Thursday, December 22, 2016

Love For The Brothers: Blackhorrormovies.com Creator Mark H. Harris


The man who declares "the most thankless job in Hollywood is the black horror movie victim" is someone who has much to say about Black people in the horror genre. Blackhorrormovies.com is a virtual haven that has been around for quite awhile. It was and remains a well of insight that is balanced in both its seriousness and humorous approach to a topic that some of us horror fans hold close: which spaces can Blacks occupy on screen in a horror narrative? While I laughed and took notes, I wondered who was the man behind this project. I mean, really pondered.

Mark H. Harris has created this "NAACP of horror" of a variety of careful and extensive content unlike anything else about horror online.  He's also an about.com contributor and Rotten Tomatoes critic a part of the Online Film Critics society. Blackhorrormovies.com is a dynamic resource, capping off reviews with hilarious screencaps that are at times, much more entertaining then the movie he is accurately assessing. Mark's delightfully honest, conflicted attraction to the urban Black horror film market is a much needed assertion with an awareness if that Black horror films are to make a reputable, mainstream resurgence, we need to hold ourselves accountable for more thoughtful products. Certainly there are countless, unsavory genre films not centered around a Black cast. But Rowan Pope said it best:


Considering this, I was more than excited to pick Mark's brain about why he thought it important Blackhorrormovies.com exist, his sobering approach to embracing his insular demeanor as a writer (which I heartily identify with), and wonders, along with many of us, what ever happened to N'Bushe Wright

How would you describe some of your first experiences watching horror movies? Which experiences played an important role in the creation of Blackhorrormovies.com?

I started getting into horror movies during the slasher explosion of the ‘80s, so it was an exciting time to become a fan. My favorites of that era that really drew me into the genre weren’t slashers, though (although I did enjoy the Halloween's, the Friday the 13th's and the Elm Street's). Fright Night, Aliens and The Lost Boys were in heavy VHS rotation in my house -- partly because my family didn’t have cable, so it was either that or old black-and-white serials on PBS.

What really opened my eyes to the potential for racial impact and social commentary, though, was when I borrowed a video tape of Night of the Living Dead from the library (Did I mention we didn’t have cable?) and saw this intelligent, take-charge black man in the hero role, bossing around this group of white people in an era where you were more likely to see people like him hosed or lynched than in starring roles. And of course, the ironic ending reflected that reality and made it a film that was impossible to forget, so I’d say that was the real seed for BlackHorrorMovies.com -- asking myself why we couldn’t have more great roles like this for African Americans and why, even in great roles like this, the black characters seemed to disproportionately end up dead.

When you launched Blackhorrormovies.com, did you see a need for it in regards to the landscape of active horror websites?

Oh yeah, definitely. In 2005, so-called “urban” horror had flooded the market, and even though a lot of it was terrible, I assumed there must’ve been some site that chronicled this phenomenon. Looking around, though, I found nothing, and I found horror sites devoted to other niches -- Asian horror, British horror, female horror, gay horror -- so I saw a hole that needed to be filled, and I figured I was as qualified as anyone to fill it.

How would you define a “Black horror movie”?

For the purposes of my site, I cover any movie I think has relevance to black folks. It could be movies with mostly black casts or movies that exemplify a particular racial stereotype that’s prevalent in horror or movies that illustrate a particular trend or whatever I find striking about it from a black perspective.

There are plenty of little known creators and products in the realm of Black horror that you highlight and reverence. What was the process like doing research and what problems, if any, do you have with the accessibility of information on Black horror that is considered obscure?

I’m a “researchy” type of guy, so I enjoy the process of discovering movies that might be applicable to my site. I've read a lot of books and articles on race in movies and African-American cinema in general and honed my “horror radar” to seek out mentions of genre films. With the expansion of resources on the Internet, it’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to find not only information on some of these obscure movies, but it’s also easier (and cheaper) to find the movies themselves. Back in the day, I bought my fair share of bootleg DVD-Rs and out-of-print VHS copies, but in the past decade, a lot of obscure stuff is available online or has received official DVD and Blu-ray releases -- like Black Devil Doll From Hell; I never would’ve thought anyone would deem that worthy of releasing, but I’m glad they did! (I still have my bootleg copy, though.)

Your movie reviews are the perfect balance of entertaining, succinct, and critically engaging. Have you crafted your own formula for writing movie reviews over time? If so, what would you say to aspiring film critics if they came to you for direction?

