Guest Blog

January 23, 2022

My Black Trauma Is Mine and I Can Write It If I Want To!

Often, social media argument points come and go before they take root and fester. Those that don’t gain traction fade away into the night, as they should. Others linger and mutate and grow until they can’t be ignored any longer. Some of those hot takes should also disappear; but, alas, one of these has evolved into a full blown “thing” and as per the usual suspects making bad faith arguments, the whole topic has turned into yet another cudgel with which to beat marginalized writers over the head. Most specifically, Black horror creators.

Photo credit: https://tenor.com/view/joseline-hernandez-beat-me-you-know-sassy-you-cant-beat-me-up-gif-15951304

Just about anyone who hangs around horror writing Twitter has heard some variation of the “Black trauma on screen/in writing is evil and should be exorcized” talking points. At the risk of being redundant—yes, I’ll probably make this disclaimer every time I decide to say something to the public because I refuse to waste time on arguing personal opinions: there isn’t much basis for argument within those—everyone is entitled to like and dislike whatever they want. But when the thing folks decide they don’t want gets in the way of honest and authentic expression by Black creators, real damage can be done to how much content by Black creators actually makes it into books and onto screens.

And I’m of the mind that this damage is intentional on the part of a large group of the folks yelling into the microphone on this. They want to put further limitations and gatekeeping in the way of more Black stories being told by Black creators. The scant few produced each year are already too many for these folks—putting up more barriers can decrease that few to almost none, like in the “good old days”. Other folks buy into this idea and hop on the “We shouldn’t be showing Black trauma porn in the glorification of Black suffering” train and might think they’re doing a societal good. There are a few issues with both iterations of this take, however, as any censorship on these topics won’t likely play out the way the folks in the second group think it will.

Horror is a genre that’s largely defined by what frightens us or makes us uncomfortable. Horror isn’t about bunnies and unicorns, unless those critters are going to go rogue and create a human flesh-eating group amongst themselves, for example. The central idea of horror is to show those things that are horrific or discomfiting. Whether this is subtle, quiet horror or in your face, graphic splatter horror, the entire genre is built on discomfort of varying degrees. Advocating that only happy and uplifting topics and experiences be depicted in horror medium negates the tropes and foundation of the genre. Horror ain’t about happy feelings in the air and everywhere, like Brother Frankie Beverly and Maze preach.

Photo credit: https://tenor.com/view/thats-not-how-it-works-nope-no-disagree-wrong-gif-5102428

Slavery is an unfortunate fact of history that serves as a factual foundation for some horror media. It’s big brother, racism, is also a horrific fact of past and current experiences for large numbers of Black people. Poverty is a close runner up. Blocking depictions of slavery, racism, or even poverty from horror media negates real history. It also contributes to the further erasure of these experiences even as they continue to happen in real time. Can horror work be created without showing these facts on screen? Absolutely. But should the horror genre reject these depictions in favor of lighter, feel-good content?

Well, now, that’s a whole other conversation. 

Speaking for myself as a Black horror creator, my personal experiences include a variety of upsetting circumstances/facts: slavery, racism, sexism, abuse, rape, and poverty, to name a few. I find inspiration in writing about these experiences because I find they fit in perfectly with the underlying theme of creating discomfort in works of horror while also bringing awareness to these issues—and some modicum of justice in the stories I create which doesn’t often happen in real life. These things happened to me. Are happening to me. To tell me I can’t write about them because it’s only trauma porn and shows Black people suffering invalidates them as my personal experiences. Without the motivation I gain from these ills, I’d scramble about for other things to write about that wouldn’t be as authentic. I can certainly write things that are less upsetting to other folks. I could also mute the genuine pain I feel from these circumstances so my work is more palatable to audiences. So, do I stop writing about my authentic Black experiences?

I. Will. Not.

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This is the main point of nuance here that I think the overall conversation is missing: I own this trauma—it’s mine. Because it has all happened to me, I’ve earned the right to shine a light on all of it, to manipulate it into creations of my own that embody my work as a creator. I’m not an outsider narrating these events for the pleasure of an audience caught up in rapture over the idea of Black people suffering in front of their eyes. These horrendous elements comprise my life’s story and I’m not ashamed of any of it. It happened. I work through it. I live with it; but, I’m also inspired by revealing it and calling it out in the hopes that the next victim doesn’t have to endure it. I write about these things so we can eradicate them.

Hiding Black experiences and insisting on happy, glitter, rainbow horror about Black people perpetuates stereotypes of happy enslaved people glad to be mistreated. Of Black women as enthusiastic participants of their own degradation and rapes. Of people forgetting the sometimes overwhelming effects of ongoing racism and poverty. As the great Zara Neale Hurston truthfully stated: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

I ain’t buying into this request to stay silent about my Black experiences. Silence is complicity and I’ve dedicated myself to a lifelong, big, loud, and vicious fight against these issues.

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That said, I do feel there’s room to critique these depictions, genuinely. Is it obvious when creators who aren’t familiar with the horror genre—but have an enormous platform—want to just throw out any old thing with Black folks in it, add in some racism and blood, and call it horror to cash in on the current horror craze? Yes. But not any more out of pocket when other creators do the same, minus the Black folks. Is it soul crushing when the most plot lacking vehicles that show frame after frame, page after page, of Black people being tortured with no relevance to the overall storyline are picked up for production when there are a gazillion Black horror creators out here producing more solid content that could have been picked up, instead? Again, yes. But these are different arguments about who gets access and opportunities versus who doesn’t.

