‘Horror Noire’ is what you should be watching this Halloween
OPINION: The Black horror anthology series allows Black people to see a bit of themselves in the stories because that’s something that rarely happens in horror.
I don’t know much about horror films despite growing up in the ’80s and 90s when the genre was having its golden age.
To me the scariest movie I saw growing up wasn’t Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, it was Gremlins. Something about fluffy big-eared Ewoks turning into scaly green monsters if you gave them a midnight snack scared the heck out of me. I mention this because going into my viewing of Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, the Black horror anthology series debuting on AMC’s Shudder network headed by famous horror writer Tananarive Due, my knowledge of horror films, and Black horror, in general, was pretty limited.
To me, the Black experience in horror movies fell into two categories, the Black person always dies first. Or the entire movie is about “racism” with a hard R, with all the demons being NYPD or the ghosts wear MAGA hats.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Horror Noire was none of these things. With six non-connected stories, clocking in at about 150 minutes, some of the vignettes are scary, some hilarious but all of them stand out with the Lake, Fuge State, and Sundown being the strongest entries in the series.
The story of an incredibly attractive high-school teacher, Abbie LaFluer (played by Lesley Ann Brandt) who just moved to a new town with a dark secret who’s struggling with being both a monster in the human and super-natural sense. As much as Horror Noire breaks ground on the Black experience in horror, the mini-movies are not above using the most classic of horror tropes: The old Black groundskeeper that warns you not to do a certain thing.
If the old Black man says don’t go in the lake WHY ARE YOU GOING IN THE LAKE? Maybe the fact that your teacher salary could afford this lakefront house posted on Zillo as “Will take ALL OFFERS MUST SELL in 24 Hours” was a hint that evil was afoot? Either way, The Lake is a great start that will have you screaming at the screen.
Brand of Evil
Imagine you’re a broke graphic designer living off your boyfriend’s generosity who offered a million dollars to create a logo for someone. The catch? It’s Tucker Carlson. And he kills people. That’s basically the scenario in the second story and while the concept is sound, it’s possibly the weakest of the anthology to me. The chemistry between lead Brandon Mychal Smith and his boyfriend at worst is nonexistent and at best achieves Tyler Perry-esque levels of authenticity.
If basic questions like: Why is this guy painting whole murals in white overalls but someone never gets more than a few drops of paint on him? and Why would a Black community center in Atlanta be hosing down dead bodies in the middle of the afternoon instead of calling the cops? don’t bother you, then you’ll enjoy this campy selection.
The Bride Before You
The complex story of a color-struck Black woman navigating motherhood, marriage, and social status during reconstruction is fertile ground for a horror story and The Bride Before You gives the viewer a lot to chew on. It’s not entirely clear who or what the monster is throughout the story and frankly this easily could have been an entire movie give the moving parts, characters, and timeline (the story takes place over about 20 years).
The ending is both symbolic and sad, but very satisfying given the strong performances in a story that was almost too full for an anthology.
I will admit upfront that I have an inherent bias about Fuge State. It’s the story of a Black academic on his way to being a public intellectual on CNN and his artsy journalist wife who live in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s essentially a Sliding Doors version of my life, except I’d have a mortgage and be more afraid of COVID. Fuge State stands out amongst the stories because of the fantastic chemistry between the leads Malcolm Barrett and Rachel True.
From playful butt slaps she gives him as he walks out the door to his wild vacillations between anger and confusion once he gets sucked into a cult, you’re drawn in by both characters as they struggle. By the end, you actually believe that the bougie Black Gen X dream marriage is being torn apart by otherworldly forces.
Written by Victor La Valle the creator of the fantastic Destroyer and Eve comic series, Daddy is a moving story that appears to be hampered a bit by editing and a short run time. A young father, wracked by concerns over his own father’s absence goes out of his way to stay close to his son despite consistent warnings from an old black man (there’s that trope again) that someone out there wants to take his boy away. Directed by Robin Givens (yes THAT Robin Givens) the story is scary without becoming a forced monologue about black fatherhood.
There are fantastic performances by the father (Luke James) and his son (Miles McNicoll), but you get the feeling that major plot elements were left on the cutting room floor in order to fit the story in with the rest of the anthology.
Sundown is a horror comedy film that quite frankly deserves to be spun into a full movie. Just imagine Shaun of the Dead, What We Do in Shadows and Lovecraft Country meet the Stacey Abrams for governor campaign in Georgia. Written by Al Letson (host of the Reveal Podcast on NPR) the story centers on a married couple Marcus (Tone Bell) and Shanita (Erica Ash) who are leading a group of white campaign volunteers into a rural town in West Virginia town of Eventide to canvass for the first Black Senate candidate with a real chance in the state’s history.
Despite warnings from the town’s only Black resident (the hilarious Lavell Crawford) the whole campaign group stays in the town past sundown and all hell breaks loose. The final part of the anthology is reminiscent of the “Sundown” episode in Lovecraft Country which juxtaposed the racial terror of actual Sundown towns with supernatural threats as well.
Horror Noire’s sundown eschews that dichotomy for more of a satire about white allyship with a healthy dose of Black Buffy the Vampire Slayer energy. Ash, as the gun-toting and smack-talking Afghanistan veteran Shanita, totally steals the show in what honestly could be the pilot episode in a hilarious comedy-horror series.
If you’ve got a few hours to fill on Halloween night, or just want to give AMC and Shudder a try you can’t go wrong with Horror Noire. It’s the kind of creative eclectic Black work that Black people are always clamoring for with Black writers, directors, producers, and faces on screen.
Even if you don’t like horror films — if you’re like me — you’ll be hooked once you see a little bit of yourself in the stories because that’s something that rarely happens in horror.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Politics and Journalism at Morgan State University, a Political Contributor at MSNBC and SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio. Notorious comic book and sports guy with dual Wakandan and Zamundan citizenship.
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