This article is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Like all genres of film, horror is for everyone. However, throughout the years, films made in North America have mostly been helmed by white directors, with people of color being proportionally underrepresented as a result. Of course, this applies to the North American film industry as a whole, so horror isn’t alone in that regard.
Diversity isn’t just important for making the industry — and the world — a more inclusive place, but it makes watching movies more interesting as well. Seeing stories that are told from a like-minded perspective all of the time would be boring, and the beauty of art is that people from all walks of life can express themselves through it. Horror is no different.
With this in mind, the Boo Crew — Chris Coffel, Valerie Ettenhofer, Anna Swanson, Brad Gullickson, Rob Hunter, Meg Shields, Jacob Trussell and myself — decided to shine a light on some excellent American horror movies by directors of color, as we continue to celebrate the spooky season in style. We’ve limited appearances by filmmakers to a single title to help spread the love even further. Enjoy.
10. Ganja and Hess (1973)
Bill Gunn’s experimental horror film is a dazzling and revelatory take on the vampire movie. The film stars Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones as Dr. Hess Green, an anthropologist who is transformed into a vampire while studying an ancient African culture. Visually dazzling and psychedelic, with a narrative that twists vampire lore to explore and interrogate black identity and cultural imperialism, Ganja and Hess is a film with as much on its mind as on the screen. Assaultive, beguiling, and genuinely moving, this film is a landmark in black cinema and deserves to be in conversation with the best of the best in the horror genre. (Anna Swanson)
9. The Sixth Sense (1999)
I first saw M. Night Shyamalan‘s breakout film on VHS during the summer of 2000. The only thing I could remember from that first viewing is that one of the guys from New Kids on the Block played in it. Years later I would see the movie again and enjoy it for the creepy, effective, supernatural horror film that it is. At this point, I was already well aware of their major reveal/spoiler — of course, I’m referring to Bruce Willis not being the NKOTB band member in the film — but that didn’t ruin the movie at all. Knowing the twist ahead of time will lessen the impact of that specific moment, but doesn’t take away from the overall film. And that’s a testament to how good it is. (Chris Coffel)
8. The Conjuring (2013)
You probably don’t need me to tell you twice that James Wan’s Conjuring Universe slaps. Or *clap, claps,* whatever. Anyhow, no contest: 2013’s The Conjuring is the series’ crown jewel. Atmospheric, unnerving, and well-crafted, The Conjuring is a chilling paranormal tale that strikes an essential balance between scares and stakes. Wan is a fantastically sincere filmmaker able to sell an old formula on the merit of his technical prowess and contagious sense of heart. There are ordinary scares aplenty but they work because we’re so dang invested in the Warrens and the Perron family. To boot, the film features some A-level “no one told me this genre film was beautiful” camerawork that imparts an effective sense of place. The Conjuring does not make me want to be a homeowner, but boy oh boy does it put me in a righteously spooky mood. (Meg Shields)
7. Tales from the Hood (1995)
I enjoy a good horror anthology but I love a great one and few are better than Rusty Cundieff‘s mid-90s classic. I first saw it when I was nine and I was taken aback by David Allen Grier. At that point I had only known him from In Living Color, so to see him play such a terrifying, horrible man was quite the shocker. At that time I didn’t understand any of the film’s context. It was just another funny, scary movie. The film still works on the horror-comedy level, but these days it’s the societal issues that jump out at me. This is a film that tackles police corruption, domestic violence, racism, and gang violence. Nearly 25 years later and the film is just as good as ever and arguably more important. (Chris Coffel)
6. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
There aren’t a lot of Persian horror films, at least not ones that cross borders onto Western screens, and the number of examples coming out of North America are even more limited. That’s just one of the fairly unique elements at play in Ana Lily Amirpour‘s gorgeous vampire tale, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The black & white, Iranian-set film is a story about isolation among crowds captured in the form of a “young” female vampire who blends into the local culture at night the best she can in an effort to stave off the crushing loneliness she feels. She kills time just as she kills humans, and with added doses of humor and personality the film stands tall as an entry in a crowded sub-genre thanks to its atypical voice and cultural identity. (Rob Hunter)