M.L. Miller here! Because you and I love the horror so much, I’ve decided to post a “Worth Noting” pick along with each of my Horror Countdown choices each day through October. The same rules apply. The film must have been released before September 30th, 2019 to the masses (no festival picks). This means that is available to view in theaters, On Demand, DVD/BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews how you can watch and enjoy these films.
How did I compile this list? Horror is such a broad and varied genre that sometimes, while these choices may not represent the best—something about the film is worth taking notice. Some of these films have similar themes to their counterparts in the main countdown. Some just missed the countdown by an inch or two. Others were just squozed in because there’s nothing like them out there. Others because they have been made available for the first time. One way or another, it’s more horror to enjoy!
I hope you’ll join me daily and don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Worth Noting – HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR!
I’ve seen a lot of folks put this film on their list of Best of Horror, but to me it’s a documentary and simply celebrates horror. It’s not actually a horror film. Still, HORROR NOIRE is definitely a film worth watching and it sheds some light on some dark days in cinema. It’s more of an essential film to watch if you appreciate horror and are a student of film history. So if you’re a horror buff, this is one for you. Released on February 7, 2019, here’s my review of HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR! Available on Shudder!
HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR (2019)
Directed by Xavier Burgin
Written by Ashlee Blackwell, Danielle Burrows, Robin R. Means Coleman
Starring Jordan Peele, Keith David, Rachel True, Tony Todd, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Loretta Devine, Paula Jai Parker, Ken Foree, Kelly Jo Minter, Richard Lawson, Ernest R. Dickerson, Rusty Cundieff, Ken Sagoes, Tina Mabry, William Crain, Meosha Bean, Tananarive Due, Ashlee Blackwell, Robin R. Means Coleman, Monica Suriyage, Mark H. Harris
I’m as much of a fan of GET OUT as the next guy, but with the amount of hubbub attached to the film, one would think that it was the first film ever to be made by an African American. While it recognizes the significance of Jordan Peele’s entertaining film, HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR acknowledges and dissects the black experience in horror in front of and behind the camera from the beginning of cinema itself. It skips through the years in chronological order, talking with influential African American men and women in horror through the years.
Of course, African Americans were not always depicted fairly in cinema in the early years. The use of blackface and the stereotypical uses of blacks as slaves and servants are acknowledged in cinema’s early years. The film progresses to highlight films that thematically reference the rise of black power, the threat some felt by having blacks rising from slavery to full citizenship substituting African Americans with everything from Mole People to Aliens to Creatures from the BLACK Lagoon. Finally, the film acknowledges some of the milestones in black cinema with films like GANJA & HESS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, BLACKULA, and SUGAR HILL. The film continues to shine light on the rise in the acknowledgement that appealing to black culture is profitable, tokenism, and stereotypes that occurred through the years. It’s a very thorough and important history lesson that will tantalize any cinephile.
While it is interesting seeing Jordan Peele and other black filmmakers and critics reminisce about the evolution of the black character in horror, some of my favorite moments come from the fun interplay between Ken Foree and Keith David who chat and joke as comfortably as can if they were hanging out in their favorite bar together. I would have watched these two wizened horror icons who have lived through various eras of black cinema for an entire movie. Seeing them talk about their struggles with roles, their coping with the amount of times they have died in films, and the baggage that is often associated with black characters is a treat that I don’t think the filmmaker of this doc knew he had until editing this doc together.
A lot of the film spends its time explaining the different roles African Americans have —from overly cartoonish or overly devoted servant to wise expert in mysticism or voodoo to first to die in most slasher films. This may not come as news to anyone who have watched their fair share of horror films, still it is interesting to see all of these roles as they developed chronologically through the years.
If HORROR NOIRE has a fault, it is one that many films of its type suffer from; that is, it views everything through the lens of black culture/history/experience. I know that’s the point of the film, but certain things, such as black characters being underwritten might be true in some cases, but what they fail to say is that in a lot of horror movies, EVERY character is underwritten and serves as more of a symbolic cartoon of an actual person than a fleshed out character. It’s one thing to complain about the criminal misuse of Scatman Crothers in THE SHINING, but it’s another thing to complain about the way the black gal from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4 is underwritten. One is the mistreatment of a well-developed character for shock value, the other is just another kid on the chopping block to up the body count and color isn’t really an issue. But most times when you are backing up an argument, things like this occur, so it’s not a big fault for this film, but rather a fault of most focused discourses.
The assignment of a symbolic meaning for black culture to films of the 50’s sci fi/alien invasion era of horror fits, but I don’t think it is specifically targeted at black culture as it hints in the movies. There’s a bit of a leap to say that the bizarre looking, dark aliens represent black culture invading the culture of white America. I guess, if you squint, this might be a valid point, but I think a more accurate commentary is the one stating that this era focused mainly on scientists and less on the common man and that films of that era would not cast a black person as a scientist as few went to school to become scientists. I can see that one being much more on the nose than saying all aliens represent black culture. African Americans may fit in the role of the outsider, but those films seemed to be more about the general public’s lack of understanding of scientific advancement, the Communism scare, and the fear of the unknown future after the devastating end of WWII.
My favorite moments delved in the nineties, which surprisingly made some great African American horror. TALES FROM THE HOOD, BONES, DEMON KNIGHT, and DEF BY TEMPTATION were all fantastic entries, taking points from the Blacksploitation horror films of old and making them modern and fun. It was also a treat seeing the adoration to one of my favorite films of the seventies BLACULA and SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM. These two films really hold up through the years and are just itching for a remake, or at least a revisit.
One of the coolest things that happen in chronologically themed horror docs like this is that is gives a great cross section of horror films to seek out afterwards. Even though I have seen most of these films, it is fun to find out those hidden gems that have escaped my purview. I’m looking forward to checking out some of these lost gems again having watched the small clippets shown here on HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR.
WORTH NOTING 2018-2019
HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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