Horror Noire: The History of Black Horror

Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror

Horror Noire (2018) directed by Xavier Burgin is a phenomenal documentary on the history of Black horror — from the silent film era to the present day, examining the racist underpinnings of early horror and how genre films have evolved over the decades to begin positioning Black characters as heroes.

“We’ve always loved horror. It’s just that horror, unfortunately, hasn’t always loved us,” explains novelist Tananarive Due near the beginning of the doc. This love for horror is present throughout the thoughtful critiques of the genre by filmmakers, writers, actors, and scholars. There’s a feeling of excitement and hope for the future of the genre, as new filmmakers come on the scene with Black protagonists at the forefront.

I loved every moment of this documentary. They analyze some of my favorite genre films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1969), The Craft (1996), and Get Out (2017) and discussions a vast number of movies I haven’t seen but are now on my to-be-watched list. In fact, I now have a long list of movies I need to seek out and watch.

Horror Noire is available for streaming on the Shudder network, which also features a number of the classic films discussed, such as Ganja & Hess (1973), The People Under the Stairs (1999), Tales from the Hood (1995), and others.

You can also check out the Horror Noire syllabus over on Graveyard Shift Sisters, for a quick reference list of movies, nonfiction, fiction, comics, and other works to check out.


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Reading Women in Horror: Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

A group sets out on a journey to the middle of the ocean to film a documentary examining the possible existence of mermaids — something no one on the team believes in. What they discover is so much more horrifying than they expected.

In a way Rolling in the Deep reads like a found footage film, stating from the opening pages that none of the crew or staff who started out on the ship SS Atlantic were ever found. We know from the get-go that something terrible is going to happen — reading the book reveals the how.

The story features a diverse and interesting cast of at least a dozen — between the captain and her deaf first mate, the host and her cameraman, the half a dozen scientists, a troupe of mermaid performers, and the producer of the show. Mira Grant reveals her incredible skill in making these characters feel like people you can care about in an incredibly short timeframe, considering the book is only 120 pages in length. (Well, almost everyone, since I’m pretty sure no one minded much that the producer got his due.) We don’t know everything about each of these people, but we don’t need to. We know that they have pasts and hopes and plans for the future, and it’s enough to make me sad if that future is snuffed out.

I’m not going to tell you what happens at the end, because you should read this book yourself. But I will say this book builds at a perfect pace to a finale that left me with chills. Honestly, I may never swim in the ocean again.

It was revealed in November 2018 that Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary) has signed on to direct the movie adaptation of the book — which is of no surprise. As I was reading, I immediately felt that, with its tight pacing and chilling ending, this was a book destined to be adapted for the screen. I hope it gets made, but we’ll see. Hollywood can be fickle.

Women in Horror – Short Film: Wake (2010) by Bree Newsome

Wake

Written & Directed By: Bree Newsome

Length: 21:29 minutes
Genre: Horror

What It’s About: “A repressed woman does away with her domineering father, freeing herself to pursue her heart’s desire. Using a local folk magic called “root-work”, she conjures a demon to aid her in creating the man of her dreams — but soon finds herself in a waking nightmare.” — Bree Newsome

Why I Like It: This short hits the perfect tone from minute one, with Charmaine’s opening words, “Everybody knows if you’re fixin’ to GOSSIP, you gotta have a little dirt on somebody. And everybody knows if you’re fixin’ to BURY, you gotta throw a little dirt on somebody. But don’t everybody know that if you’re fixin’ to CONJURE, it’s best to take a little dirt from a body…” This story of southern folklore and a woman going after her own desires is brilliantly acted and compelling from start to finish — with an ending that gave me chills.


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Women in Horror: Prevenge (2016) directed by Alice Lowe

Prevenge

Near the movie’s opening, a very pregnant Ruth enters a reptile shop and discusses the kinds of available animals with the creepy owner. The owner’s behavior is unsettling — his passion for the creepy crawlies in his store a little too enthusiastic, even when he sees the woman in front of him is uncomfortable. Without context, the viewer is left with the uncomfortable feeling that something awful is about to happen to this flinching woman — then bam, the scene turns in another direction entirely.

