As genre fans, we are truly lucky to be living in a day and age where we can enjoy a variety of incredible film projects that celebrate nearly every aspect that we love about horror. Sometimes, these documentaries are focused on a specific film or a franchise, sometimes they hone in on one director or actor in particular. But with Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, director Xavier Burgin has crafted an 83-minute journey spanning over an entire century of filmmaking that not only celebrates the milestones, but also holds Hollywood and society as a whole responsible for how black culture has been represented in cinema, as well as lauding the achievements of black creatives who have helped pave the way for future generations throughout their careers.
Based on Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman’s book of the same name, Horror Noire is an essential and entertaining documentary that feels like required viewing for every single horror fan out there. Using the recent success of Jordan Peele’s Get Out as an initial framing device, Burgin and his collaborators take us back to the release of The Birth of a Nation to remind us that while we have made some strides in Hollywood with representation, things were horribly grim in the early 1900s when black characters were often considered “others,” meaning they were a threatening and possibly invasive force on society (particularly to white women), or they were cinematic caricatures that tapped into how white people perceived black people, which gave birth to a number of harmful stereotypes.
But over time, things got somewhat better as a handful of black filmmakers started making their mark, and we saw black characters evolve as well, and Burgin’s doc pulls back the layers on a multitude of black entertainment, but the reality here, and the reality that Horror Noire presents to us, is that even though there might be over 100 years between the release of The Birth of a Nation and Get Out, and both cinema and society have made some notable strides, there is still so much work to be done in the world, and when it comes to black representation in cinema, Hollywood needs to continue to do better both in front of and behind the camera.
There is still plenty to celebrate in Horror Noire, though, and I think the documentary walks the line between criticism and praise incredibly well, which isn’t always an easy balance to achieve, as it takes a look at trends like Blaxploitation films, touchstone moments like George A. Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead or the arrival of Candyman on the horror scene, and even dives into more contemporary movies like Demon Knight, Tales from the Hood, Bones, and of course, Get Out.
In Horror Noire, an unforgettable array of experts have been assembled to weigh in on the documentary’s topics, including Coleman, executive producer Tananarive Due, co-producer and co-writer Ashlee Blackwell, as well as directors Peele, Ernest R. Dickerson, William Crain, Rusty Cundieff, and Tina Mabry, and an assortment of actors, including Tony Todd, Ken Foree, Keith David, Rachel True, Paula Jai Parker, Richard Lawson, Kelly Jo Minter, Ken Sagoes, Loretta Devine, and Miguel A. Núñez Jr. What’s great about the way Horror Noire is presented is that talent is often paired up with other talent, which makes for some engaging discussions between these truly inspiring and entertaining personalities, and really mixes up the talking heads formula often utilized in documentary projects. Also, you just haven’t lived until you’ve seen Keith David and Ken Foree perform “The Monster Mash” together, and so to get that treat over the doc’s end credits was an absolute delightful way to cap everything off. There is clearly a lot of shared love between the doc’s talent, and it shows through in every segment.
Without a doubt, Horror Noire is one of the most important entertainment documentaries to ever come along, genre or otherwise, and I have to commend everyone involved for putting together this necessary and vital exploration of the correlation between black history and black horror. If I had to offer up a bit of “criticism” when it comes to Horror Noire, it’s that I wished it were much longer, but really, that’s not a critique at all. It’s just me wanting more because everything here was really informative and entertaining, and I could have listened to everyone talk for another 83 minutes or more if I had been given the option. Horror Noire is truly special and I hope it opens the doors to even greater conversations down the line (and I’m hoping this team is the one to bring it to audiences, too). Just great work from everyone all around.
Movie Score: 4.5/5