Types of Black Horror Movie Characters

Be they stereotypes or monotypes, they’re the “types” that most black characters in horror films inevitably fall into…

1. The Spook

Sammy
“Sunshine” Sammy Morrison in Ghosts on the Loose

As the name implies, the spook is spooked by all things spooky. Typically the comic sidekick, he’s often spared from death by his ability to make people laugh. The “classic spook” (most widely represented by Mantan Moreland and the catchphrase often attributed to him, “Feets, don’t fail me now!”), judged by today’s standards, is painful and dated, but no less painful than the “modern spook” who masks fear with much attitude and cussing (as in “Fuck that, I ain’t going in there!”).

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2. The Primitive

Primitives with Fay Wray in King Kong
Primitives menace Fay Wray in King Kong

Usually hailing from deepest Africa, the malignant primitive has little on his body except a grass skirt and little on his mind except killing. Traveling in packs, he and his homies dance around campfires with masks and painted faces to rile each other up to a pitch suitable for killing. He tends to utter nonsensical phrases such as “Ooga-booga!” when attacking the heroes and “Aaiiieee!” when he meets his eventual maker. The benign primitive, or “prey”, meanwhile is a more solitary figure who either seeks to help the white heroes — for instance, by acting as a human shield when the malignant primitives attack — or just waits around patiently to be eaten by a mutated jungle animal.

Examples: Any of hundreds of extras in…

3. The Mystical Darkie

Ruby Dee in Stephen King's The Stand
Ruby Dee in The Stand

To be a mystical darkie, one must be: a) mystical and b) dark. It also helps to have a soft spot in your heart for the white lead character, whom the mystical darkie invariably helps, even at the expense of his own life. (Mystical darkies are nice, but dumb.) A personal favorite of Stephen King.

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4. The Voodoo Doer

Malick Bowens as Palo in The Believers
Malick Bowens in The Believers

Somewhere between the primitive and the mystical darkie lies the voodoo doer, who combines the dress and malicious intent of the malignant primitive with the magical powers of the mystical darkie. The voodoo doer is generally more civilized than the primitive, as he may not act unless he feels he’s been wronged, and he may actually not speak gibberish! He tends to hail from the Caribbean and often occupies a venerable, if feared, position amongst his people for his ability to be a prick.

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5. The Heroic Death Wisher

Charles Dutton in Mimic
Charles Dutton in Mimic

Typically a friend or co-worker of the white star, he bides his time for most of the film, waiting until the monster or killer or zombie or alien is just about to kill or eat or impregnate the star…then he springs into action, sacrificing himself to save the designated “hero”, often uttering the line, “Save yourself!” as he takes his last breath. He tends to die quite violently, heightening the heroism of the death. An alternate version is the “Heroic Death by Default,” in which the black character feels obliged to sacrifice himself because he’s been mortally wounded or because another character is so vital or has such a specific skill set that they can’t be allowed to risk their own life.

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6. The Ghetto Dweller

Coolio in Red Water
Coolio in Red Water

A petty thug who talks big but ends up cowering in fear, the ghetto dweller is like the modern spook without the sense of humor. He may occupy a small role — as in the standard “punk kids try to mug someone in an alley, not realizing that he’s a supernatural being who’s gonna lop their heads off” scene — or he may be one of the major players — say, one of a group of people holed up inside a house trying to find a way out, or trying to keep something from coming in. He’s crude, brash, and wants to be in charge of the situation, meaning he will die, and die hard…with a vengeance!

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7. The Seductress

Lisa Bonet
Lisa Bonet in Angel Heart

It’s hard to resist this sexy vixen when she (or he, for that matter) shakes her mocha latte in your face, but try not to take a sip. Chances are, she’s either a vampire, a werewolf, a voodoo priestess, or has crabs.

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8. The Authority Figure

Al Matthews in Aliens
Al Matthews in Aliens

The authority figure was born out of a well-meaning effort to promote positive black “types”, though the end result is a dull, one-dimensional figure who usually plays the “heavy” (police chief, drill sergeant, judge, coach, etc.), yelling at the hero for his “reckless tactics”. The authority figure often ends up surviving because he’s so useless, he doesn’t even take part in the action.

