Monday, December 23, 2013

My Favorite Blaxploitation Horror Films


We lament here much about the importance of African American history in horror. The first contemporary renaissance of filmmaking agency for Black directors, writers, producers, and actors tackling the horror genre was arguably the 1970's within the popularity of Blaxsploitation films.

Blaxploitation horror are reproduced horror tales from the classics (Frankenstein became Blackenstein, Dracula became Blacula, etc.) to re-imagined stories with old themes (vampirism, zombies, etc.) that center around Black characters and often often times Black cultural modes of expression, aesthetics, and community issues (racism, African religion, etc.).

Below are three of my top recommendations for all around enjoyment and beautifully complex central female roles that have been rare to non-existent in the horror genre since.

Ganga & Hess (1973)


Think art-house, avant-garde, even a giallo style approach to a story about relics, romance, and blood thirst. Dr. Hess Green (played by Ben from Night Of The Living Dead '68) is attacked by his unstable assistant with an antiquated ritual knife from an African kingdom. He immediately gains an affinity for imbibing blood due to this incident. Hess develops a sordid relationship with Ganga Meda (Marlene Clark, above) his assistant's wife when she inquires about her husband's whereabouts.

The imagery conveyed in this film invites an audience to experience the odd balance of warm darkness and African American cool that incorporates striking cinematography, enviable settings, and mild violence matched with erotic perfection that celebrates a complicated and fascinating view of Black sexuality by highlighting its humanity and beauty.

Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973)


A worthy sequel to 1972's Blacula, Scream finds its title character revived through the motivation of an ego-bruised Willis (Richard Lawson) after his mother promotes Lisa (Pam Grier, above) in their religious circle over him. Through fateful encounters, Mamuwalde (Blacula) asks Lisa to use her charmed practices to rid him of his vampyric curse.

Lisa has such a central role regardless of the film's title. It is Blacula who plays damsel to Lisa's prowess, and his complex nature as a fallen African prince turned relentless monster pre-dates Interview With A Vampire/Angel angst.

Sugar Hill (1974)


Truer to Blaxploitation form out of this trio, Sugar Hill taps into the essence of the genre's style, plot themes, and campiness. After Diana 'Sugar' Hill's (Marki Bey, center, above) boo is murdered by some thugs who wanted to take over his business, she seeks revenge on those line steppers by acquiring the assistance of a powerful voodoo queen, Mama Maitresse and "Lord of the Dead" Baron Zamedi for a supernatural revenge narrative in the name of justice.

Sugar's story says a lot about the extremes one is willing to take when they are seen as powerless. Horror has been known to be cathartic, and this story is a direct metaphor for what marginalized communities then and now are fighting to dismantle. Sugar Hill is a great introductory piece into this sub-sub genre and wonderful for historical context.

What are some of your favorite Blaxploitation horror films?
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