Where would Hollywood be without its many tropes? There’s the boy-meets-girl love story, the ashy-to-classy come-up, the exceptional-American-saves-the-world triumph. But when it comes to horror films, we’ve all shouted at enough movie theaters screens to be woefully aware of one of the more frustrating clichés: Black folks succumbing to unhappy endings.
In its most extreme examples, Black actors are killed off as early as possible—storyline sacrifices to establish the danger and stakes facing the surviving characters. While it’s been great to see more of our skinfolk on-screen as the years have gone by, can they at least get comfy and stick around for a bit? It’s not like we’re out here tripping and falling while fleeing the killer or foolishly investigating the source of a scary situation. (Tropes gon' trope!)
While Black people in horror films so often serve as offerings who are outlived by their counterparts, what happens when everyone in the spooky scenario is melanated? That hypothetical is pondered in The Blackening, an upcoming parody horror film that pokes fun (and very sharp objects) at the aforementioned scriptwriting device by exclusively placing Black characters in a remote house on a Juneteenth getaway with a would-be slasher intent on taking out the Blackest of the Black. Hijinks and hilarity ensue.
Related: Are You Ready for The Blackening?
Until The Blackening touches down (in theaters beginning June 16, 2023), LEVEL retraces the dark and occasionally ridiculous history of Black horror film characters seeing their demise too soon. Pour out a lil’ liquor for these big-screen G’s.
Spider Baby (1967)
Played by: Mantan Moreland
Cause of death: Ignoring all of the red flags
R.I.P. to the Black horror OG. Tasked with delivering a letter to the home of a genetically cursed family, Messenger ignores all of the suspect signs—wary and skittish neighbors, a house that has some real spooky vibes—and sticks his head into an open window in an attempt to do his job. In a compromised position, he’s entrapped and hacked to pieces.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Played by: Duane Jones
Cause of death: Being Black around
zombies the police
Ben was the last man standing in this seminal zombie flick. But after escaping hordes of the undead, one of the earliest Black horror protagonists was gunned down by officers, who, in an absurd case of mistaken identity, believed him to be a ghoul. SMH.
Character: Tina Williams/Luva; Prince Mamuwalde/Blacula
Played by: Vonetta McGee; William Marshall
Cause of death: Undying Black love
How’s this for a supernatural drama: Lt. Jack Peters encounters newly transitioned vampire Tina in a coffin. