Black Horror Movies And Their Greater Social Impact From Blacula to Candy Man, black people and horror movies go way back. For more on the films' social impact, Farai Chideya speaks with professor Stephane Dunn and actor Tony Todd, who played the legendary horror icon, Candyman.
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Black Horror Movies And Their Greater Social Impact

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Black Horror Movies And Their Greater Social Impact

Black Horror Movies And Their Greater Social Impact

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(Soundbite of movie "Blacula")

Mr. WILLIAM MARSHALL: (as Blacula) Welcome to a night of total terror.

Unidentified Woman: Hah!

Unidentified Man #2: Dracula! The black avenger.

Mr. MARSHALL: (as Blacula) Aah!

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

OK. Sound effects have come a long way. We're talking about "Blacula," "Night of the Living Dead," "Candyman," "Bones." Black people in horror movies go way back. No, black folks are not always the first to die - thank you very much. For more on the world of black horror movies we have with us Stephane Dunn, an assistant professor of English at Morehouse College, and actor Tony Todd, who played the legendary horror icon, the Candyman. Happy Halloween, guys.

Ms. STEPHAE DUNN (Assistant Professor of English, Morehouse College): Happy Halloween, Farai. How are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great.

Mr. TONY TODD (Actor, "Candyman"): Good afternoon, everybody. Hi, Stephane.

Ms. DUNN: Hi, Tony.

CHIDEYA: So, some people love them, some people hate them. I happen to love them - the crazed killers, scantily clad coeds, people dripping ooze, any of that. Maybe it could also be the fact that horror movies break down social conventions, and horror films and black films do have a certain overlap zone. So Stephanie, you've done some research on specifically black exploitation films and cult cinema that - that overlaps the horror zone - what have you found out?

Ms. DUNN: Well, for one thing AIP - that's America International Pictures - put out a lot of the classical black exploitation films. That's where we have Jack Hills' Coffee in "Foxy Brown." But at first they were doing a lot of horror films, for example, 1974 "Vampira" with Teresa Graves who was later "Get Christy Love," and they also put out "Blacula" in 1972. And so there are elements that we see in the black exploitation films that borrowed nicely if you will, that parallel what we see in the horror films that America International Pictures invested in in the early 1970s.

CHIDEYA: Tony, "Candyman" is not of the same genre, it's this film that unfolds in a certain very stratified, very specific, divided world of race and class. How would you describe what kind of a film "Candyman" is?

Mr. TODD: Well, I think it's a direct by-product of urban mythology. The director Bernard Rose approached me because he had seen some work I had done and a project I did in Africa called the "Last Elephant" with James Earl Jones. And he says, you know, you play a Masai warrior, and that's the kind of concept I have. And I wasn't really familiar with Clive Buckley's work but I read the "Forbidden." Clive had a - I mean, Bernard had an interesting take at transposing at the Chicago. We went to do some research and things worked out, and before I knew it we had Philip Glass along, and you know, Virginia Madsen, Vanessa Williams, Kasi Lemmons, and we had a great cast and a great time in the cities(ph) of Chicago. So to this day, 16 years later, not (unintelligible) acknowledge that - that moment of cinema. I think it was a triumph, you know, in some social - we've talked about conventions breaking down. This guy actually survived for 99 percent of the movie, you know.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. TODD: And it was...

CHIDEYA: But anti-hero...

Mr. TODD: Yeah, and it was a love story originally intended, you know. And the studio got a little nervous at the last minute, it cut some key scenes. But what remains is still that attraction that's between the two characters, and what one will do for the other in terms of undying love and so forth.

CHIDEYA: Well, we have a little bit of the original "Night of the Living Dead" and also of "Candyman." I'm hoping that...

Mr. TODD: Plain great Dwayne Jones.

CHIDEYA: I'm hoping we could take a listen to "Candyman."

(Soundbite of movie "The Candyman")

Mr. TONY TODD: (As The Candyman) We have a bargain.

Ms. VIRGINIA MADSEN: (As Helen Lyle) But I'm afraid.

Mr. TODD: (As The Candyman) Do you feel the pain, always beyond?

Ms. MADSEN: (As Helen Lyle) Both.

Mr. TODD: (As The Candyman) The pain I can assure you will be exquisite.