What I’m ultimately asking is that participants in this kerfuffle consider the outcomes they’re supporting. Seeing images and topics on screen and in print that you don’t like or that make you uncomfortable is the goal of the horror genre. Maybe horror ain’t for you if you’re totally beside yourself when you see Black people enduring horrific things many Black people have experienced and are still experiencing (the key word there is “horrific”, as in, using the root word “horror”). How is your “fight” helping Black horror creators when you’re advocating for erasing a huge swath of authentic experiences from the horror storytelling canon because it hurts your feelings? Further, I’d like you to consider whether or not you were just as loud and vocal about the horror travesty that was Ghosts of War when it came out. Did you seek to cancel horror based on images of war and the insensitivity perpetuated upon traumatized soldiers who had their PTSD flaunted across the screen in a virtual mimicry of their suffering?

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Nope. That didn’t happen. And I know why. The loudest outcries on this have been reserved for movies like Antebellum, which happened to focus on slavery and centered the unique suffering of the Black, female character. Series’ like Them and Lovecraft Country, which also focused on Black people and magnified some issues faced by Black women. 

This type of selective outrage shows the ugly underpinnings of not only working against content that centers Black experiences but also against Black creators who may use these experiences in our work. It’s very telling that Black trauma is acceptable when some people use it, especially in other genres. I insist that the horror genre is a fertile battleground for these depictions. This is our trauma. Our grief. Our lives. It can be exhausting, horrifying, and desperate. We can write it if we want to.

R.J. Joseph is a Bram Stoker Award® nominated writer who finds joy in writing about the intersections of race and gender in the horror genre and popular culture. She can be found on Twitter and IG: @rjacksonjoseph.

November 29, 2021

More than Slashers: Analyzing the first 4 Scream Movies

Slasher franchises don’t always have the deepest of messages. There are some that are deliberately campy and fun. And there’s nothing wrong with simply enjoying some mindless entertainment. Want to watch an old-school style slasher like Hatchet? Go ahead! Even the slasher franchises like Halloween have their own Halloween: Resurrection (2002), aka movies that aren’t remotely as thought-provoking. The Scream franchise however is packed with social issues and at least attempts to engage with the commentary. 

Scream 5 is gracing us in January 2022 and it’s amazing to get a Scream movie that was birthed in this decade. Especially since there’s no doubt current social issues will be tied in. And the teens are much more diverse this time around. But as far as the first 4 films are concerned, there’s still much to talk about before Scream 5 gets here. Below is what I’ve come to take/get from them. 


Scream (1996)

Not all of us had the pleasure to watch Scream when it first came out. But at this point most horror fans have seen it. The movie breathed new life into the horror genre. And we owe a lot to Kevin Williamson and the late Wes Craven for their contributions to horror. 

Scream isn’t just your run-of-the-mill slasher. It’s not a relatively unloved Friday the 13th film (Jason Goes to Hell, anyone?) or your least favorite in the Saw franchise. No, Scream is incredibly meta. The movie pokes fun at horror (not in a disrespectful way though) and also explores how horror affects regular life. 

Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and Stu (Matthew Lillard) are intense examples of glorifying ultra-violence. They truly do take their love for scary movies too far. Especially considering how they messed with Sidney (Neve Campbell)’s life, all for reasons that had nothing to do with her. Which is classic white male anger. 

Another aspect to Scream that isn’t as discussed is Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) as a character. Her cutthroat behavior wouldn’t be seen the same if she were a man. While she is a white woman, thus giving her privilege, she does scrap to be the best. Gale’s persistence would be deemed as admirable in a white man. Yet she’s labeled as a bitch throughout the movie. Something that’s intentional and gets the point across. 

Scream 2 (1997):

There are folks who prefer a good sequel over the original. And for those who do prefer Scream 2 over Scream, you’re not off base. The opening scene is rattling in a different way than Scream’s is. They are both iconic for their own reasons. With Scream 2 it’s showing the aftermath of glorifying real-life violence. 

Instead of having Maureen (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Phil (Omar Epps) be a white couple going to the movies, they are a Black couple. Which isn’t ignored, in fact it’s woven within their dialogue up until their deaths. Their blackness isn’t forgotten about or used for diversity points. It’s obvious they are examples of Black  folks dying first or quickly in horror. 

Obviously the affects of violence in cinema on real-life carries into this sequel. But Scream 2 also explores race a lot. From the opening scene, to Sidney’s roommate Hallie (Elise Neal) upholding the Black best friend trope, and Gale’s cameraman, Joel (Martin) representing Black individuals who wouldn’t stick around for the chaos. Everything feels and likely is deliberate. 

Lastly there’s Mrs. Loomis who, in my opinion, represents people (in this case mothers) who excuse the violence committed by white cis men.  