There are a million movie reviewers online, so you have to do something to stand out. I know I'm not exactly writing Shakespeare or some treatise on world peace, so I figure I may as well have fun with it. And I think the best way to get a message across, which is something I try to do, is to be entertaining. Humor is something that can draw in people who might not normally care about race in horror movies, or whatever it is you’re writing about. And if you're writing about something you enjoy, that makes it all the easier to find a fun angle. Even if humor's not your thing, at least find a niche, a fresh take or a unique way to present your film criticism, something that will separate it from the crowd.
With the extensive cataloging you do of Blacks in horror films, what have you noticed historically that you’ve enjoyed as a viewer? What would you like see change and evolve in the future?

I’ve always liked ‘70s Blaxploitation horror. That era had a great balance of quality and quantity, and a nice mix of cheesy fun, like Abby, and artsy, experimental fare like Ganja and Hess. I’d like to see black horror movies (and frankly, black movies in general) today take more risks and think more outside the box -- again, like Ganja and Hess. Right now, they tend to be black versions of other horror movies -- a “black Scream” or a “black Saw,” for instance -- or just retreads of standard horror scenarios: black vampires, black werewolves, black zombies and so forth. The “urban horror” wave of the late ‘90s and early 2000s was really plentiful but also really unimaginative, and although I think things have improved a bit since then, I hope Jordan Peele’s Get Out will inspire a new generation of black horror filmmakers to test the boundaries of the genre.

Do you go to horror conventions or social events involving the genre? If so, what has been your experience and who have you met who works in the industry and you’re glad you got a chance to?

Not really. As my wife will tell you, I hate people. LOL. I’m kind of joking, but kind of not, because really, don’t most writers become writers because they’re most comfortable home alone in front of a computer? I’m not big on crowds, so, to be honest, I’ve never actually been to a horror convention. Back in college, a friend took me to an anime convention once, and I also went to one for Hong Kong movies (I was big into kung fu and John Woo-type stuff back then), but horror-wise, the closest I’ve come to those types of environments has been some premiere screenings. I’m out in L.A., so I’ve been to some showings at Screamfest out here a few times, but the coolest premiere was for the remake of The Crazies, where I was interrogated, inspected, quarantined and shipped on a bus through a makeshift contamination zone to the theater. 

I can’t say I’ve personally met any big names in horror, although I’ve communicated with some directors via email -- the most famous probably being Lloyd Kaufman, but also some indie filmmakers whose work I admire, like Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) and Navot Papushado (Rabies, Big Bad Wolves).

Generally, though, I’m a very laid back, “un-fanatic” fan. I’ve never really had much desire to attend conventions or connect with stars. That’s just the way I am -- and not just with movies. I also love sports, and I love watching my favorite teams play on TV, but I never get the urge to go see them live -- and not just because I’d have to sell a kidney to afford Lakers tickets.

Long story short, I probably have some sort of antisocial personality disorder.

Have you ever thought about or written your own Black horror movie? What will or does it entail plot wise and who is your dream cast?

I think I know my limitations, and nonfiction has always been my sweet spot. My only real stab at horror fiction was in sixth or seventh grade when I wrote a short story about a killer cat called Fluffy the 13th, so let that be an indication of the juvenile nature of my creativity. But really, I think everyone who writes about horror movies at some point imagines actually writing one. I’ve never seriously planned one out plot-wise or anything, but I’d like to think it would incorporate some dark humor and subtle social commentary. And I would definitely try to toy with or completely break the conventional rules of horror. There’s nothing more depressing to me than realizing five minutes into a movie that you know exactly how it’s going to play out.

As far as casting goes, I’d love to see a black “final girl” who’s kick-ass enough to get the job done but isn’t portrayed as some asexual heroine who can't be seen as a love interest. That’s something we don't see enough of. It would be awesome to see Lupita Nyong’o starring in something modern and edgy like that, although she’s probably “above” horror at this point in her career. If we go the more traditional teen route, Yara Shahidi from Blackish seems like she could easily fit the bill. 



I don't know if I have a “dream cast” per se, but there are some other actresses I’ve always liked who don’t seem to have gotten the amount of exposure they should’ve, like Anika Noni Rose, Yaya Dacosta, Nicole Beharie, Vanessa A. Williams (maybe Vanessa L. Williams took all her roles), Xosha Roquemore, Ella Joyce, Tamara Tunie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Salli Richardson and Gina Torres. Is N’Bushe Wright still available? What ever happened to her? And how cool would it be to get Marlene Clark? Who’s to say a final girl can’t be a senior citizen?

As far as guys go, I’d like to see more of Delroy Lindo, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Michael Jai White, Lance Reddick, Shameik Moore, Steven Williams and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. And Donald Glover would probably bring something interesting to horror...well, unless it’s Lazarus Effect 2.



Mark & Black Horror Movies are on Twiiter (@blacula)
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