CHIDEYA: So, tell me about the love story aspect of "Candyman."

Mr. TODD: Well, we had - wouldn't - Bernard gave me the script, we did some Renaissance body work, Virginia and I, we said six months to do horseback riding and fencing, all the elegant "Phantom of the Opera" type thing. And if you know the back story of "Candyman," he was a painter at the turn of the century, and he fell in love with quote, unquote "the wrong person" and then he was lynched and castrated and had his arm cut off. So it's the ghoul of the spirit of this person who was an artist whose father was a shoe cobbler. He just wanted to be in love that, you know, he was forced to follow this person through eternity. So...

CHIDEYA: Stephanie, that's - you know, it's very interesting because you've got a lot of history and rebellion tied up in that narrative. Are horror movies generally about rebellion or are they more just about just, you know, kind of making the adrenal gland you know, all your adrenaline pump?

Ms. DUNN: I think that it's a combination, they're definitely about the former. But Stephen King wrote this great essay that it's called something like 'why we crave for, you know, films.' And he suggested this feeds something in us. We get some distance right from the horror because we're not in it, so to speak. Right? But it feeds a sort of natural inclination to be thrilled by and excited by the horrific if you will. So we have this sort of investment, we could have this sort of spectator pleasure - right - in all of this, you know, surreal, sort of scary blood.

It's almost sort of let's - sort of like an outlet, I think. But there are also some subversive, I think elements to horror films. There's the rebellion - that's why you have a lot of horror films sort of revolving around - right - aliens and right people who were, you know, the living dead sort of type of people. And we have this mix there.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me jump in and play a little bit from "Night of the Living Dead." That was back from 1968 and one of the first horror films - big horror films to have a black man as the protagonist. Here's the hero Ben and another survivor hiding in a house surrounded by flesh-eating zombies.

(Soundbite of movie "Night of the Living Dead")

Unidentified Woman: Help me, please.

Mr. DUANE JONES: (As Ben) For the (unintelligible).

Unidentified Woman: Don't you understand my brother is alone.

Mr. JONES: (As Ben) Your brother is dead.

Unidentified Woman: No!

CHIDEYA: What about the racial elements of a scene like that?

Ms. DUNN: You know what, what's interesting about that film is that - is the way it consciously does not really acknowledge race in the sense of Ben in his relationship with the other characters. So for example there's the white man, older white man, Mr. Cooper, who Ben is at odds with throughout the film. So all through this film Ben gets to, you know, curse him out, tell him you know, you could be the boss downstairs, I'll be the boss upstairs. And he basically gets to be in control in terms of determining the moves that the other survivors and he make. But it's at really - I think at the end of the film that you get a little bit of a hint as to some of the possible racial implications because of what happens to Ben, and why it happens to him, and that is how he's killed.

CHIDEYA: All right. Tony, you do so many different types of acting in addition to doing stage work, you're also in "24" entering its seventh season.

Mr. TODD: Yeah.

CHIDEYA: And also you got something...

Mr. TODD: Which we had to go to Africa to shoot, by the way, in the south of South Africa....

CHIDEYA: Oh, I'm excited about that. Also on BET with something called "Night Tales." Tell us just quickly about that.

Mr. TODD: Well, "Night Tales" debuts tonight. It's a film I've made with this black film like you're in some sacramental(ph) called "Beyond Taylor," and it's a very interesting thing. BET picked it up and they're broadcasting it like four times a night.

CHIDEYA: All right.

Mr. TODD: So flavorfully, there's a host.

CHIDEYA: Oh-oh.

Mr. TODD: Oh-oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: I'm scared right now.

Mr. TODD: But I think that's (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: If nothing else...

Mr. TODD: That is...

CHIDEYA: If nothing else, that'll get me scared.

Mr. TODD: Anyway...

CHIDEYA: Tony and Stephane, Happy Halloween again!

Mr. TODD: Happy Halloween.

Ms. DUNN: Happy Halloween, Farai. Happy Halloween, Tony.

Mr. TODD: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: We've been speaking to actor Tony Todd who played the legendary horror icon "Candyman," he joined us from NPR West, and Stephane Dunn, assistant professor of English at Morehouse College. I'm Farai Chideya, and this is News & Notes.

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