Jordan Peele’s 2017 hit Get Out gained notoriety and received near-universal praise (we see you, Armond White) for its inventive and insightful deconstruction of race relations, but other horror movies have tackled that thorny subject over the years as well. Here are some that dared to “go there,” with varying degrees of success.
The Thing with Two Heads (1972)
This gimmicky horror-comedy is light on horror, with the silly Frankenstein-inspired concept of a dying racist old White man (Ray Milland) who demands his head be transplanted onto a healthy body—only to find his head attached to a burly Black convict (Rosie Grier). *Sad trombone* If that’s not bad enough, the convict’s head is also still attached, leading to a constant dialogue between the two heads about race that amounts to little more than a clichéd stand-up act about “Did you ever notice that White people do this, and Black people do that?”
Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)
Despite the campy title, this is a serious-minded Blaxploitation film brimming with social consciousness and allegorical content. It stars Bernie Casey as the not-so-subtly named Dr. Pride, a Black physician serving the downtrodden Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles just a decade after the Watts Rebellion. When he injects himself with an experimental cell regeneration serum, he transforms into… A WHITE MAN. Well, at the very least, a white-skinned creature (think the Hulk by way of The Omega Man) who goes on a violent rampage through the community until he’s gunned down by police while making a King Kong–like dash up the Watts Towers. WARNING: SYMBOLISM OVERLOAD.
White Dog (1982)
As much drama as horror, this is one of the few genre-slanted movies of the slasher-dominated ’80s to deal with heavy social issues like race. Its allegorical plot features Kristy McNichol as a young woman who discovers that her newly adopted dog had previously been trained to attack Black people, and ironically enough, only a Black man (Paul Winfield) can break it. Apparently, dogs aren’t color-blind after all.
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Following Ronald Reagan’s two-term presidency in the 80s, Wes Craven unleashed this gleefully dark fairy tale that satirizes Reagan- and Bush-era politics that prioritized the wealthy and White over the poor and Black. It revolves around a couple of White suburban slum lords (who call each other “Mommy“ and “Daddy,” in Reagan-like fashion) who profit from exploiting mostly Black urban tenants and live a life of EXTREME family values despite a love of kidnapping and murder. Needless to say, they’re none too happy when a young, Black, would-be thief breaks into their home and befriends their pristine White daughter.
Candyman’s racial commentary deftly ranges from slavery and century-old violence to modern socioeconomics and de facto segregation, albeit through the eyes of a White female protagonist. Helen (Virginia Madsen) is a college student writing a paper on the urban legend of the Candyman, the ghost of a free Black man who was lynched in the 1800s for having consensual sex with a White woman. Much to Helen’s chagrin, Candyman turns out to be quite real, and much to the audience’s chagrin, he hasn’t lost his taste for White women. Man, didn’t you learn from the first time?!?
Kracker Jack’d (2003)
As hip-hop culture became increasingly mainstream in the early 21st century, among its worst offshoots was Kracker Jack’d, a slasher-comedy about Black college students who are stalked by a masked killer after they beat up a White student who, in an overly eager attempt to be down with them, dropped the “N-word.” There’s a moral in there somewhere, but you probably won’t be able to sit through the whole thing to figure it out.
White Skin (2004)
This unsung Canadian film, inaccurately renamed Cannibal for its US release, presents a thought-provoking spin on vampire lore in which pale-skinned vampires (or succubi) are drawn to feed on people with darker skin—perhaps due to some biological deficiency. Whatever the reason, it certainly makes them come off as hella racist.
Lakeview Terrace (2008)
This thriller reminds us that, hey, Black people can be prejudiced, too. Samuel L. Jackson, Hollywood’s go-to embodiment of Blackness, stars as a Los Angeles policeman who doesn’t approve of interracial relationships—at least, with a Black woman and a White man; we’d have to check his browser history to see how he feels about the other way around. Unfortunately for him, the newlywed couple who moves in next door is Kerry Washington and Patrick Wilson, so he embarks on a reign of terror in an effort to drive them out. Instead of Fatal Attraction, think of it as Fatal Repulsion.
Honky Holocaust (2014)
In this tasteless Troma horror-comedy, Charles Manson’s prediction of a race war comes to fruition, but when his followers emerge from their underground bunker years later, expecting to find Black victors who are incapable of running the country, they’re shocked to find Black-dominated America running quite smoothly. After all, once you go Black… your infrastructure stays intact? In this alternate reality, Whites are second-class citizens, segregated into slums and harassed by Black cops, and apparently, the only solution is to put them out of their misery. But hey, a little genocide never hurt anyone, right?
Urban Cannibal Massacre (2016)
It’s time for some equal-opportunity murder, don’t you think? As the “urban” in its title indicates, Urban Cannibal Massacre features a family of Black cannibals, but here’s the kicker: they only eat White people! Are they racist for targeting Whites or are they self-hating for NOT targeting Blacks? You be the judge.
Excerpted from The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar. Copyright © 2023 by Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris. Used with permission of the publisher, Gallery/Saga Press. All rights reserved.