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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Black Women in Italian Horror

Unabashed, relentless color, sensuous texture, careful pacing, and stinging action is a defining gumbo that's easy for many to register as Italian horror. The genre works to invoke a psychological terror that you didn't realize was hidden within your own brain, toying with your senses while being visually and narratively removed from American sensibilities yet manages to be embraced by audiences the world over.

Italian horror, in comparison to much of Hollywood branded horror, has been described as "intelligent, psychological, and adult-oriented," forgoing targeting a youth market much in the way America is known for doing. Lust Of The Vampire (a.ka. I vampiri) (1957) directed by Richardo Freda and Mario Bava put Italian horror on a path that would take audiences to "repulsively gory jungle cannibal tales and zombie gut-munchers to supernatural gothics" as well as 'giallo' (literally meaning 'yellow'), a reference to the hue of Italian mystery novel covers. Using the term for a film genre, giallo adds a mystery element to blend with the gore seamlessly.

Two of the genre's most influential filmmakers, Dario Argento and Mario Bava would go on to make some of Italian horror's most influential work on generations of fans and filmmakers like Ernest Dickerson and even be referenced in non-genre films such as Juno (2007).

Mario Bava's Mask Of Satan (a.k.a. Black Sunday) in 1960 made a splash internationally which lead to a "new wave" of Italian horror films that became staples in the horror fan community and inspire some of the most influential slasher films of the 1980's. Counted as making films that are "vibrant and visceral", Dario Argento is best known for 1977's Suspiria but cannot be overlooked are some of his other genre staples such as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Deep Red (1975), Tenebre (1982), and many more.

Virtually all the these films have beautiful leading ladies that happen to be white. Therefore, it's very easy to miss the long history of Blacks in Italian cinema. Black women have been secondary to Black men as stars like Fred "The Hammer" Williamson have been credited for making Italian films more accessible to American audiences. Which is sad considering the argument I could make for Geretta Geretta being the face many recognize for her role in 1985's Demons. Black women and their depictions run the gamut of distressed victims, party girls, seductresses, and voodoo priestesses, but rarely, if ever, the protagonists or heroines. Their regulation to the lesser known Italian genre films has left many of their credits easily overlooked. Below are a few actresses of note and their roles in various Italian genre cinema.


Carla Brait as Mizar Harrington in The Case Of The Bloody Iris (1972)



Ursula in Torso (1973)



Jane Garret as Mara in Slaughter Hotel (1971)



Marie Claude Joseph as Glenda in House At The Edge Of The Park (1980)



Geretta Geretta as Margie in Murder-Rock: Dancing Death (1984)



Chocolate in Rats: Night Of Terror (1984)



Rosemary in Demons (1985)



Beryl Cunningham as Adrienne in Dorian Gray (1970)



Stella in Il dio serpente (1970)



Shakira in Screamers (1979)



*Information provided by:
An Introduction To Modern Italian Horror Cinema by Jim Pyke
15 Essential Films For An Introduction to Italian Giallo Movies by Hossein Eidi Zadeh
BlaxploItalian: The Untold Story Of 100 Years Of History Of Black Actors In Italian Cinema
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4 comments:

  1. Great article. I am just getting back into Italian horror; I just finished the Three Mothers Series last night. I will have to note the films you mentioned above and use our rainy days to watch them. Also makes me want to take note note of the black actresses you mentioned.

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  2. Wow...definitely never noticed any PoCs in Italian horror (though I am not much a fan of Italian horror). Thanks for putting me on to these women.

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  3. Great post...I'm interested in checking out some of these movies

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  4. There's also notable black women characters in "Your Vice Is A Locked Room" as well as "Eyeball". Though, of course, they're still relegated to victims.

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