Prevenge

It’s a wonderful entry into the film, as we quickly learn that Ruth is hearing the voice of her unborn daughter — and that voice is the voice of rage, demanding blood and violence. Prevenge is an excellent black comedy, in which our heroine deftly deals out a series of brutal deaths. Everything is well shot and edited to deliver excellent punchlines without loosing the emotional thread of this woman, who is lost and disconnected from the people around her. I was entirely delighted by this movie.

Prevenge

Prevenge is one of those movies in which the journey of how it was made is almost as great as the film itself. Lowe — who wrote, directed, and starred in the film — was six months pregnant when she received an opportunity to direct a low budget film. She poured all her frustrations about her career  into the movie, putting together bloody revenge thriller. “Suddenly, you’re a mother and people think different about you and you don’t have control over your job anymore,” said Lowe. “All of this stuff, I was feeling fairly grim and dark about, and I just put it in this film.”

The film was scripted and shot on an expedited schedule (with only 11 days of filming) — and all while Lowe was still pregnant. So, the baby belly we see in the movie is Lowe’s real baby belly. Considering that it’s a miracle any movie gets made at all — especially one as fantastically fun as Prevenge — thrilling to know that Lowe let nothing stop her in moving forward with her passion for making films.


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Women In Horror: Dearest Sister directed by Mattie Do

dearest-sister-nong-hak

“A village girl travels to the Lao capital, Vientiane, to care for her rich cousin who has lost her sight and gained the ability to communicate with the dead.”

This film can best be understood through the complicated familial relationships that are at its core, which blend of love and betrayal within the situational reality of class structures. Nok (played by Amphaiphun Phommapunya) exists in an unsettled position throughout much of the film. When she arrives at her cousin’s home, she is an outsider — the camera peering with her into the home as the servants ignore her and the husband keeps speaking English, a language she doesn’t understand. The scenes provide an intense feeling of isolation, which is continued even as she is introduced to Ana (played by Vilouna Phetmany) the next day.

Nok exists in an odd liminal space within the home. Although she’s family, she has been brought there to help and serve Ana. She’s too much of a servant to be treated as family and too much apart of the family to be welcome among the servants.

Dearest Sister - Mattie Do

It’s only when Nok begins to earn Ana’s trust that her position within the household begins to change. Ana is loosing her sight, the world reduced to a blur of light and shadow — with ghostly figures emerging out of that distorted vision, the sudden awareness of these spirits causing her to become injured. No one believes her, thinking the injuries are something she is doing to herself. Her husband is willing to spend any amount of money to cure her blindness and help with her mental care. He clearly loves her, and yet he also often treats her like a child. Meanwhile, the servants only care that they not be blamed when the mistress injures herself.

dearest-sister-nong

Nok is the only one who listens, the only one who works to find a way to help Ana manage the ghosts. With this help, Ana is able to feel more comfortable in dealing with her situation, and therefore happier — but this happiness is coupled with a new dependence on Nok.

The relationship grows more complicated as Nok discovers that she can profit from Ana’s condition. While she cares for Ana, she’s also drawn to want to be more a part of Ana’s world — and that includes the wealth, nice clothes, and other fineries she sees around her. Money seems to be a way for her to move from her liminal space into more firm footing beside Ana. This, of course, doesn’t go to plan.

All of the interplay between the characters in this household represent complicated power structures based on family, money, and class. The cinematography, editing, and sound design all work together to help illustrate and build upon the great performances presented by each of the actors. For example, as their relationship blossoms, Ana’s conversation with Nok is layered over several moments of quiet moments between the women — illustrating their growing friendship and intimacy.

This is a beautifully made film, unraveling concepts of trust, family obligations, and the power of money. The horror is not just in the ghosts and the inevitability of death, but in the ways people manipulate and abuse each other in both subtle and overt ways.


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