Greetings Redmangoreaders. Editor Jules here. February is Black History Month in the US, and while we don’t celebrate it in Trinidad and Tobago (where RMR is based) I thought it would be a good time to do a list celebrating black characters in horror films. Now everyone knows the trope of the black guy (and more generally characters of colour) getting killed first (or at least very early) in a horror movie. But there are a few exceptions out there, and even some of the black characters who do bite the proverbial dust still deliver a memorable performance.
And so for this article we will be celebrating some of the black horror heroes who survived and some who died. Now this was a mammoth task for me to do alone, so I will be joined by the other two Redmangoreviews scribes: Senior Writer and Horror Head Writer Sommerleigh “Sommer” Pollonais, and Featured Writer Alice Oscura aka Dark Alice. Here are Six Black Horror Heroes Who Survived and Six Who Didn’t and beware SPOILERS for the following movies:
- Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
- Alien Vs Predator
- The People Under the Stairs
- I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
- Deep Blue Sea
- From Beyond
- Jason X
- Event Horizon
- The Thing (1982)
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
#6 Survived: Reggie aka Reggie the Reckless (Shavar Ross)— Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
Sommer: I’ll readily admit, calling Reggie a “hero” is a bit of a stretch. He’s most famous for his glass-shattering screams, and part of me thinks Jason is trying to kill him just to get some peace and quiet.
All kidding aside, Reggie makes the cut for me simply because he’s one of the best developed and memorable characters ever to come out of the Friday the 13th franchise. He’s the first one to try and make nice with Jason antagonist Tommy Jarvis, he also does his best to protect Pam as Jason tries to kill them, and his relationship with his big brother Demon, however short-lived on screen, was impressionable enough that you actually felt sad when Demon met the wrong end of a spike courtesy JV. Above all, Reggie manages to do what few characters of colour ever pull off in horror movies—he makes it to the end. And that makes him a hero in my book.
#5 Survived: Alexa “Lex” Woods (Sanaa Lathan)—Alien Vs. Predator
Alice: This movie is actually on my guilty pleasures movie list. I always go back to this one from time to time because seeing a human, especially a female, fight side by side with a Predator is very kickass! The actress’s real name is also super cool (Sanaa means “art” in Swahili) and she comes from some special stock. Her mother Eleanor McCoy performed on Broadway with Eartha Kitt and her father Stan Lathan worked as producer for iconic tv shows such as Sanford & Son and Def Comedy Jam. Now enough back story, lets get into the good stuff!
Lex Woods’ introduction is extremely mind-blowing as the shot pans unto the soon-to-be-heroine and Predator’s partner-in-survival climbing the side of a frozen mountain in Nepal. Upon their first encounter with a Predator, Lex doesn’t hesitate to swing a pickaxe aimed straight at its head. And even though she misses her natural reaction is so fluid that you are immediately drawn to the strength emanating from the character. And when she finally meets Scar (the Predator), Lex earns his respect by dispatching a Xenomorph right before eyes. And I am telling you guys right now if I saw that thing coming at me there is no freaking way that I would have the sense to impale it. I would probably need a change of shorts. Or scratch that—I’d be Alien food by now. After Scar arms Lex with a scooped out Xenomorph’s skull and a spear fashioned from its stinger the duo goes on to fight the Queen! Again, my girl doesn’t hesitate. She helps Scar to dispose of the Queen by sending her screeching into an icy water abyss. Suffice it to say Lex is no ordinary female; she’s a warrior that earned the respect and honour of an alien race. And plus she’s a survivor!
#4 Survived: Danny Rich (Ice Cube)—Anaconda
Editor Jules: Poor Danny Rich. Not only does he have to battle two giant man-eating anacondas, he also has to deal with Jon Voight and his horrifying Paraguayan accent. All kidding aside, Danny is one badass dude. He’s a cameraman of a documentary film crew in the Amazon searching for a mysterious tribe. But things take a deadly turn when they rescue snake hunter Paul Sarone (the aforementioned Voight).
Danny starts off as a bit of a stereotypical tough black dude from the streets of LA. He blasts loud rap music and threatens to kill the annoying Warren Westbridge. But when the head of the crew Dr Steven Cale is incapacitated it is Danny who steps up to be the support for director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez). And he is also the first to suspect something is amiss with Serrano. When the proverbial crap hits the fan he not only helps Terri take down Serano but also survives an anaconda attack, even hacking one of the two beasties to death after blowing it and its kiddies up. Take that you slithering bastard. Anaconda may have some cheesy, dated effects, but it is a fun popcorn flick, and Ice Cube (real name O’Shea Jackson) as Danny adds some welcome edge and grit to the campy proceedings. And for his unwavering bravery, he makes my black hero survivors list.
