MFG-Thesis & Theory

American Horror Cinema

By Periods

Where did horror come from and how did it reflect society?

As the era of moving picture began in America,  white and black representation on screen were shown in a very different light. Film became a powerful tool reflecting both positive and negative cultural perceptions. As a result, cinema like society, was a segregated endeavor and experience. This was especially punctuated in the Horror genre when black people and the “other”  were often relegated or representative of the “other”.

White Horror in American Cinema

European Imports 1930s-1940s

White Horror began in America with the 1930 interpretations of European folklore/stories and some Caribbean mythology appropriated for American audiences-Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula.

Blacks representation in these films was sparse and often portrayed as a servant or comic relief, even if the subject matter (like Zombification) might be germane to the plot and Black experience, it was never fully explored from the Black point of view.


Science Fiction Horror 1950s-1960s

The next phase of Horror Cinema came in the form of the Science Fiction period with films like The Day the Earth Stood, War of the World, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Ironically, there was little to no signs of Black participation in the laboratories  or films from this period.

Suburban Slasher Horror 1980s-1990s

Towards the early 1980s horror returned to the Suburbs to resume the predominantly  White -centric Horror trend of slasher films once again with relegated Black (and POC) participation. Friday The 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Scream.

Gore and the Splat Pack – 2000s

With films lIke Hostel, House of 1000 Corps, SAW, and Machete a new “Fraternity” of Horror sought to pay  to their White Horror Predecessors. This also continued to perpetuate the lack of diversity in cultural perspectives.

Black Horror in Cinema

Race Horror 1930s 

(Religious & Social Cautionary Films)

Race Films represented a Black perspective in the industry and often were relegated to Black only screening opportunities. Though there wasn’t a focus on genre, as films were made with a variety of subject matter, there were cautionary tales like “The Devils Daughter”, “The Blood of Jesus” and “Son of Ingagi” which reflect Black viewpoints and agency, unlike the white film with black characters.

Blaxploitation  Horror 1970s 

(Black remakes of White films)

The second of Black participation in horror would link to the Exploitation films and Grindhouse Cinema 1970s. This movement also exploited Blackness (dabbling in Black action BlackHorror in the late 70’s) Film like Ganja & Hess, Blacula, and Abby were some of the more well known black horror in this sub-genre.

        Urban Horror 1980s-1990s

(A response to Suburban Slasher Horror)

Def by Temptation, Wolfen, Tales From the Hood, Chud, Candyman utilized the multicultural Urban cites as their backdrop. They offered cultural diversity as the backdrop to their tales and appeared to be a direct response to the large influx of White Slasher cinema.

Socio-Psychological Horror 2010s

With the breakout hit of “Get Out” and “Us” cultural and societal horror are again being with a look at the relevance of diverse voices.