Horror has always been my favorite genre. As a kid, I wanted so badly to see more horror stories that centered on Black characters where they were main… not the sidekick or supporting characters on the side or the first victims, etc. These past few years, I’ve been excited to see the various different horror projects coming out centering on Black folk. A few months ago, I found myself cracking up and looking forward to the upcoming horror parody releasing this week called The Blackening. Just a few weeks ago we also got The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster. So in time for these releases, I thought it’d be cool to ask a couple of Black horror folks in the comic world for their favorite Black horror movies and books.
MICHELINE HESS (Diary of a Mad, Black, Werewolf)
Movie: OK, so hear me out. When I think of Black horror, I remember the first time I watched Night of the Living Dead [directed by George A. Romero, written by Romero and John Russo] as a kid at the local youth center on Halloween. I understand that the decision to cast Duane Jones wasn’t rooted in his being a Black man, but this was the first time I’d ever seen a Black person in a lead role of a story like this one. He played his character to the hilt, and the effect on me was transformative.
Book: I would pick the Fledgling by Octavia Butler. The way this story unfolds around the protagonist is stunningly relatable, which is saying a lot since she is essentially a vampire! It’s heartfelt horror at its finest.
Book: The Living Blood [by Tananarive Due] series captures culture in a unique way. It felt like I got a chance to build a relationship with characters that felt familiar before it introduced the horror elements. Similar to the late, great Octavia Butler but more to my generation.
Movie: For the Serpent and the Rainbow [directed by Wes Craven, written by Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman; loosely based on the non-fiction book of the same name by ethnobotanist Wade Davis] it was about craft. I love the way it was shot and how it spoke to the power of voodoo. Yes, there was the problematic element of a protagonist from outside of the culture carrying much of the narrative, but the scenes in Haiti were well done in my opinion. Eve’s Bayou [written and directed by Kasi Lemmons] just had a great feel. Like a slow burn with mystical elements. Some of my favorite types of storytelling.
Book: The Deep by Rivers Solomon: a haunting and beautiful story about historical horrors. Cuts deep.
Movie: Vampires vs. the Bronx [directed by Oz Rodriguez and written by Rodriguez and Blaise Hemingway]. More playful than scary, there’s so few horror movies set in cities, and none set in a borough like the Bronx where you can tell the filmmakers actually like the local Black and Brown population. This movie just made me happy.
Movie: Sugar Hill (1974 film) [directed by Paul Maslansky, written by Tim Kelly]. I knew this was my kind of movie when I saw the first scene taking place in an establishment called Club Haiti. In this movie voodoo and zombies are used to fight evil. As far as I know this is the only zombie movie where the zombies are summoned by voodoo loa Baron Samedi. The pearl eyed machete-wielding zombies were creepy enough. I love the way Baron Samedi plays different characters. Appearances from Zara Cully were a plus.
Book: I’m going with Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark. The idea that the author’s imagery of the KKK as demons was as scary as the real life humans of the KKK. But reading the fighting spirit within the black heroes kicking ass was dope. The book was action packed.
GIGI MURAKAMI (Resenter)
Movie: I think my favorite Black horror movie is Candyman [written and directed by Bernard Rose, based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden]. I really enjoy the 1992 original, as well as the 2021 remake [directed by Nia DaCosta, written by Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, and DaCosta]. I don’t think many people know this about me, but I have a history of teaching art in the non-profit and social justice space, so the themes of both Candyman movies really resonate with me. Throw in the nostalgia, and it’s a no-brainer comfort film.
Book: My favorite Black horror book is of course When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole. It’s such a captivating read, and taps into a lot of the same themes as Candyman does – a lot less supernatural, but it’s giving “Damn, that’s wild” all the same.
CHUCK COLLINS (Pop Paranormal Podcast)
Movie: His House [directed by Remi Weekes, from a story by Felicity Evans and Toby Venables] was an amazing movie that takes the real world horror of refugees from a war torn country and having to assimilate into a culture that doesn’t want them. All the while being hunted by the way they made their escape in order to survive. An amazing take that breaks away from the traditional and tropey ghost stories we’ve all seen before.
So before we finish… John Jennings, being a horror scholar and a literal professor of horror, provided us with a bit of a lesson for his choices and recommendations! So prepare to be educated!
Movie: Def By Temptation [written and directed by James Bond III]. The film is a wonderful anomaly. It came out in the heyday of gritty Black films that were dealing with the crack trade or the high rate of gang activity. James Bond III was from Spike Lee’s troupe of actors and was last seen in School Daze; Lee’s ode to the issues around class and race on a fictional HBCU campus. Bond called in favors and decided to collaborate with Troma Films; a studio that became legendary in the 1980s VHS craze for low-budget, over the top gory horror. Def starred Samuel L. Jackson, Kadeem Hardison, Bill Nunn, Melba Moore and the hypnotic Cynthia Bond (no relation to the director) as a manifestation of the demon of Temptation.
Bond stars as a young, naive seminary student who is on his way, as his doting grandmother wants, to becoming a very powerful preacher like his father (played by Jackson) before him. Bond’s mother and father are killed mysteriously and now he is vulnerable to the beast of Temptation and its sensual devices. Bond’s protagonist Joel goes to see his cousin K (Hardison) in the big and wild New York City in order to catch a glimpse of what he’s been missing or may be giving up. Little do he and K realize that an evil temptress has set a trap for Joel and plans to destroy his line and take his soul.
Def By Temptation hearkens back to earlier morality films like Hellhound Train (1930) and the Blood of Jesus (1941) where it situated tensions between our human nature and an evil force. It was made for under a million dollars and suffers from its low budget. However, it does have the great Ernest J. Dickerson, also from Spike Lee’s camp, on cinematography. Dickerson brings a visual flair inspired by the Italian genre of “giallo” to the urban landscapes of Brooklyn. The cast totally sells the campy, over the top, anti-AIDS message behind the story and makes an odd and absorbing narrative despite its limits. Cynthia Bond oozes sexuality and pure evil as the seductress and is an amazing foil for Bond and his crew. The film was a massive financial success due to its low budget. Bond owns all aspects of the film and is a pioneer in a space where Black faces are seldom seen or seldom survive until the credits roll.
Book: Money and magic are linked and only a few people control it. That’s the underlying idea for the masterful comics series the Black Monday Murders. Written by comics super star Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by the sublimely talented Tomm Coker, the story is a supernatural murder mystery that features a Black blue-collar homicide detective named Theodore Dumas. As the title suggests, Hickman alludes to the stock market being a space of uncanny magic and evil alliances. Dumas is put forth as a very smart but highly troubled figure who is determined to get to the bottom of an arcane murder of one of Wall Street’s very own “captains of industry.” As he puts the pieces together, he discovers an ancient and global conspiracy to maintain a particular type of order and place immense power into the hands of a few. Although Theodore Dumas is pretty much the only Black character amongst these elite and highly wealthy white people, he represents the everyman and especially neglected and oppressed workers of color.
Dumas has a “nose” for the supernatural and looks at the crime for what it is… other worldly. Before he knows it, he’s knee-deep in ritual murder, international intrigue and horrible powers that he’s never known or seen before. Hickman uses his design skills to bring into police reports, emails, and other ephemera to give the book a very definite feel of an epistolary. This not only adds to the realism of the book but also situates it in the traditions of Gothic texts like Dracula. Coker’s realistic illustrations elevates this macabre social analysis to the next level. Theodore Dumas is a wonderful Black character that feels very real and grounded in the middle of an insane and unseemly system of black magic and greed.
Greg Anderson Elysée is a Brooklyn-born Haitian-American writer, educator, filmmaker, personal trainer, and model. Elysée previously wrote for theOuthousers.com, where he ran his own column, (Heard It Thru) The Griotvine, showcasing independent creators of color and LGBTQ creators, as well as writing for Bleeding Cool.
Elysée’s original comic series “Is’nana the Were-Spider” is a seven-time Glyph Award Winner.
His other work includes “Akim Aliu: Dreamer: Growing Up Black in the World of Hockey,” published by Scholastic Inc. and Kaepernick Publishing, “OneNation: Stronghold,” published by 133art Publishing, “I Dream of Home” in the Lion Forge graphic novel collection and Eisner Award-winning “Puerto Rico Strong,” and “Tyrone and Jamal” in the GLAAD Award-winning “Young Men in Love.” He lives in Brooklyn.