#3 Survived: Poindexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Quintin Adams)—The People Under the Stairs
Sommer: I have a lot of love for this classic, written and directed by horror icon Wes Craven. The story plays out like a twisted version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears with Adams playing the lead character of Fool. He is a young boy who learns his mom is dying of cancer and is persuaded by Leroy, a so-called family friend, to break into the house of a couple who everyone in the neighbourhood thinks is wealthy. Fool discovers this is no ordinary couple though, and has to fight for his life as he tries to escape from their house of horrors.
Unlike Reggie in Friday the 13th, Fool has street smarts, as growing up in the ghetto has taught him how to survive and forced him to be much more “adult” than most kids. He’s resilient, quick on his feet and very much a hero, as he doesn’t just try to save himself but also Alice, a teenage girl who is trapped in the house as well. He not only saves the day, but ends up saving his neighbourhood as well, proving without a doubt he’s nobody’s Fool.
#2 Survived: Karla Wilson (Brandy Norwood)—I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
Alice: This 90s slasher horror is one that I like to dust off every now and then when I don’t want to concentrate too hard but still get my horror fix. Although Brandy is not the main star, her character Karla Wilson is definitely noticeable in this film. Karla is Julie James’ (Jennifer Love Hewitt) new best friend. Julie still suffers from terrible nightmares from her last encounter with the Fisherman. Karla comes in as the type of friend that you would want to have when you are going through some crazy stuff. From the get-go she is your typical clothes-borrowing, forcing-you-to-party-even-though-you-don’t-feel-like-it kind of friend. But it goes much deeper as the plot moves along. When Karla answers a random phone call from a local radio station and wins tickets to the Bahamas, she doesn’t hesitate to bring her suffering friend Julie along. She also provides a possible new boy toy in the wake of Julie’s current boyfriend Ray’s (Freddie Prinze Jr.) disappointing no-show for the exciting trip.
However, when bodies start appearing and disappearing Karla doesn’t disappoint and sticks it out with Julie. This in itself is no easy feat when you have a deranged killer after you and your friends. In typical horror movie fashion (which is a shame) most of the time the black characters are usually the first ones to get picked off. However, Karla miraculously survives falling through a glass ceiling and several almost deadly encounters with the Fisherman. She continually fights for her life and never once chooses to just hide away and leave Julie to her own problem. Just saying you’d probably want a quirky best friend like Karla any day of the week, or on a failed vacation where you have to run for life from a psychotic and obsessed killer with a hook!
The actress herself is also an accomplished singer, song writer, record producer and businesswoman. Plus her cousin is the famous American rapper Snoop Dogg.
#1 Survived: Preacher (LL Cool J)—Deep Blue Sea
Editor Jules: When most people think of this 1999 Sci Fi horror they remember Samuel L. Jackson’s corporate executive character Russell Franklin being shockingly eaten by a shark in one of the worst CGI sequences ever put the film. But this is the last entry on the Survived Black Heroes list, so because Mr Franklin became fish food he is out.
For this entry we have LL Cool J’s cool character Preacher. Now he just seemed designed to get killed. On a marine station where three genetically engineered mako sharks become super smart and go on a killing spree and you’re the sole person of colour, the cook and the comic relief? Man, kiss your black ass goodbye. He even acknowledges in the film that black people don’t survive these kinds of situations. But Deep Blue Sea subverts the trope and has Preacher survive multiple shark encounters. He also incinerates one singlehanded after they chomp on his foul-mouthed parrot, and helps Thomas Jane’s shark wrangler Carter Blake blow up the last one in the film’s climax.
And Preacher is a fun, witty character and shows surprising ingenuity when dealing with man-eating super sharks. He also has some of the best lines in the film including his version of Einstein’s theory of relativity and a prayer remix of Psalm 23 that includes a cuss word and demon sharks that is surprisingly inspiring. He ends the film seriously wounded but still with his humour intact, joking about returning to the ghetto where it’s safer. The rapper (real name James Todd Smith) also did a song for the film’s soundtrack called Deepest Bluest where he becomes a metaphorical shark. You defeat the sharks, and then you become the shark? Yeah, I can dig it. LL also survived Halloween: H20 and the butcher-knife loving Michael Myers, so you gotta bring it if you wanna take down the Cool one.
Well those were the black heroes who survived. Now on to the fallen heroes.
