“Bad Hair” is a campy sendup of office culture before diversity training, late ’80s style and corporate competition that is literally cutthroat. The horror (and fun) is baked into the idea that Black women must completely transform — into the scariest versions of themselves, no less — to succeed in a world dominated by White men.
Like most good horror films, the scare goes hand-in-hand with the social commentary. But unlike so many horror movies, in this one Black people actually last until the final credits.
According to Simien, best known for his movie-turned-TV series “Dear White People,” the premise of “Bad Hair” started off as a joke: when weaves attack! But it soon dawned on the director that he could “shine a light on what is actually a horrific experience for a lot of people,” he explained at the New York Comic-Con. Still, the genre itself wasn’t one into which Simien had ever planned to dive.
“I never actually thought about making a horror movie. It just kind of didn’t dawn on me that I could do that as a Black person, which is odd,” he added.
Perhaps not too odd. Before Jordan Peele’s 2017 hit “Get Out,” the horror genre wasn’t known for celebrating or centering Black people. They were often relegated to stereotypical roles such as “the magical Negro, the sacrificial Negro or the first to die,” according to the documentary “Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror.”
“We’ve always loved horror,” explains film historian Tananarive Due in the documentary. “It’s just that horror, unfortunately, hasn’t always loved us.”
Here are nine horror films that have actually loved — and by loved, we mean put in imminent danger — its Black characters.
“Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
The film stars Duane Jones, an African American stage actor, as Ben, the capable and brave hero. In that way, George Romero’s OG zombie flick was revolutionary, even if the director wasn’t thinking about history at the time. “We didn’t cast [Duane] because he was Black. We cast him because he was the best actor,” Romero told the Hollywood Reporter. (Stream on Shudder)
“The People Under the Stairs” (1991)
A young boy saves the day in Wes Craven’s campy take on that one house on the block everyone’s too afraid to walk past. Child actor Brandon Adams is the cute kid who, along with two would-be robbers, break into the creepy house to steal its rumored treasure. But the crew find ghoulish children trapped in the basement, a chained-up daughter, and an incestual couple instead. It’s wild. (Stream on Shudder)
Go ahead and say his name five times in the mirror. We dare you. In this haunting tale of a hook-handed boogie man stalking Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing complex, race and class provide the horror. “Just as urban legends are based on the real fears of those who believe in them, so are certain urban locations able to embody fear,” wrote Roger Ebert in his review of the film. A modern remake of this classic is set for 2021 starring “Watchmen’s” Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. (Rent on Amazon Prime)
“Vampire in Brooklyn” (1995)
Eddie Murphy plays the titular bloodsucker in this comedic vamp around ’90s Brooklyn. His character is an undead man with a Jheri curl in search of a woman who’ll keep him alive. That woman turns out to be an NYPD detective played by Angela Bassett. The two play cat and mouse as punchlines like “I would love to have you for dinner” pile up. “Blacula” this is not. (Rent on Amazon Prime)
“Tales from the Hood” (1995)
Executive produced by Spike Lee, this film-length anthology weaves together social commentary about race, class and the myths behind the “inner city.” The movie follows three hoodlums attempting to rob the spooky-looking funeral home owned by Mr. Simms. Veteran actor Clarence Williams III expertly chills as the mortician who tries to scare the robbers straight with his campfire stories about the very real horrors sprung from racism. (Stream on Hulu with Showtime add-on)
“Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” (2014)
Lee also had his hand in this film, which was financed partially through Kickstarter. “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” is a reimagining of 1973′s “Ganja & Hess,” an experimental horror flick about an anthropologist who becomes a vampire. Lee’s take is also rooted in blood but isn’t about the undead, according to the director. “This is not a vampire story,” Lee told Variety. “Vampires can’t go out in the day in the Fort Greene projects. This is about people who are addicted to blood.” Okay. (Stream on Amazon Prime)
“Get Out” (2017)
Was there ever such a thing as “the sunken place” before “Get Out” turned it into the collective mental dungeon of our nightmares? Director and writer Jordan Peele won the Academy Award for best original screenplay for his confident freshman feature, which takes on racism in America. The film, for which lead actor Daniel Kaluuya was also nominated for an Oscar, explores premises such as body snatching, fake liberalism and slavery. (Rent on Amazon Prime)
Peele’s next effort was less about race than it was about oppression in general. Starring a picture-perfect, upper-class Black family, “Us” literally digs underneath the surface of what makes America run. Spoiler alert: it’s bad. In an interview with The Washington Post, star Winston Duke explained the movie’s heady premise: “The movie is strongly about cultures of power and what they look like and how you participate in them,” he said. “It’s also a commentary on the perils of the American Dream.” (Stream on HBO Max)
“Black Box” (2020)
Blumhouse, the production company slash horror behemoth that made “Get Out,” recently released this psychological thriller about a dad who loses his wife and his memory. Forever-mom Phylicia Rashad plays the soothing neurologist trying to help the main character get his memories back, but the “Who am I?” question is far from easy to answer in this experimental film. (Stream on Amazon Prime)