Examples:

  • Al Matthews, Aliens
  • Angela Bassett, Innocent Blood
  • Flex Alexander, The Hills Have Eyes 2
  • Idris Elba, 28 Weeks Later
  • Nichelle Nichols, The Supernaturals
  • Mel Stewart, Dead Heat
  • Michael Dorn, A.I. Assault
  • Sam Scarber, Shocker
  • Gilbert Lewis, Candyman
  • Lloyd Hollar, The Crazies
  • Ron Canada, Pinocchio’s Revenge
  • Ray Davis, Tail Sting

9. The Brute

Darby Jones as Carrefour in I Walked with a Zombie
Darby Jones as Carrefour in I Walked with a Zombie

An outgrowth of the classic big black buck, the man-of-few-words brute is a bit less crazed and outgoing than his stereotype ancestor. He’s also not as lascivious, although the sexual threat is certainly present in his tendency to throw white women over his shoulder and lumber off into the jungle.

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10. The Voice of Reason

Bill Cobbs in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
Bill Cobbs in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer

This old-timer has been around long enough to know trouble when he sees it, so heed his warning: you do not want to go into those woods! Still, you’d think he’d know better and get the hell out of there, too, but hey, he’s lived a full life. A more youthful version of the voice of reason is the “I’m black so I must know about this voodoo curse that you’re suffering from” friend.

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11. The Sidekick

Mario Van Peebles in Jaws: The Revenge
Mario Van Peebles in Jaws: The Revenge

Like the heroic death wisher without the heroism, the sidekick is just along for the ride. He’s not particularly scared, like the spook, but he’s not about to take a bullet for the star, either. Still, if you’re not the lead in a horror movie, you’re basically there to pad the body count. The sidekick helps to add to the gravitas of the film by allowing the hero to stand over his dead body and yell to the skies, “Noooooooooo!”

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12. The Rapper

Ice Cube in Anaconda
Ice Cube in Anaconda

The newest of the types, the rapper has difficulty separating his stage persona from that of an actor on screen, so in order to avoid alienating his fan base, he tends to come into a film with a chance of survival proportionate to his established fan base. Thus, LL Cool J and Ice Cube live; Coolio not so much.

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13. “The Black Guy”

Robert Ri'chard in House of Wax
Robert Ri’chard in House of Wax

Originating in the late ’70s or early ’80s as the start of the slasher craze coincided with the end of the blaxploitation era, the black guy grew out a greater sense of racial inclusion coupled with a greater need for people to kill. As unemployed blaxploitation stars flooded the acting pool, they were swiped up and stuffed into flat, no-personality roles whose only distinguishing feature was race. The soon obligatory “black guy” took his place amongst the disposable teen fodder that included the jock, the slut, the nerd, the goth chick, and the preppie in the patented “they would never hang out in real life” gang. The black guy often appears solo, although he’s sometimes given a mate, “the black girl”, to allay fears of miscegenation. Later, in the wake of Diehard and Aliens, the multi-cultural terrorist and/or military unit led to a reincarnation of the black guy as “the black guy with a gun”.

Examples:

  • Miguel Nunez, Jr., Return of the Living Dead
  • Robert Ri’chard, House of Wax
  • Mary Randle, Hollow Man
  • Isaiah Washington, Ghost Ship
  • DeRay Davis, The Fog
  • Renee Jones, Friday the 13th Part VI
  • Hill Harper, Pumpkinhead II
  • Leslie Speights, One Dark Night
  • Paul James, Cry Wolf
  • Taurean Blacque, Deepstar Six
  • Ernie Hudson, Leviathan

14. The Star

Halle Berry in Gothika
Halle Berry in Gothika

A rare breed, the star appears maybe once every year or two (not counting all-black horror films, which by definition have black stars). Since he headlines or co-headlines the film, all rules about him dying are off. He probably won’t, but if he does die, it’ll be in a blaze of glory, Thelma & Louise-style, except he’ll take the bad guy(s) along with him, saving the universe, the planet, or at least the block.

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