#6 Fallen: Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree)—From Beyond
Sommer: Let’s get this out of the way—Bubba Brownlee has to be one of THE WORST names ever chosen for a black character in a movie! Now that we’ve settled that, Ken Foree, one of the few black actors who has a solid resume of horror films under his belt (Dawn of the Dead (1978 and cameo in 2004 remake), Bad Moon Rising, The Devil’s Rejects and a ton of others), is considered by horror fans as a true icon of the genre.
He’s had many a memorable role, but it’s his turn in From Beyond that I’m most fond of. Here he plays a detective who accompanies a couple of scientists to a house where one of their colleagues has invented a machine that can open portals to a nightmarish world. Bubba is the voice of reason in all this madness and when things go from zero to Lovecraft, it’s Bubba who steps up to save the day. Sadly, bullets don’t work that well against supernatural entities and Bubba dies horrifically. But he goes out like the hero he was, saving someone’s life. So for that I salute you Bubba, ridiculous name and all.
#5 Fallen: Sergeant Brodski (Peter Mensah)—Jason X
Alice: Although Jason Voorhees in outer space is very far fetched, you’ve got some pretty interesting and entertaining characters here. But the most badass character for me is Sergeant Brodski. You’ve got to love a character that’s brave enough to take on Jason head-to-head whilst whipping out that iconic line of “It’s gonna take more than a poke in the ribs to put down this old dog (Jason stabs him through the chest again)…Yeah, that oughta do it.”
After almost dying from his wounds from his encounter with Jason he is miraculously healed by nanotechnology. And lucky for the remaining survivors, because Brodski ends up donning a special suit to go outside of the ship to fix a power failure with a docking door while Jason is distracted by a trippy Camp Crystal Lake hologram simulation. When Jason tries one last ditch effort to kill the survivors Brodski, still in his suit, neck locks Jason and pulls him off the escape vessel. The two burn up in the atmosphere, Brodski sacrificing himself to save everyone. How very operatic and intense is that exit, huh?
Peter Mensah was born in Ghana but grew up in England and he is a martial arts expert. So no wonder he could stand up to Jason Voorhees!
#4 Fallen: Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne)—Event Horizon
Editor Jules: Now I was considering the character of Julius Gaw from Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan for this entry but I changed my mind for three reasons: one, we already had the franchise twice on this list; two, while Julius features in a memorable scene where he bravely (or foolishly) boxes with Jason and then gets hilariously decapitated with an uppercut, the character himself is very arrogant and one note and not much of a hero by any metric; and three, I thought we could do with some more Sci Fi horror on this list. So that brings me to Laurence Fishburne’s Captain Miller in the macabre 1997 Sci Fi horror film Event Horizon.
Miller is the captain of the vessel the Lewis and Clark which was sent to investigate the Event Horizon, a starship which disappeared seven years prior on its maiden voyage. But unfortunately for the crew the ship took a trip to a hellish dimension and has returned as a sentient house of horrors bent on destruction. The Event Horizon “gifts” the crew with horrible visions, and Miller himself is haunted by a subordinate named Corrick who he was forced to leave to his death. But despite this, and having to deal with various mechanical issues and the increasing mental instability of Event Horizon designer Dr Weir, Miller always keeps a level head. When Weir goes full hell spawn and destroys the Lewis and Clark it is Miller who comes up with the idea to split the Event Horizon in two, destroying one half and using the other as a life boat. But when he is attacked by a resurrected Dr Weir he detonates the explosives, sacrificing himself to save his three surviving crew members. Now if that isn’t captain material I don’t know what is.
Before this film Fishburne had previously picked up some genre (and horror) cred with a small role a decade prior in Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors and would be cemented as a genre star with his turn as Morpheus in The Matrix trilogy.
#3 Fallen: Childs (Keith David)—The Thing (1982)
Sommer: I came here to chew bubblegum and cause heated debates, and I just ran out of gum! Not quite the original line, but it’s from another movie that starred the man with the golden voice, Keith David. Another horror icon in his own right, his role as Childs was the first time I saw him on-screen, but it would definitely not be the last.
Childs was a mechanic stationed at the doomed American Antarctic station, US Outpost 31. He along with the other men there end up having to face someTHING (see what I did there?) much more terrifying than frostbite when an alien entity infiltrates them. And it an entity that can take the shape of anyone. Now I’m a huge fan of this movie. Actually, it’s my favourite horror movie OF ALL TIME! That said, I don’t think of any of these guys, including our main protagonist MacReady (Kurt Russell) or Childs, as “heroes”. At least, not in the basic sense of the word. These are a bunch of guys who are trying to survive something inexplicable, and in doing so tend to turn on each other out of paranoia and fear.
