Grace Jones as Katrina in Vamp (1986)
There's one self-indulgent, academicky wish to have: to go back a few years to the pop culture conference I attended and to not have another meeting conflict with one graduate student's presentation on Grace Jones' vampiric performance in this film. I'm still wildly interested in her thoughts on the dynamics of this character.There's a lot to say about a significant character who does not speak. Your understanding comes from Katrina's movements and reactions to those with whom she interacts. Katrina is feared, respected, and desired as any head vampress of a seedy strip club should be. Regardless of the film's camp, it's sort of an original step with Jones' personae bringing to life such art and terror to a memorable character.
Toy Newkirk as Sheila Kopecky in A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
It's not without surprise to those in-the-know that this character is a personal favorite. Sheila is the first casualty of the barrier broken between the "Elm Street children" and the "fresh meat". She is the Black friend who her white high school co-horts can depend on for math tutoring and bug zappers. She is a part of the white female protagonist's (Alice) arc in avenging her fallen friends and defeating Freddy.
We don't learn much about Sheila: we don't see her at home, with family, taking interest in anyone romantically, or alone with her thoughts. To be fair, that's not the tone of this film with a clear focus on Alice vs. Freddy. A small grace that Sheila offers is the fact that she strays heavily from caricature often associated with Black women in mainstream films depicted as "sassy, eccentric, magical servants" long associated with Black women in horror films long before the blaxploitation period in the 1970's.
Lisa Bonet as Epiphany Proudfoot in Angel Heart (1987)
An ethereal presence in a surreal mystery, Epiphany provided both distraction and information to Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke), a private investigator who travels south to find the whereabouts of a musician named Johnny Favorite. The story was Angel's, Epiphany's presence had its share of significance considering the structure of the story. Bonet's role was of a mystical practitioner of voodoo, more inclined to offer Angel rather cryptic facts about her mother, Evangeline who was the deceased lover of Favorite's. Angel Heart's place in genre as a period mystery has me refraining from revealing too much of the story, but the beats found within matters of race are much better for analysis than the prior two films mentioned.
It is difficult to separate artist from the art here. Bonet was on a highway to super stardom during the film's release, and her explicit love scene with Rourke's character, considering their age difference and grisly imagery accompanying, sent a tizzy of rumors rolling around at the time, citing this role as possibly being one of the reasons she and Bill Cosby were at odds which Bonet has disputed.
In what may be considered more cult than mainstream, Angel Heart has earned its stripes as being one of the more bold and richly dark thrillers of the decade.
Feel free to utilize the comment section below to discuss Black women characters in horror of note from the 1980's that are personal favorites of yours.
*Additional information and references not linked are from Dr. Robin Means Coleman's book, Horror Noire