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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Black History & Women in Horror Month: Sisters in 1950s-60s Horror

I'm far from a war historian, but I imagine World War II had an impact on American foreign policy and its relationships amongst the key thirty countries entangled between 1939 and 1945. With stories of spys, secrets and millions of deaths including mass genocide, the war's residue in media was nuclear destruction fear bait. Technology saw a vast upswing, and every developed country wanted the upper hand. A symbol of pious boasting and virtually "untouched" by the aesthetic bleakness of the war's aftermath, America was not a celebrated land in many parts of Europe.

Essentially, "the horror films of the 1950s are about science and technology run riot, an accurate enough reflection of reality for a confused populace, wary of the pace of technological change." The fear of an atomic bomb creating an apocalypse was very real. In these films, nature goes rogue with giant humans, ants, flies, and reptilian beasts tainted by the darkness of scientific curiosity. Horror in the 50s was B-movie, drive-in fare that relied on gimmicks like 3-D to compete with the rise of television.

If these films were so preoccupied with technological land threats, sea creatures, and space invaders, Black characters were simply lumped into that Other category and continued to be African savages of "negligible value beyond food for the monsters and beasts of burden for the white heroes". When these arguably white heroes were not exploring foreign lands, discovering its inhabitants in little clothing, "war paint," and spears, they were imposing their rationality along with their inconvenient overbearing, wildly superstitious mammies.

Eulabelle Moore, who plays a woman named Eulabelle in The Horror of Party Beach (1964) was "one of the few significant black characters to be found in horror movies of the era". In Party Beach, basically a film about radioactive sea creatures terrorizing a beach community, Eulabelle is a caricature who rambles, bumbles, gives white protagonists uplifting speeches and in turn, ideas that drive the action of the story which makes the white guys the heroes.

Eulabelle Moore in The Horror of Party Beach (1964)
Moore was born in 1903 (estimated) in Garrison, Texas, going on to primarily make her mark in the entertainment industry on stage but remembered most for her role in Party Beach. Unfortunately, there isn't much more information on Eulabelle to be found as her work was limited. 

Jacqueline Sieger is most noted for her rare role as a Black female antagonist in 1968's The Rape of the Vampire, a French film from director Jean Rollin. Sieger as the Queen of the Vampires is the driving force of the film that seems to be in stereotypical French, new-wavey, avant-garde fashion: wildly incoherent yet aesthetically alluring. Additionally more radical is the Queen's very open queerness in the film and sexually liberated approach to her antics. These aspects of her character alone, regardless of the film as an overall product is ripe for discourse on an intersectional level.

Jacqueline Sieger in The Rape of the Vampire (1968)
Sadly another enigma during this genre film era, the fact that I cannot even find a birth date on Sieger has me a bit perturbed. Apparently, The Rape of the Vampire was her only role.

The 50s and 60s seem a desolate erasure of the Black female presence in horror films with racial tension swept under the 50s rug and a very slight turn in the 60s with more of a focus on Black men. The 50s especially were an exercise in the reinforcement of an American culture sterilized by whiteness and white supremacist sensibilities. But as that baby boomer generation reached adulthood, those sensibilities would begin to transform into very complicated, inclusive/not-so inclusive ways in the sociopolitical stratosphere. As African Americans sought autonomy and leadership in popular (and political) culture unlike ever before, those complications were made manifest on screen.

*Additional resources and information provided here can be found at Horror Film History by Karina Wilson & BlackHorrorMovies.com 






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3 comments:

  1. This is just too cool, I am a true horror fan, WHAT! I am so here for this.

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  2. Let's not forget that it was Eulabelle Moore's character who, albeit accidentally, discovered that salt killed the knock-kneed sea monsters in "THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH." Did the maid get credit for saving the day? Of course not! (Perhaps because she blamed the monsters' existence on "the voodoo.")
    Other 50s and 60s horror films with Black actresses include:
    Paulene Myers in "HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER" (1958)
    Estelle Hemsley and Kim Hamilton (playing old and younger versions of the same character) in "THE LEECH WOMAN" (1960)
    Maidie Norman in "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?" (1962)

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  3. So cool. I never saw these, I'll have to find them.

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