That said, when the dust (or in this case, snow) settles, the only two remaining are MacReady and Childs. Or maybe, there’s only one! I sit firmly on the side of the fence that believes Childs is dead and The Thing has taken his form. It’s all about the final shot of them sharing a drink as the camp burns and they’re stuck out in the unrelenting snow. MacReady’s breath is visible, as it should be in the cold weather, but Childs? Well go back and take a look for yourself, then tell me what you think. But for this horror fan, the real Childs is as ice cold as the land of Antarctica itself.
#2 Fallen: Evelyn (Alfre Woodard)—Annabelle
Alice: Evelyn is one of the characters most undeserving of a death in a horror movie, and Woodard’s performance is powerful enough to draw the attention away from the main character Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis). Upon Evelyn’s first encounter with Mia, the bookseller senses the imminent danger following her and her baby daughter, Leah. Evelyn is a melancholic character with a painful past due to the untimely death of her daughter Ruby in a car accident for which she blames herself. She has an extremely nurturing nature which came at a particularly crucial time for Mia. I mean, a demonic entity does want to take her baby’s soul!
When Mia decides to sacrifice herself in order to save baby Leah she attempts to commit suicide by jumping out the window. However, Evelyn manages to stop her and takes her own life by taking Mia’s place, which serves as a form of atonement for the car accident which caused her daughter tragic death. Evelyn’s sacrifice restores normalcy to Mia’s life and family. One can only hope that Evelyn was happily reunited with her daughter in death because of her final act of heroism.
Alfre Woodard is an accomplished actress whose career spans over 40 years. She is also a board member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a political activist.
#1 Fallen: Ben (Duane Jones)—Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Editor Jules: For the last of our fallen black heroes we take it all the way back to 1978 and Ben, the hero of George A. Romero’s iconic zombie film.
After Barbara’s brother gets attacked by ghouls in the cemetery she flees for her life. She makes it to a farmhouse and meets Ben and some other survivors. Now we don’t know anything about Ben, neither who he is nor where he comes from. We just see him spring into action securing the farm house. He is a man of action, a tactician, and a natural born leader, and has to both placate the traumatised Barbara and deal with the cowardly Harry. He bravely leaves the farmhouse and slays ghouls in an attempt to escape via a car but it goes horribly wrong. Though at least the ghouls had the benefit of a barbecued meal.
Even when his fellow survivors get taken out, including ostensible protagonist Barbara, he never loses his cool but soldiers on.When the night is over it is only Ben who survives to see the dawn. But in one of the most tragic and heart wrenching scenes in all of cinema he is mistaken for a ghoul by a member of a ghoul-exterminating posse and is shot in the head. His body is then thrown into a heap with the dead (or more dead) ghouls, and burned in snapshot scenes that will sear into your consciousness. Now much has been said and written about the racial connotations of the character, but suffice it to say that a non-stereotypical black hero in 1968 was quite revolutionary. Tony Todd also did a solid job as Ben in the 1990 remake but it is the original that is the superior and more memorable version. So much praise goes to actor Duane Jones for his fantastic performance and to Romero for giving us a black horror hero for the ages.
Well that’s our list. Know of any black horror heroes that we missed out? Feel free to hit us up in the comments. And you can check out more great horror lists below:
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD always gets praised for having as its hero a black man. And as Ben, Duane Jones is certainly heroic looking and heroic sounding. He takes charge. He’s resourceful and courageous. He offers hope to the others that they will survive the night. He makes plans. Unfortunately those plans also get everybody killed. Next time you watch the movie, watch it a little more carefully. Each and every thing that Ben does ends up getting somebody killed. Ironically, Ben survives the attack of the zombies by doing what Harry said right from the start: go in the basement and be quiet. Ben’s turning on all the lights and making all that noise is what draws all the zombies to the farmhouse in the first place. Makes me wonder if the statement the movie is making about having a black man as the hero isn’t the one that everybody praises it for.
Ben does make mistakes but the explosion with the car for example was due to the couple’s negligence so you can’t blame that on him. And remember the basement was also where Harry and his wife get killed by their zombie daughter. So it was only safe after she was taken out. And the threat of them being trapped in the basement was a real one. A hero doesn’t mean always marking the right choices. But of all the characters he tried his best. And a movie with them hiding out in the basement and then walking out to safety after wouldn’t have been much of a movie. He’s still a hero in my book.