Antebellum is the latest in a long line of black horror movies such as Get Out, Us, and Blacula

A scene from Antebellum. Picture: Supplied
A scene from Antebellum. Picture: Supplied

Antebellum is one of the spate of recent African-American horror movies. While that description might be controversial, the cruelties of the slave system of the US South - and other elements - are sufficiently horrible to merit it.

And, of course, there's been Jordan Peele's Get Out - a horror film with a distinctive socio-political theme, dealing with race relations - and his more straightforward horror Us, apparently inspired by a Twilight Zone episode.

Each of these films had black creatives behind the camera as well as in front of it. That hasn't always been the case, and the depiction and treatment of black characters and stories in Hollywood horror movies has been variable.

Black comic actor Manton Moreland was featured in King of the Zombies (1941) in a stereotypical but scene-stealingly funny manservant role. Like many black actors of his time, he deserved better.

A much more serious film is I Walked With a Zombie (1943), despite its tabloidish title. This is an eerily atmospheric film, a transposition of Jane Eyre to the West Indies with calypso and voodoo.

In a later zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead (1968), the main character, Ben, is black and it isn't an issue. Director George Romero said the character was not written as black - Duane Jones was simply the most impressive actor who auditioned. But race is hard to avoid here - and gives the ending an extra jolt.

The blaxploitation craze of the 1970s gave rise to such efforts as Blacula ("Dracula's soul brother" as he's described in the trailer) and its sequel Scream, Blacula Scream, Abby (inspired by The Exorcist), Black Frankenstein (aka Blackenstein) and Dr Black, Mr Hyde. These riffs on well-known stories varied in seriousness and funkiness. I'm not sure if there's meant to be any political subtext in the ultra-low-budget, shot with a camcorder Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984), in which a virginal black woman finds a creepy doll that awakens her sexual appetite. The annoying Casio score only adds to the weirdness of this horror/soft porn hybrid.

As with any category, black horror ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.

This story Black horror: from scary to silly first appeared on The Canberra Times.