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6 POC horror films that will keep you awake at night

Ahead of Halloween, here's our top spooky szn cinematic triumphs you need to watch.

29 Oct 2022

If it was up to me, I’d opt to watch freaky shit all year round. As my version of a romantic comedy is Park Chan-Wook’s alluringly twisted film, The Handmaiden, I’ve swiftly grown to realise that a lot of my cinematic references are on the darker end of the spectrum. 

Throughout the 20th century, American horror was distinctly white-centric with other cultures often being exploited as a lazy scare tactic. Due to the success of films such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out, there has been more mainstream acceptance of more diverse voices within the genre. If you aren’t being lured out of your house by some demonic dances or untoward revelry this Halloween, here are some movies directed by and starring creatives of colour from around the globe to get you in the spirit.

Audition (1999)

If you are squeamish, you should stay away from any of the works of cult Japanese director Takashi Miike. Demarcating Audition from his other works is that here, the violence isn’t purely aesthetic. Goaded on by loneliness and his friend’s suggestions, widower Shigeharu Aoyama, played by horror veteran Ryo Ishibashi, agrees to put out a fake casting call and find his future wife under the guise of an audition. 

For some, that premise is stomach turning enough. Yet, the slow-burning build allows you to be lured in by the sleazy humdrum of a middle aged comedy. Until Shigeharu fixates on one woman, the apparently demure and appropriately docile Asami Yamazaki. From here, the film takes an unsettling turn. Some have lauded the film as a feminist turning point within the horror genre. While I don’t necessarily agree, I wouldn’t balk at borrowing items from Yamnazki’s wardrobe; her latex gloves are iconic. Although, I’ve never been able to look at wire, or even string, in the same way again.

Under the Shadow (2016)

Truly great films re-contextualise genre tropes. Iranian writer-director Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow does that and more. Haunted houses have a legacy throughout horror just as motherhood has been a site of terror in films such as Possession, Rosemary’s Baby and The Babadook – and Anvari examines both, imbuing each with a new meaning. As a director, it has always jarred me how a woman’s maternal instinct, or lack of, has spawned its own subgenre as if mummy issues are society’s biggest scourge. Yet here, Narges Rashidi’s performance as Shideh, and Avin Manshadi as her daughter Dorsa, elevates the story far beyond that. 

Set in 1988, Under the Shadow commences in the fallout of the Iraq-Iran war. Industrial wurrs of bombings intermingle with increasingly panicked sound of news reports. With the landing of a missile on Shideh’s roof, Anvari shows how a baseline of fear is far from fanciful. Simultaneously, we are provided an insight into the sacrifices made by a rebellious and intelligent mother. Here, one might side with the prying neighbours, to ask if Shideh is haunted by the promise of what could’ve been. Whilst Anvari knows how to execute a jump-cut, the most terrifying forces at play are far from supernatural. Towards the later part of the film, Shideh breaks free from the house’s chilling visions to find herself interrogated against the wall of a police station. In Under the Shadow, viewers are challenged to wonder whether reality could in fact be more terrifying than what is inside.

Dumplings (2004)

Rather than jump cuts, Fruit Chan Gor’s film deals in more of a disturbing and cannibalistic trade. Hypnotic hues of jade green and red sear out of the screen, courtesy of Christopher Doyle’s mesmerizing cinematography. Rather than simply relying on the grotesque consumption of flesh, the film functions as an unsettling metaphor for an increasingly capitalist and modernising Hong Kong. Desiring eternal youth, actress Mrs Li (Miriam Yeung) ventures to Aunt Mei, whose recipes apparently contain an antidote to aging. Within the dumplings, there is an unthinkable ingredient and as Mrs Li demands more, the pair schemes find a fresher source.

Atlantics (2019)

Whilst not a typical horror, Mati Diop’s striking film sleepwalks between worlds. Set in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, a group of young men are cheated of their wages forcing them out to sea. Left behind is Ada, played by Male Bineta Sana, whose love and loyalty seems to take on a supernatural quality. 

Against her will, Ada is led to marry a wealthy man named Omar. But, on the night of their wedding, an unexplained act of criminal damage occurs. Through the eyes of the investigating officer, Issa, we begin to see the wider impact of the missing men and visceral zombification of the women left behind. Scored by Fatima Al Qadiri, the film is a magical mediation on migration which lingers on the mind long after the credits fade. After wowing critics, the film won the Grand Prix at Cannes, making Diop the first Black woman director to be accepted into and win at the prestigious French festival.

Train to Busan (2016)

Garnering over 11 million movie-goers in South Korea, Train to Busan is a chaotic and tightly packed zombie horror. Like most gorefests involving the walking dead, one infected patient attempts to conceal their illness with disastrous consequences. Here, the film is centered around a father and his daughter who are trapped on a high-speed train from Seoul to Busan amidst a zombie apocalypse. Themes pertaining to South Korea’s class structure are loosely touched on but if you are looking for searing social commentary Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite might be a better bet. Nevertheless, the panic ricochets between passengers providing the foundation for one of the most entertaining zombie movies of recent times.

Ganja and Hess (1973)

Finally, an honorable mention has to go to the remarkable Ganja and Hess. Mystical daggers are wielded in this surreal and poetic world of Black vampires. Director Bill Gunn, famously commented that he didn’t want to make a ‘black vampire film’ in the tradition of Blackula, but his take goes far beyond the bloodsucking blaxploitation trope of the 1970s. The film had a profound impact on the horror canon inspiring auteurs, such as Spike Lee, and undoubtedly influencing works like Suicide by Sunlight by Sundance winning director Nikyatu Jusu.