6WH: Week 5 – Horror Noire

Earlier this year, Shudder released Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, which is exactly what the title says (and well worth watching). It’s based on a book of the same name by Robin R. Means Coleman, though there are movies in the documentary that are not in the book and vice versa (full list on Letterboxd). I’ve actually seen a fair amount of the movies mentioned in the documentary (er, less from the book), but I had some blind spots that I thought should be corrected, so I spent the weekend revisiting the documentary and watching a few of the mentioned movies:

  • White Zombies (Key & Peele)
  • Get Out (trailer)
  • Horror Noire (trailer)
  • Vamp – I made note of this movie back when the documentary came out, but as it turns out, it’s not even in the movie. It is, however, in the book, and I must have read people talking about it in the wake of the documentary or something. This movie is about two fraternity pledges tasked with procuring some strippers to perform for the frat, so they head to a strip club in the big, bad city and immediately run afoul of gangs, albinos, and as the title would imply, vampires. Perhaps because I actually haven’t watched that much 80s horror this year, this feels like the most 80s movie to ever 80s. Neon colors and bad fashion galore, with lots of other more thematic 80s signifiers sprinkled in for good measure. What starts as a sex comedy sorta transmogrifies into light 80s horror, making for a somewhat inconsistent tone, but something that evokes films like An American Werewolf in London and probably influenced From Dusk Till Dawn (even if both of those are better movies that more deftly switch between modes). So why is this Horror Noire? Because of the absolutely perfect casting of Grace Jones as stripper/Vampire Queen.
    Grace Jones in Vamp

    She’s introduced onstage performing the most 80s striptease ever (with, like, metal underwear, striking red hair and bodypaint, etc…) and generally owns the screen whenever she shows up, which unfortunately isn’t that often. Still, she chews the scenery with aplomb despite not speaking much (if at all?) She elevates the film into perfectly cromulent territory and makes the whole enterprise worthwhile, even if the film is otherwise unremarkable. I’m glad I caught up with this though. **1/2

  • Night of the Living Dead (trailer)
  • Walking Dead Chappelle’s Show (SNL)
  • Candyman (trailer)
  • Tales from the Hood – Supremely pissed off anthology film with a wraparound set in a mortuary with Clarence Williams III’s Funeral Director telling a trio of gang members four stories, each of which is presented as a segment. There’s nothing subtle at all about each segment, which confront racial issues head-on, including police brutality and corruption, domestic violence, white supremacist politicians, the prison system, and gang warfare.
    Tales from the Hood

    It’s not exactly “fun”, but it’s very well done and fits right into the tradition of classic anthologies like Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, etc… As per usual with anthology films, some of the segments work better than others, but this does present a more cohesive, unified package than most manage, and it ends strong. Unfortunately, the issues presented in this nearly 25 year old movie are still pretty relevant today, which might make this a bit of an uncomfortable watch… which is exactly the point. ***

  • Sexy Vampires (Key & Peele)
  • Abby (trailer)
  • Ganja & Hess (trailer)
  • Blacula – An 18th century African prince named Mamuwalde visits Transylvania to meet with none other than Count Dracula in an effort to negotiate an end to the slave trade. Naturally, Dracula is a racist, so negotiations grind to a halt when he bites Mamuwalde, turns him into a vampire, imprisons his princess, and dubs him “Blacula”. A couple centuries later, Dracula has long since been defeated by Van Helsing, and a pair of interior decorators purchase Dracula’s castle with the intention of selling off all its antique contents as campy decorations in the new world. Among the belongings they inherit is Mamuwalde’s locked up coffin, which is transported to L.A., whereupon Blacula is awakened. He’s obviously hungry, but also heartbroken at the loss of his love, who appears to have been reincarnated in the form of a woman named Tina.

    So this is the sort of film everyone has heard of, but is probably less widely seen than it should be. The punny title is certainly goofy and certainly implies a less sophisticated film than what we actually get (the title is undeniably catchy and memorable though, so there is that). The whole idea feels a little silly – what if the vampire was black!? The film’s marketing proclaimed that he was “Dracula’s soul brother”, which again, kinda sells the movie short. This isn’t a rote retelling of the Dracula story, though to paraphrase George Lucas, it rhymes with the source material. It’s certainly low budget, and you can feel that while watching, but it’s a reasonably well told story that holds more value than its reputation implies. Director William Crain sadly didn’t have a particularly prolific career (he would work primarily in television), but he does good work here, despite budgetary constraints. The performances are also pretty great, especially William Marshall as the titular Blacula. I also enjoyed Ji-Tu Cumbuka’s comedic performance as Skillet, and Vonetta McGee is good as the love interest (and she shows up in one of my favorite, obscure seventies flicks, The Eiger Sanction). Look, it’s not exactly a classic or anything, but it’s more than just a silly Blaxploitation cash-in and well worth checking out. **1/2

Dammit, how is it week 5 already? Coming down the homestretch, we’ve got some thoughts on the crossover of Vintage SF and Horror coming up, and a trio of Giallos next week, so stay tuned!

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