Horror movies with predominantly black casts form a niche that has been under-exposed for decades, although their low budgets and uneven quality might have something to do with that. Still, quite a few have bucked the trend and provided quality entertainment. Here are 20 such films.
Lucky Ghost (1942)
Comedic icon Mantan Moreland, perhaps best known as sidekick Birmingham Brown in a series of Charlie Chan mysteries in the 1940s, also starred in several all-black horror-comedies with his straight man, F.E. Miller -- including this one about a pair of men who win a house in a game of craps. The only problem is that the house is haunted by its former owners, who are none too pleased that their house has been turned into a casino full of "jitterbugging, jiving and hullaballooing."
Blacula, the story of an African prince turned into a vampire by Count Dracula, isn't only a seminal film in the history of African-American horror; it's also an important part of the 1970s blaxploitation era as a whole, being one of the first (and best) entries in the movement. The 1973 sequel, Scream, Blacula, Scream, is inferior, but still technically good enough to be on this list. To give others a shot, though, we'll leave it off.
Ganja & Hess (1973)
The antithesis of the mainstream Dracula riff that was Blacula, Ganja & Hess is a challenging, experimental, arthouse experience full of rambling, "deep" dialogue and dizzying visuals. It attempts to show how "real" vampires might live -- fang-less, walking in daylight, stealing from blood banks -- with an artsy flair that could only be pulled off with a straight face in the '70s.
Although the producers decided against calling it Blackorcist, Abby was in fact a thinly veiled take on The Exorcist, featuring a kindly preacher's wife who's possessed by a Nigerian sex demon (how inconvenient). The similarities were enough to spur Warner Brothers to file suit against the film, causing it to be pulled from theaters after only one month and sending it hurtling into obscurity. Unoriginality aside, though, Abby stands on its own as a somewhat campy tale that strikes some of the same chords as its more famous inspiration: outrageous profanity, scandalous sexuality, levitation, facial disfigurement and, of course, projectile vomit.
Sugar Hill (1974)
When Diana "Sugar" Hill's boyfriend is killed by mobsters for refusing to sell his night club, she resorts to what any self-respecting soul sister in her position would do: using a voodoo spell to raise an army of machete-wielding zombie slaves to get revenge.
The Zebra Killer (1974)
William Girdler, director of Abby (as well as more mainstream Hollywood fare like Grizzly and Day of the Animals), also blessed us with this unintentionally hilarious "lost" thriller about a white serial killer who throws police off by disguising himself as a black man -- afro and all. Hot -- or should I say lukewarm -- on his trail is police detective Frank Savage, a sort of black Dirty Harry minus the common sense and ambition.
Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)
Despite the campy title, this adaptation of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from Blacula director William Crain is a serious-minded, though-provoking story reflective of its race-conscious era. Bernie Casey stars as a respected black doctor whose experimental cell regeneration serum turns him into a maniacal white man. Insert Michael Jackson joke here.
J.D.'s Revenge (1976)
Strong performances by Glynn Turman and Louis Gossett, Jr. propel this tale of a young law student (Turman) who, during hypnosis, becomes possessed by the spirit of 1940s gangster J.D. Walker. J.D. slowly takes control of the man's body in an effort to seek revenge on the people who framed him for the death of his sister.
Fight for Your Life (1977)
Enjoyably sleazy exploitation in the vein of I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left, Fight for Your Life follows three racist convicts as they escape prison and take a black preacher's family hostage. Mental and physical abuse follow, as the preacher eventually reaches the limit of what "turn the other cheek" can achieve.
Def by Temptation (1990)
Unusually restrained for a Troma Studios production -- largely because the company contributed mostly money and little creative input -- Def by Temptation plays like Fright Night as directed by Spike Lee, as a mild-mannered minister is seduced by a succubus. Kadeem Hardison and Bill Nunn play entertainingly inept vampire hunters, and Samuel Jackson has an early bit part.