Scream 3 (2000):

Without a doubt Scream 3 is the least liked in the franchise. It took on a more comedic tone (in response to the Columbine High School Massacre), went through many rewrites, and was written by Ehren Kruger instead of Williamson. Personally it doesn’t hold a candle to the other movies in the franchise. But there’s still a few things to unpack. None of which involve Courteney Cox’s bangs. 

More of Maureen Prescott’s past comes into play in this film. Which reveals something sinister, tragic, and all too real about her life. Before she met Sidney’s dad, she was trying to make it as an actress. Ultimately leading to her being gang-raped at a Hollywood party and becoming pregnant as a result. Rather than raise the baby, she chose to leave everything behind. 

Taking into account that Harvey Weinstein was executive producer of the Scream films, it’s interesting this was woven into the plot. 

Of course Maureen’s son, Roman Bridger (Scott Foley) is full of white male rage directed at Sidney. All over the decisions their mother made. Even a movie like Scream 3 had a few things to say about Hollywood, abuse of power, and the aftermath of trauma.

Scream 4 (2011):

Dismissing a sequel like Scream 4 isn’t doing anybody any favors. Denying one’s self of a horror character like Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) is silly. Not to mention Scream being set in (what was) a modern setting is incredibly enjoyable. Especially since technology and internet fame are huge components of our current culture. 

Even the true opening scene of the movie nods at the girls who survive in horror movies. Ghostface tells victim, Jenny Randall (Aimee Teegarden): You’re the dumb blonde with the big tits, we’ll have some fun with you before you die. Jenny’s response isn’t that of air-headedness, instead she says: I have a 4.0 GPA and 135 IG,asshole. While Jenny does meet a grisly end and goes against the horror rules (running up the stairs instead of out the door), her brief exchange with Ghostface says a lot.

The rest of the movie takes on that typical self awareness. Everyone in the film settles into their tropes and it works. Though there’s a certain snake in the grass that ends up surprising Sidney. Cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) isn’t final girl material after all. She ends up being one of the killers because of her aggressive jealousy towards Sidney. Wanting some fame for herself and delivering iconic line: I don’t need friends, I need fans, we’re forced to see how desires to be famous can manifest like this. 

Real life cases of people doing anything for internet fame and attention have persisted since 2011 too. There are Jill Roberts in the world that would do anything to be famous. 

November 15, 2021

How Red Tide Could have been better, or something like that.

      Now that American Horror Story Red Tide is wrapped up, and we all are searching for something to keep our minds off the train wreck that was Death Valley. I would like to propose an alternate for how Red Tide should have gone. As of now Red Tide Is it decent Horror Story about the dangers of the pursuit of greatness, or some contrived pretentious ******** like that. Now of course you’re reading this on Afro horror so you can probably guess but I’m about to propose some black ****, And as the great prophet OG Maco one said “***** you guessed it!”. Though I’m not just proposing make the main character black, I am asking for something a bit more interesting. Red tide should have been lowkey the Tyler Perry story.

    In AHS:Red Tide we see the story of the Gardner’s, a lovely white family that is shaken to their core when the father Harry ( Finn Wittrock) is given a pill to unlock his talent but as with all American horror stories the price talent is too high for the entire family. Not to say that this wasn’t a good story but let’s be honest this is just limitless with vampires. Yes, the black version would still be limitless with vampires, but it would also have a meatier subplot due to the switch. When Harry is given the pills, he is apprehensive at first because he truly believes he doesn’t need them. The sell to a Black creator would be much more harrowing, not only would they have to consider the ultimate price of taking the pill, but they would also have to think about what that pill symbolizes for them. Right now, it just is a gateway to fame but with a Black creator it becomes a key into the White creative space. Watching a character come to terms with their humanity is cute but imagine if they were worried about their humanity and the fear of losing their culture as well.

Naturally the next storyline we look at is the wife, but since they decided to sideline her I guess we will too; moving on to the daughter then. Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is a violin prodigy who takes the pill to help with a seemingly hard piece of music, which at the moment is giving “I took Adderall to help me study” vibes. While I found Ryan to be great in the role I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to watch a young black child deciding to take the pill. Not just so they can finally play harder pieces but because they know that without that pill they might just end up another un-noticed Black musician because they don’t play societally acceptable music for a black musician. Feeling the sadness of them accepting the price of the pill because they have watched their talented father struggle in a similar way.

Finally we get to the Mother, which seems messed up but hey that’s how they decided to do her in the series. Doris (Lilly Rabe) is sadly given the chore of stumbling around confused and worried that A) Things aren’t going well for her business, and B) Things aren’t going well at home. Lily is such a great actress it’s lowkey a crime the way they played her this go around. Steamrolling past how they set her up to be a non-talented shrew whose fate is sealed because she just wanted a connection with her family. (who said all that) Anywhozzle, Now there are two ways we could go here we could keep her white and the story becomes about the White wife of a Black creator watching them lose their humanity and culture while skyrocketing to fame, or if we make her Black it’s the same but now with the added element of “will this ungrateful negro leave me for a white girl”. Just sayin we got options BABY!

Baby! 

