Deadly Movies celebrates Black History Month with a look at five actors who have contributed hugely to the success of the horror genre. Of course this list is by o means extensive or conclusive, but more so a personal indulgence in some of my favourite actors from horror history; actors with extensive horror resumes and actors who’s memorable performances have cemented there ststus as cult icons.
Perhaps the only name on this list that may beg the question “who“? Frankie may not have played an iconic lead or adorned the front of any DVD covers, but he does posses an insanely impressive horror resume which includes the likes of Cat People (1982), C.H.U.D (1984), Exterminator 2 (1984), The Langoliers (1995), and Highwaymen (2004). But It’s his ongoing presence in the Hannibal movies, one of cinema’s great horror franchises, that cements his genre legacy. Frankie plays the recurring character of Barney Matthews in all three Anthony Hopkins Hannibal movies; The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002). As if that’s not enough, Frankie also (and amazingly) appears in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986) as Lieutenant Fisk, the first movie outing for Hannibal (then played by Brian Cox).
Best know for his performances as Childs and Frank in two John Carpenter classics, The Thing (1982) and They Live (1988) respectively. These two roles are hugely iconic, playing headstrong characters who don’t take shit for anyone and battle through to the bitter end. Child’s will be forever remembered by horror fans for being one of two survivors at the hands of The Thing (and many believe that he is The Thing by the end of the movie and therein the victor) while Frank takes part in one of cinema’s greatest ever street fights with Rowdey Roddy Piper – “WEAR THE GLASSES!“. JC movies aside you can also find him in horror treats like The Puppet Masters (1994), Pitch Black (2000), and Against the Dark (2009).
Jacob’s Ladder (1990) may well be the first notable film of his horror career, but it would be Wes Craven who would provide Rhames with his first leading genre role in 1991s The People Under the Stairs. From there on in Rhames became a firm staple of blockbuster cinema, appearing in multiple tent-pole movies including the Mission Impossible franchise, Con Air, Entrapment, Out of Sight, and Pulp Fiction. Quite simply if you needed a tough guy who exudes cool, then Rhames was your man. Then in 2004, over a decade since his first fore into horror, Rhames would steal the show in Zack Snyder’s kick-ass remake of Dawn of the Dead. Such was the ferocity and effortless coolness of Rhames performance that fans and makers of horror cinema have written him a genre blank cheque. Now Rhames features regularly in films like Day of the Dead (2008), Piranha 3D (2010), Shark Night 3D (2011), Zombie Apocalypse (2011), and Piranha 3DD (2012).
For many Todd is the quintessential black icon of horror, one of the only African American actors to ever play a leading role as a cinematic boogeyman. That role, or course, was Todd’s breakout turn as the Candyman in Clive Barker’s horror classic Candyman (1992). People do tend to forget that Todd played the lead in Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, such was the impact of his Candyman performance. Rightly or wrongly he was pretty much attached to horror for life with his huge frame, brooding voice, and haunting eyes only adding to his genre suitability. 20 years on and Todd is one of the great horror journeymen appearing in the likes of The Crow (1994), Candyman 2 (1995), Wishmaster (1997), Candyman 3 (1999), Final Destination 1, 2, 3, and 5 (2000 onwards), and Hatchet 1 & 2 (2006 – 2010), to name but a few. A true icon of horror, held by horror fans in the same high regard as Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and Doug Bradley.
The man that will always be remembered as the first African-American lead in a notable horror movie (and it only took some 40 or so years of cinema!) as Ben in George A Romero’s game changing Night of the Living Dead (1968). Prior to and following on from his acting career, Jones was a man of academia; a former English professor and head of theatre at the State University of New York. Jones’ short, eight film career comprised almost exclusively of roles in b-movie horror’s including Ganja & Hess (1973), Vampires (1986), To Die For (1988), and Fright House (1989). Where these are largely forgettable films, Jones will forever be remembered as Night of the Living Dead’s Ben, a role that had great historic reverence for not just the genre but movies in general. It was quite fitting then that Tony Todd, perhaps horror’s most prolific African American actor, would fill Jones’ shoes in the 1990 remake.
Other celebrated African American horror actors not mentioned: Ernie Hudson, Ken Foree, Rosalind Cash, and Charles S Dutton.