It’s interesting how horror works as a genre when combined with Black characters. Of course Black characters matter in terms of representing the population on a surface level, but presenting Black characters in horror stories, amidst our already horrific past, elicits a much deeper sense of dread when played out on screens. Horror by itself is already rooted in reality somewhat—everyone has seen a creepy doll like Annabelle or been spooked by the cemeteries that appear in several horror stories. I think what separates, and perhaps elevates, Black horror from general, superficially scary stories is the deep knowledge that the things typically depicted in Black horror were once (and still are) very, very real.
What made me think about this, in particular, was Terence Taylor’s “Wet Pain”, which may not even be ‘typical’ horror with evil spirits and possession, depending on one’s interpretation of the ending. When I first read it, I was fascinated by that aspect of it—it was perfectly plausible for none of it to be supernatural at all. And regardless of whatever prompted Dean to switch up, the acts he committed were still the real horror of it all. Eve’s Bayou (1997) is the same way; supernatural elements are suspected, but not confirmed. And yet, the supernatural isn’t even the point of it all—the most horrific aspect is the idea of a very young girl carrying the guilt for her father’s death when all she wanted to do was keep her family safe. In Night of the Living Dead, the most horrific aspect is the scene of Ben being chased and shot because it bears such a striking resemblance to real footage of Black people being chased by the white mob through Southern woods, Black people being shot in their cars or on the streets or in broad daylight. Because of the race factor, the zombies aren’t the final boss in the end, it’s the police.
It’s because of this that Black horror is more than just horror with representation. With Black bodies, the scare factor is not just a zombie, or a demon, or a magic spell that can be un-believed away; the real horror, the bone-rattling, gut-dropping, intense wave of sad kind, is what we know for a fact could be true. It is often never just the supernatural—it is the raw, real, true horror that surrounds us in our everyday lives, and follows us long after we leave the theater.