Deadly Movies continues to celebrate Black history month with a look at the finest African American characters from our beloved genre (PS if you missed our look at horror’s greatest African American actors you can check that out here). Again this is less an extensively exclusive list and more an excuse for indulgence in a collection of Deadly Movies very favourite genre characters.
Blacula in Blacula (1972): Blaxploitation films are always divisive but they have a treasured part to play in cult (and horror) cinema. Blacula is probably the tent-pole of Blaxploitation’s fairly short lived segway into horror. The film itself is actually a decent entry into the Dracula movie cannon (consider just how many awful Dracula movies there have been) but, as with many Blaxploitation films, it has as many troubles with its own prejudices as the prejudices it sought to overcome (gay characters often getting especially poor treatment). Still Blacula (or Prince Wamuwalde), played magnificently by classically trained Shakespearian actor William Marshall, is a noteworthy character in horror history. Not only because this is the first example of a treasured horror icon being played by an African American, but more so because It’s a genuinely charismatic portrayal that sits well alongside other famous turns.
The Candyman in Candyman (1992): The Candyman is terrifying because of the way the character was handled back in his inaugural outing in 1992. In a such a horror film as this, one which is so well directed, beautifully photographed and scored, it’s difficult to successfully insert a hook-handed mythical serial killer without resorting to humour or embracing the ridiculous. Props then to both director Bernard rose and Tony Todd for withholding The Candyman to brief, but powerhouse cameos throughout the movie. Now a fixed icon in modern horror, up there with the likes of Freddy, Jason, Michael, Leatherface, et al, The Candyman has achived true pop culture emersion.., and if you disagree, you stand in front of your bathroom mirror tonight and say “Candyman” five times.., I dare you.
Parker in Alien (1979): I bloody love Parker, the smart mouth, no nonsense, engineer, who may be a little work-shy but is also a master manipulator. It’s a great turn by Yaphet Kotto, and if rumours are to be believed about cast tensions on set, then you can really see them reverberate in his scenes with Sigourney Weaver, which just crackle. Yes he is a bit of an asshole at times, but he’s also super cool in that iconic headband. Plus he certainly redeems himself as the situation becomes increasingly bleak. Cocky characters in horror movies are rarely this likeable or rememberable. Although he doesn’t make it to the end of the movie (which isn’t a case of the the black guy never makes it by the way; the initial script wasn’t sex or race specific) he is the last male standing and, along with Ripley, undergoes the most character development.
Childs in The Thing (1982): Childs for me is Keith David’s single finest performance. His chemistry with Kurt Russell is fantastic; that constant underlying tension and frustration, filtered through the testosterone converter into an uneasy and unstable respect for one-another is key to the movie’s success. The end sequence where Childs and MacReady reunite, unknowing of which, if either, is in fact The Thing is one of horror’s finest moments. And if, as is widely believed, Childs is indeed The Thing, what a wonderfully playful move my John Carpenter; say ing to hell with the black guy always dying, he can live and we’ll make him the monster to-boot!
Ben in Night of the Living Dead (1968): Along with the man who portrayed him, Duane Jones, It’s hard to argue against Ben being the most important African-American figure in horror history. Primarily because Ben is the first black lead of any note in mainstream horror cinema. But that’s not just it, his character was progressive in any case, race aside. Ben was resourceful, hard nosed, and pulled no punches in doing what was necessary, even killing a child zombie which, was heady stuff for horror back in ’68. And there’s that infamous ending in which his race is certainly unavoidable when unpacking those final moments. Without doubt one of horror’s most important characters.