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February 16, 2010

Black Women in Horror History Month - Week 3

In the first two weeks of this journey, I've focused on black women who've been on the side of good in horror films. But I got to wondering over the last few days, what about the other side? Where are what my father would call the "bad muddatrucka" ladies of horror? And after much deliberation, I thought of a chilling vampire performances that deserves mention.

It is not, as you might expect, the performance of the late Aaliyah in the Anne Rice adaptation Queen of the Damned. While the starlet who was taken too soon is more than adequate in the film, the film itself is still a bore who features the always annoying Stuart Townsend as its lead. And moreover, there's an earlier performance that the portrayal of Queen Akasha reminds me of.That performance is given by the unique actress Grace Jones in the 1986 bit of cheese entitled Vamp. I chronicled Vamp briefly last October, but didn't spend much time on Jones' role in the film. As I noted back then, two students take a trip to a seedy gentlemen's club looking to bring some...we'll say entertainment...back to the fraternity they're trying to get accepted into, and are soon enamored by the main attraction on stage - a statuesque creature of the night called Katrina.

Unlike many VHS-cover-promoted villains of horror's glam decade (i.e. - Fright Night), Katrina is more than a footnote in the film's tale of terrors. Jones provides a dynamic physical presence in the film, and it's hard to consider another actress in memory who could provide such a balance between being a physical threat and an exotic and sensual creature. The former model for Andy Warhol and disco songstress had just hit her cinematic peak as a villain in the James Bond film A View to a Kill (alongside Christopher Walken!), and the transfer to starring as the titular bloodsucker here was a seamless one.

While most killers of the mid '80s fit the same profile - white men with traumatic pasts that guide their actions - Grace Jones' Katrina is a rare breed. She's presented as a villain who's completely in control of her actions, and one who is willingly choosing to partake in the deadly activities of the night. One of the few black women to be immortalized as a powerful villain in horror, it's an honor to look back at the Jamaican born Grace Jones and her small - but well-earned - place in horror history.

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