Oh no it seems that in my ranting I have forgotten all about the baby. I haven’t. Switching up the family just allows the Chemist (Angelica Ross) to move in the world easier with a black baby so there are no questions to slow her mission down. I know that was a lot to throw out there especially for a seemingly decent season of AHS but let’s face it, it could have been better. Also knowing how Ryan Murphy operates, It could have been much worse. If you have any other ideas to add, or think that I missed something important out of this drop a comment below. And please if you find yourself reading this and you start to feel a bit uncomfortable just remember :

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Former Artist, Current Deviant Timothy Rush. Twitter: @timmyvendetta | Insta:@vendetta234

October 4, 2021

For Colored Girls Who Love Horror Movies/When Wut We Get Ain’t Enough

By RJ Joseph 

The inimitable Toni Morrison told us to write the stories we want to see. I’ve seen a whole, whole lot of horror films in my half-century on this side of existence. While there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s definitely a plethora of lenses through which we could offer horror to provide fresh takes on tropes that are growing stale from the overkill of homogenous viewpoints. Alas, my beloved genre loves its same old sameness…

Photo credit: KnowYourMeme.com

To be given the chance to unleash the pent-up horror creativity fed for years by some excellent—most, mediocre (and a few, downright shameful)—horror filmmaking in the past four decades…what a fantasy! Please, indulge a colored girl in this play-pretending, and let’s go to the movies to imagine:

  1. An anthology format, feature film with a Black, female emcee of an ambiguous religious background who ushers characters from four short stories into various interpretations of the afterlife. Tales from The Hood meets This Is Where You Fuc**ed Up.
  2. A feature film where a middle-aged Black woman collects ghosts in the furniture she uses to decorate her huge, fancy house. She traps the spirits to protect them from fading into forgotten oblivion and if she stops, she will face the same malevolent entity, The Voider, she protects them from. [Insert any one of the various haunted museums in The Universe here] meets Decorating in the ‘Hood and Protecting the Ancestors. 
  3. A children’s animated series where a Black girl with cerebral palsy can see and command ghosts and teams up with them to solve mysteries. Scooby-Doo meets Black Girls Are Magic (phrase coined by Cashawn Thompson).
  4. A coming-of-age feature film about a group of five, inner city pre-teens who wonder about the story the mysterious Whistling Woman who lives in a lavish home outside the city center but visits the homes in their ‘hood for meals and entertainment. She is treated with reverence by their families, in hopes that she doesn’t begin to whistle inside their homes and ring in the death of a loved one. The truth they discover is more terrifying than her mere domestic visitations. It meets Let Black Kids Be Kids and Have Coming-of-Age Stories.
  5. A television series centered on the experiences of a Black, lesbian vampire couple that describes their origins in antebellum United States, their fight against slavery during the Civil War, the strategies they used to work towards eliminating Jim Crow, and how they continue to advance civil rights in current times. Interview with a Vampire meets Let Black Folks Be Vampires before Y’all Decide to Cancel the Bloodsuckers.

Photo credit: Keep Calm O’matic

See how fun those would be from perspectives we don’t often get to see on screen in fully developed lives and stories? And they’re just on the fly, right off the top of my head. I’m full of horror movie stories and scripts (I saved the REALLY stellar ones in my portfolio—can’t give away all my good-good in public!). 

Industry professionals, holler at your girl. Let’s make some movies!

R.J. Joseph is a Texas-based Bram Stoker Award™ nominated writer who writes academically about and creatively within the horror genre. You can most often find her on Twitter, @rjacksonjoseph, and (after November 1, 2021) on her newly minted, teenager-created website at www.rhondajacksonjoseph.com.

August 1, 2021

Black Summer: Summertime Slash-ness

By Timothy Rush

I’m not sure if it’s the over use of summer camps or the lack of any school time antics, but summertime feels like slasher season. Let’s be honest no one wants to be running for their lives in the snow nor during the upswing of Black History month. So with that in mind the Season of the Slasher is upon us and I think it’s time we try to figure out what a wholly Afro Summer Slasher looks like. From possible locations, to possible killers, even down to possible survivors. Let’s take some time to imagine what a black slasher could be.

Heavyweights (1995) while not being a Horror film for most of you thin kids this childhood thriller always raised one big question for me. How rich were Kenan’s parents? I only ask because I truly never thought black people went to sleep away camps. With that idea being a foreign notion to me the Camp setting just doesn’t sit right with the Spirit of this Black Slasher. Leaving me to think of black exclusive summer settings like The Cookout. The Cookout being one of the most sacred of functions held in the summer is a perfect setting for a Summer Slasher. Being one of the few functions to take place outside and that can last all night, the cookout provides many opportunities for some excellent kills. Plus you actually have a believable reason for Black Folks to be out in nature. The next thing that comes to mind when I think of my “Black summer experience” is destination family reunions. Whether it be Atlanta, Orlando, or even New York I can still remember the long chartered bus rides with too many family members for my comfort. Then without fail once we get to our destination the weekend becomes a flurry of scheduled activities and multiple family meals allowing for multiple fun set pieces for familial slaughter. 

May I just take a moment to reconcile the fact that my life is at a place where I have typed the words “ Familial Slaughter” at 10 AM on a Monday morning.  Moving along, my final suggestion for our Soul Slasher setting (Sorry) is the classic Beach Party. Am I thinking of what  I used to see on B.E.T during Freaknik as a child, Possibly. Might I also be calling to the wild days of Memorial Day weekend on South Beach? Yes, the answer is YES! For years the trope of the all white beach horror has existed and I think it’s time it’s done right. In the immortal words of King Kendrick “ I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop ,Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor.”

