more a vampire allegory about addiction than a direct vampire film, but it does have a lot of supernatural elements. It stars Duane Jones from Night of the Living Dead and Marlene Clark. The writer and director Bill Gunn, he was very in tune [with] black identity at this time and what it meant. He was hired to make this kind of schlocky black vampire film — they wanted him to do, like, Blacula 2. He did something a lot more artistic, and nuanced, and intellectual.”
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
“Wow, this is hard. When you focus on the ’90s and 2000s, there is so many, I don’t want to miss anything. I’m going to say, Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight. It is one of the mainstream horror films directed by a black director (Ernest Dickerson) and what he wanted to implement in the film was done very successfully, especially championing for Jada Pinkett, who plays the main character. She is one of the first contemporary ‘final girls’ who happens to be black. That’s why it’s so groundbreaking. It’s one of those movies that finally people are starting to talk about more and I think that’s excellent.”
Get Out (2017)
“For me, it was perfect it pretty much every sense. Every prop, every smile, every nod in this film — this film is talking back to the audience about what black people experience, and our fears, and that’s why it’s so revolutionary. He talked at the audiences but he didn’t preach to them. He didn’t point fingers. He made this buffet of racial microaggression and said, ‘Here, just ruminate on this, just think about everything Chris is experiencing, and talk about it, talk about how he experiences fear, and in a sense how black people, and black men specifically, are experiencing fear in this country.’ It’s a very smart film. Get Out is Top 5 for sure.”