Black Is Back! Retribution and the Urban Terrain: 1990s
The horror ﬁ lm genre celebrated its ﬁ rst century in high, cinematic style by offering what can only be described as “prestige” horror ﬁ lms. 2 The Silence of the Lambs (1991), directed by Jonathan Demme, took its horror seriously, enlisting Academy Award winner Jodie Foster and nominee Anthony Hopkins to deliver nauseating, psychological chills. Respecting the genre paid off, with Lambs going on to earn a whopping ﬁ ve Oscars — Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing. The ﬁ lm set the stage for an exciting, horror-ﬁ lled decade. Neil Jordan’s Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) brought sexy back to horror with a matinee idol triple-threat through Antonio Banderas, Tom Cruise, and Brad Pitt. That strategy worked as well, securing the ﬁ lm two Oscar nominations, and over a dozen other cinema awards. As Abbott notes, the 1990s represented America’s love affair with horror, with Hollywood putting some serious star power and big budgets behind their horror ﬁ lm efforts. 3 Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola, of The Godfather trilogy fame (1972, 1974, 1990), took on the task of directing Dracula (1992). Actor Jack Nicholson, the winner of two Oscars and the star of the horror ﬁ lm The Shining (1980), returned to horror in Wolf (1994). Likewise, actor Robert De Niro, also a double Oscar winner ( The Godfather, Part II ; Raging Bull ) and star of the horror ﬁ lm Angel Heart (1987), revisited the genre to star as the Creature in Frankenstein (1994). There were more ﬁ lms — many, many more — in the 1990s, such as the action/monster blockbuster movie The Mummy (1999) and the haunting,
desperately sad The Sixth Sense (1999). And then there was the surprise hit of the decade, The Blair Witch Project (1999), made for less than $100,000 but driven to box ofﬁ ce gold (to the tune of over $130 million in its ﬁ rst few weeks of release) by drumming up internet buzz. Horror had become so sizzling hot that, in 2004 while riding the wave of popularity generated by 1999’s The Mummy and The Mummy Returns (2001), Universal Studios Hollywood theme park even introduced its rollercoaster, Revenge of the Mummy — the Ride. 4
Black participation in these prestige horror ﬁ lms was notably limited, begging the question, what did the horror genre mean for Blacks in the 1990s? The good news was that “Black horror” was back with a vengeance (pun intended) in the decade, with a force that had not been seen since the 1970s Blaxploitation-era horror cycle. One stand-out ﬁ lm, Def by Temptation (1990), was reminiscent of Spencer Williams’ 1940s religious-horror ﬁ lms The Blood of Jesus (1941) and Go Down, Death (1944), breathing new, scary life into morality messages. Likewise, “Black horror” ﬁ lms such as Tales from the Hood (1995) updated the Black Power message offered in ﬁ lms such as Sugar Hill (1974), to address the wave of gang and drug violence plaguing some Black communities. More importantly, ﬁ nally, in the 1990s there was plain ole “Black horror” monster movies, such as The Embalmer (1996), in which Blacks got to slash and scream, live and die just like anybody else featured in the genre.