Now that we have some places for bodies to be hidden and discovered as a distraction, We need to talk about Killers. I guess not just killers but what kind of people usually become killers in a slasher film. Traditionally it seems to be either a bullied kid, or the parent of a bullied kid, or a kid harmed from lack of care, or the parent of a kid harmed from lack of care. (SOCIAL COMMENTARY?) I guess to break the chain slightly we could consider what type of people Kill the vibes within the spaces mentioned for our film. Not to start with the obvious but any unvetted, questionably invited or unannounced white person is getting all of the looks when sussing out a killer. Even before the bodies start piling up we need to know why are you here, who are you with, and why do you have a plate?  No matter what the answers to those questions are, this character is not to be trusted until proven not guilty ( never innocent though!). Stepping away from the colonizer to a normal interloper, we have the ex that’s still cool with the family. They spent time as your cousin’s partner for a few years and even though they aren’t an item and haven’t been for some time now they still show up to functions and you never really know why.Their love died years ago, they are either here trying to win Auntie Dana’s heart or they are here for revenge. Moving ever closer within our last suspect is that one family member everyone knows to look out for. We all know that member of the family that can’t be left alone in your Grandmother’s House let alone the kids. (Yikes!) Sometimes it be like that though. 

These are starting to look like very lived in and well thought out universes for our Slasher film. Which means many will survive and many will die, but who will steal everyone’s heart as the Favorite Survivor? All of the aforementioned backdrops for our summer slaughter-land are all made better by that one cousin that has the GAS. Without fail there is the one member of the family that will eventually ask you if you wanna “take a walk” with them. They are universally liked and are usually a great source of positivity and Magical Stoner Survivability. They always come out on top so defeating a Summer Psycho is no problem. Someone who can be a stark difference from that cousin is the Former Athlete in the family. Reaching as far back as to their high school glory days , college defeats, and even some semi-pro big shots they always remember when. They usually can turn anything into a competition and are the only people keeping score. Sometimes clunky and boring within the group dynamic, they offer us the chance to see someone do something physically amazing to defeat the enemy. I’m thinking Gymnastics Vs Raptor kinda awesomeness ( Hey Simone!). Last but definitely not least we have the Disgruntled Elder, This can be an uncle who is proverbially “Too old for this shit!”, Or an auntie who is “ So damn sick and tired” of all this mess. I know it seems like a weird choice but I feel like this is how we can make up for how wrong they did Alfre Woodard in Annabelle. 

As the thud of the killer’s body is heard by our surviving party, we come to the end of our Summer Slasher. We screamed, we ran, we immediately were sus of that white guest. However you decide to mix and match them, these are just a few ideas to think about while making your plate at the cookout and wondering if you could get away with turning the function into your own blood stained wonderland. If you have any other ideas to add, or think that I missed something important out of this drop a comment below. And please if you find yourself reading this and you start to feel a bit uncomfortable just remember :

Former Artist, Current Deviant Timothy Rush. Twitter: @timmyvendetta | Insta:@vendetta234

July 31, 2021

It’s Complicated: A Black Love Letter to Horror

By Jada Slyvest

The first scary movie I ever saw was Child’s Play. I remember waking up from an evening nap on my step-father’s couch as an adolescent. I rubbed my eyes, & immediately heard a woman yelling at a kid’s doll. Then, before I could sit up on the couch, the doll yelled at her, cursed at her, and bit her- hard! I was probably five or six (much too young to watch a scary movie), so I did what anyone of that age would do. I started crying & ran outside, while barefoot, onto the gravel road in front of our trailer in search of my mom.

“It’s just a movie! Chucky isn’t real! It’s for fun, people like to get scared for fun. Like a rollercoaster.” 

Much like a roller coaster, over the years Horror and I have had our ups and downs. It’s sad & frustrating not seeing yourself represented on TV. Then, if & when you finally are, you’re the first to die. The first to be sacrificed. Even made to be the bad guy despite having the least amount of screentime. I first started paying attention to my relationship with Horror when I was young and enthusiastically watched the Scary Movie series by the Wayans Brothers. Playing on the many horror tropes proved to be a slashing success (albeit most of their jokes relying on bigotry & stereotypes don’t hold up). That series taught me something valuable; Horror and comedy go hand-in-hand. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of nervous laughter? But even in these movies, the white protagonists are centered. What I wouldn’t give to have a movie focusing on Brenda, one of the main Black characters on screen! These movies don’t withstand the test of time, but I like to think nostalgia paints a pretty picture in my mind. 

I can remember seeing The Lazarus Effect in 2015. I was sixteen years old and a huge Donald Glover fan. I liked his comedy, I liked his music, and now he was going to be in a scary movie?! I was so excited! I was even going to the theatre to see the film, something I was always too poor to do until my Great Uncle took me in a year prior. I remember making jokes on my blog about how Mr. Glover was the only Black person in the film and if he died first I would walk out of the theatre. I thought, “Surely, in the year 2015, they wouldn’t kill the Black man first? Especially not a Black man who’s outspoken against racism in everything he’s done!” If you’ve already seen The Lazarus Effect I’m sure you sighed knowingly a few sentences ago. My jokes were suddenly in bad taste. The movie wasn’t fun anymore. 

