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February 1, 2010

Black Women in Horror History Month - Week 1

So, a lot of debate has gone on about the fact that February is both Black History Month and Women in Horror Month. Here at From Midnight, With Love, I've got a simple answer to this conundrum - creating what my father would call an AMAZING NEW COMBINATION! (Yes, he emphasizes it that much.) So, every week of the month, I'll celebrate the best, brightest, and boldest African-American Women in Horror History...starting now.

The year is 1995. Tales from the Crypt is nearing the end of its run that capped off the horror anthology series craze of the late '80s. Like many TV shows fearing death (or, perhaps in this one's case, undeath) their best idea to exorcise their viewership demons was to hit the bigscreen. What we got was the blast of horror known as Demon Knight, and a strong turn by the soon to be Smith, Jada Pinkett.Demon Knight starts off as a simple story involving a man on the run (the criminally underloved William Sadler, who starred in Tales' first episode too) and the man who's chasing him to retrieve a "stolen" relic (the also criminally underloved Billy Zane, who you should listen too because he's a cool dude). When Sadler's Brayker takes shelter in an abandoned-church-turned-boarding-house, Zane's character is revealed to be The Collector, and the siege flick action begins.

I'm supposed to be talking about Pinkett here, and believe me I'm getting to it. But I want to take a moment and discuss the siege flick. I LOVE SIEGE FLICKS. From Rio Bravo to Night of the Living Dead to Assault on Precinct 13, I can't get enough of 'em. If I were to ever become a filmmaker my first flick would definitely be a siege flick, hopefully with the characters trapped in a movie theater. My second flick would be a Bette Davis Eyes tribute/Kim Carnes biopic/sci-fi epic in the tradition of Buck Rogers, but that's a different story for a different day...

So, in the midst of our burgeoning demon-based siege flick, we meet Jeryline, played by Pinkett. Jeryline (pronounced Jery-LEAN, probably because she's pencil thin) is out on parole and stuck cleaning up the messes of the house's residents, and she's got a bit of a 'tude. Which, when you're facing a horde of green-eyed demons, is a good thing. She soon becomes Brayker's closest ally in the fight against the very persuasive collector, up until the point when the film switches focus on to her completely.

Pinkett throws herself into the film with a lot of confidence, and her commitment to the role shows through. She carries herself especially well in the third act, when things look like they're at their worst, and quickly becomes a character to rally behind in the fight for survival. She's also quick on her toes mentally and physically, and when she faces off with the collector, the viewer knows this isn't their everyday horror victim.

What makes Demon Knight's Jeryline significant? In the history of horror, the film is a tiny speck on the road map of terror. But from my perspective, I'm not sure of many mainstream horror films that feature an African-American woman in such a strong heroic role. Looking back at the slasher craze of the '80s and early '90s, I can't remember one strong black female lead like Jerilyn. She's a smart and assertive heroine whose race is never a hindrance to her character, and I think she's a great example to bring up as I start my look into Black Women in Horror History.


R.D. Penning said...

check out this website if you would like some help in finding Black Female actors in the horror genre

They have such greats as Rosalind Cash, Angela Bassett, Marlene Clark, Lorena Gale for sure!, The up and coming Meagan Good, Sarina C. Grant, Pam Grier, Marjean Holden, and Madame Sul-Te-Wan just to name a few, haha. Hope it helps you out this month.

Box Office Boredom said...

I love this idea....I being the non horror geek had no idea it is women in horror month but that's cool too. You learn something new every day.

Now I know there are exceptions to the rules, but I would be interested in seeing an essay by the Mike on African American Males in horror. There's always the stereotype that the black man dies first in horror flicks. Why is that Mike? Where did it start? Why do you think it continues to be a theme that pops up in cliched horror? Or am I way off base?

But all in all, I love the idea you're doing. Keep up the good work!