I’m now 22 years old at the time of writing this. Horror is much, much older than me. It was only recently in my life that I discovered Blaxploitation films, with further inquiry  within those films the sub-genre of Black Horror made, directed, and produced by Black Horror fans for Black Horror fans. Scream Blacula, Scream (1973). Blackenstein (1973). Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976) . Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984). Def by Temptation (1990). The list goes on! I was happy to learn that Horror was in fact a genre for everybody, and racism wasn’t going to put a cap on collective Black creativity. It’s sad that not every Black Horror movie gets the screen time or praise it may deserve. It’s sad I didn’t hear about these movies until I found myself in my late teens and early twenties. For some reason Hollywood only likes to see Black People in pain. I found that apparent after Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) broke the box office and now, years later, people are still trying to use his film as a blueprint and attempting to catch lightning in a bottle, all while trying to tell a simple truth every Black person already knows: White people can be scary. The idea of more white villains committing hate crimes and torturing Black main characters became thrilling to white America. In universes where we can transcend the rules of life and death, use magic, and fight supernatural monsters I always found it sad we couldn’t transcend racism. 

My relationship with Horror is complicated.

July 30, 2021

Catering to the Mind’s Eye

By Brittney Perkins

Spoilers for Doctor Sleep and Bird Box 

While trying to pick from the endless horror theme streaming through my mind, I couldn’t think of anything to write, and my mind went to all the worst possible scenarios. Then like a well-aimed baseball bat named Lucille, a thought struck me. Why is it that when you read a horror novel, you hate the movie? There are numerous reasons, but the ones I want to talk about are the visuals. The visuals you conjure within your mind when you give life to a scene as it unfolds. The way you visualize the hair-raising struggles and how these visuals, when brought to your local movie theater or streamed on your favorite electronic device, more often than naught leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

A good example would be Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. I want to preface that I am a fan of the 2017 adaptation from writer and director Mike Flanagan. The mental imagery of the battle between Rose the Hat and Abra (the filing cabinet scene) is phenomenal. From ‘seeing’ Abra on the bike, the alarms, and then the jousting duel between them had me drawn in. Although the movie showed us the flesh on Rose the Hat’s hand being peeled off like a boiled tomato, the rest of the scene can be described as leaving much to be desired for those with the book’s imagery stored in their mental archives. 

The ending of the cultural phenomenon that is Susanne Bier’s “Bird Box” would be another case. At the conclusion of the film, Malorie, Girl, and Boy have finally reached a sanctuary where they can live safely within their community. As they walk into the School for the Blind, they pass the smiling faces of the community members as they take in all of the beautiful sights. However, Josh Malerman’s book takes it to another level. When the trio finally makes it to the sanctuary, Malorie discovers the facility’s gruesome past of consensually blinding to have “absolute protection” and the complexity of choosing to remain and reside within a “safer” location. So, when comparing the two, you have the “that’s it” look stamped on your face as you finish the film that completely ignores an arguably necessary part of the story.

Transferring these novels into the physical world, using film/television as the vehicle for avid book readers is like cutting on the lights to brighten a dark room. We see that it’s not as bad as we imagined, the figures that terrorized our minds have become tangible, and there is no need to fear this version. Budgets, runtimes, and writer/directing differences give the film constraints that the mind doesn’t have. Movies must focus on creating a film that is appealing to general audiences and cannot financially sustain creating all the complex imagery bound within the spine of its source material. The novels freed from these restraints allow for our minds to interpret the events under the umbrella of our own perception creating the sometimes-haunting imagery that scares us, lingering in our mind like the faded outline of a burn. While movies must focus on creating a film that is appealing to the general audience 

I would argue this is the same logic as to why scenes in horror where the kills happen off-screen, and all we can hear are someone’s dying screams, the wet sounds of a blade, and the distinct crunch of bones breaking that terrify some of us the most. It’s all because our imagination and the potential possibilities our mind dutifully creates for us are terrifying, and films can’t match the personal terrors that each person’s mind has crafted.

July 26, 2021

Good for Her: Defining a Trope

By: Haley Powell

(Contains spoilers for Ready or Not, Midsommar, and The Witch)

With genres always evolving, different tropes are constantly defining new decades of cinema. The last decade or so has seen many new approaches to well known archetypes and plot devices, and especially in the age of social media, more and more people are becoming able to voice their film opinions online. Inevitably, this has led to the use of memes not only for jokes, but also to describe subgenres of film.

“Good for Her” began as a quote from actress Jessica Walter on the show Arrested Development, which was turned into a gif that has become a popular response on social media sites. The original scene consists of an offscreen voice that says, “Claiming she could take it no more, the young mother released the emergency brake, allowing her car to roll backwards into the nearby lake,” (Arrested Development) to which Walter’s character replies, “Good for her!” The gif is used in countless contexts, but recently and predominantly in reference to women of horror or thriller movies. “Good for her” is not only the name of at least two hundred letterboxd lists, but it has also grown into its own subgenre of films.

But since the growing popularity of the phrase, there has been constant disagreements on social media over what technically qualifies a film for the phrase. Is “good for her” just a joke taken out of context, or a serious display of how viewers can misinterpret a film’s central themes? Ready or Not, Knives Out, and The Invisible Man, are some of the most common examples of “good for her” films, but many feel that the inclusion of movies like Gone Girl, Midsommar, and The Witch, where the female lead makes increasingly morally gray decisions as the film progresses, go against the basic meaning of “good for her.” 

Ready or Not is one of the more widely accepted “good for her” examples. The film’s lead bravely and consistently defends herself against attackers and ends the film victorious against her enemies. With only a small portion of any of the bloodshed her own personal doing, and all of it done in self defense, she gets revenge against her lying husband by surviving his family’s attacks which in turn triggers the curse that kills them instantly. This leaves the protagonist as a virtually completely innocent victor that the audience can happily root for.

A “good for her” example that is less widely accepted is the popular horror film Midsommar. Depending on your perspective the movie may seem like an odd contender for the trope, considering the movie ends with the female lead joining an evil cult that’s responsible for her friends’ horrific deaths; but others defend protagonist Dani’s placement amongst the other “good for her” leads. She ends the film as May queen. She’s finally able to express her emotions in a cathartic way after the death of her family. She gets “revenge” on her abusive boyfriend by allowing the cult to sacrifice him. With these factors, one could argue that Dani ends the film in a more powerful position than she starts. Though she is no longer our morally pure protagonist, Dani outlives her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend and finds a new family in her fellow cult members. 

The Witch is another intriguing example of this. At the film’s end, lead Thomasin becomes a part of the evil she was threatened by in the beginning; the evil she was wrongly accused of being involved with the entire time- but in doing this she escapes her controlling and abusive family. Obviously, nothing about her dead family is “good” no matter the circumstances, but one could argue that Thomasin’s joining of the coven shows her finally escaping the unhappiness and persecution that she felt before. After all that’s happened, Thomasin ends the film not only free from further judgement or accusations, but able to live “deliciously” and presumably go on to join the other witches in torturing settler families. Though this makes her a villain and shows that Thomasin has lost her original morality, this wouldn’t necessarily disqualify her from “good for her” status in the eyes of many horror fans who enjoy and appreciate more morally gray characters.

Horror in particular is a genre known for its villains. Characters like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees are praised as the stars of slasher movies without much need to discuss the objective despicableness of their actions. No one has to specify that their appreciation of those characters are in purely a fictional way; we all know that slaughtering camp counselors and babysitters is something not meant to extend into real life. But does this same idea apply to the cult of Midsommar, the coven of The Witch? Or are Dani and Thomasin excluded from “good for her” because we must specify that evil cults are, of course, bad and not exhibitors of behavior that should be emulated in real life/

 Is there a difference between appreciating the brutal work of Mr. Krueger, and feeling satisfied that a woman has survived deadly circumstances and ended the movie more powerful than they’d ever been? Are these characters critiqued differently because they’re women, or because they begin the story as morally pure protagonists?

Is “good for her” literal, and meant to only be used in morally black and white situations? These questions all come back to what you think “good for her” means, and whether or not you know that the context of the original quote is in reference to a woman driving into a lake. 

REFERENCES

Feig, Paul, dir. “Arrested Development.” Arrested Development. Fox. 19 Sept. 2005. Television.

July 21, 2021

Not every survivor’s cup of tea: Rape and revenge horror

*spoilers and TW: mentions of sexual violence and discussion surrounding it

The world of horror is wildly vast and exciting. From all the sub-genres and a plethora of movies that rattle our brains as fans, there’s always something new to learn about horror. It’s still an under-appreciated genre and quite frankly mocked by the haters. Though we know the truth: Horror is queer and political by nature. Meaning horror often covers the hard topics directly, such as sexual violence. 


Now, rape and revenge horror isn’t for everybody. And there’s nothing wrong with needing to avoid that kind of body horror. But what’s strange to do is tell survivors of sexual violence that we shouldn’t watch those films. That somehow it’s glorifying that type of violence. When it’s usually quite the opposite, meaning it’s empowering to see the survivor get revenge. Horror has managed to give survivors that empowerment. Whereas other genres don’t always get it right. A recent example is Promising Young Woman (2021), which didn’t handle the subject matter properly. And instead centered the trauma of a straight white woman, who consistently put herself in dangerous situations on purpose,  and wasn’t even the survivor of sexual violence. 
Though even with empowerment comes the possibility of being triggered. And many rape and revenge horror is triggering for viewers. Such as films like the original I Spit on Your Grave (1978) or the remakes that came long after it, American Mary (2012), or The Perfection (2018). Then there are the rape and revenge films where the victims aren’t the ones seeking revenge. Controversial horror like The Last House on the Left (1972) or even the 2009 remake (which features an even more gruesome rape scene). In the original there’s no survival for the victims, they are brutalized and murdered. Whereas the remake is still brutal but one of the victims manages to survive. Resulting in the same outcome as the original – her parents seek revenge for her.

The concept of taking back control and reclaiming your body after it’s been violated is a radical act. It’s powerful to experience and to witness in horror. While returned violence is seen as not justifiable to people who have cookie cutter ideals – it’s certainly satisfying to some. I Spit On Your Grave (1978) is a perfect example of someone, a woman in this instance, who reclaims her body. And she uses that power to destroy those who took from her in the first place. It’s a graphic horror movie, but it displays how explicitly political horror tends to be. There’s not a lot of subtext in this movie because it’s direct with its intention.

Unfortunately rape revenge usually is written off as too controversial. Sometimes even banned because of the content (occasionally that’s a good thing as there’s a line between glorification and otherwise). The Last on the Left (1972), written and directed by the iconic Wes Craven, could be seen as too horrific and tragic. Which of course it is tragic and gruesome, but it’s also the otherside to rape and revenge horror. Victims don’t always make it to the end of the film. It’s something that makes people ask: why watch rape and revenge horror that has no payoff? That question can’t be answered the same for everyone. For myself it’s an unfortunate reminder of those who don’t survive. And maybe understanding that truth is just as important.

Vanessa Maki horror fan, writer, and Afro Horror contributor.

July 16, 2021

A Quiet Place Part II should’ve made Emmett a Black man

When A Quiet Place Part II was released to theatres on May 28th 2021, I’d received both of my Pfizer COVID vaccinations, waited the suggested period, and been to theatres to see Spiral (previously subtitled From the Book of Saw).

On the very same Friday as the release, I purchased A Quiet Place from the Apple Store for $7.99 USD and watched it for the first time. Despite a few pacing issues, questionable choices from some of the characters, and heavy-handed foreshadowing, the first installment was a damn good movie overall.

Curiosity for the next chapter of this apocalyptic alternate reality mingled with my newly rekindled love for the theatre after being locked inside for over a year due to quarantine. Would Emily Blunt’s character Evelyn and her brave kid daughter Regan usher in a new hope for the future with guns in hand? Would the remaining Abbott family members each don one of the father’s “failed” hearing aides in their crusade, of which he left many?

The ending was so feminist and I needed to see if it would continue in that direction and blow through the glass ceiling of tired tropes in the next installment. Well, in the words of American drag queen, musician, and reality television personality Tatianna: “Choices!” Oh, and spoilers ahead.

I threw on my grungiest casual wear immediately after finishing the first installment and went to my local theatre to see A Quiet Place Part II on it’s premiere night. I braved a shockingly more robust crowd than that of Spiral’s and paid for overpriced concessions happily. What I was presented with was a cute little feature that would have been cuter if they didn’t sacrifice all of the Black folk. In fact, A Quiet Place II should’ve made Emmett–an old friend of the family–a Black man (and this is no shade to Cillian Murphy, who did a great job in the role).

The movie started with a flashback sequence to the invasion of the franchise’s signature blind and sound-sensitive space aliens. As a result, we got to see Kransinki’s role of the core family’s recently deceased father Lee reprised. This was okay! Roughly five minutes later, the first Black character—who happened to be a cop who decides to play hero—was sacrificed. This was not okay! However! I was willing to let it go since the aliens were slaughtering everyone indiscriminately. But, wait! There’s more!

Towards the end of the film, the movie sacrificed Djimon Hounsou’s character who they were too bothered to name despite him having considerable screen time (no, really. At the time of me writing this, his character is billed as ‘Man on Island’).

The meat of an otherwise decent sequel was swathed around the casual dispatching of Black bodies, which soured the experience for me quite a bit. Emmett’s story throughout was a tragedy; while the Abbott’s had suffered two great losses, Emmett lost his entire family during the Alien invasion. Proper utilization of this information for our theoretical Black version of Emmett creates natural social commentary on the concept of Two Americas.

This new Emmett’s apprehension to help the Abbotts, with some tweaking, is okay to keep as well—it creates a chance for character development. His fear and grief stricken reaction of withdrawal and paranoia make sense.

Deciding to risk himself for the greater good by helping Regan makes sense as well, but would still require some tweaking. Both Emmett and Regan need to have something logic-wise that the other doesn’t in a way that allows them to learn from one another, which will fuel their character growth. They need to feel like separate parts of a whole. Otherwise, it turns into a situation where Emmett is a Black man whose only value is risking his life for a white family and we don’t need anymore of that.

In addition to wanting to help Regan and fighting for the greater good (and without adding too much exposition), Emmett should have a personal motivator for embarking on their adventure. For example, maybe he previously allowed an unaddressed phobia to stop him from taking his partner on a cruise she/he/they desired (yes, Emmett could and should be queer as well).

By conquering this phobia partly in honor of his dearly departed, it teaches the viewer to never take anything for granted. Additionally, fighting for the greater good starts at home by fixing ourselves first. Hell, maybe even reward his trials. For example, an unexpected reunion with a beloved family member or old flame awaits his arrival to the island.

Most importantly, all of the tweaking necessary for a Black Emmett creates opportunities for more Black writers who should be hired for proper handling and representation.

Final thoughts?

As a Black man, it’s frustrating to see that our voices are silenced in A Quiet Place Part II. Even in an imaginary apocalyptic world, the only thing that seems to survive are white people and old tropes.

Ryan Kinney is a the host of Brother Ghoulish’s Tomb and a guest blog contributor. @brotherghoulish

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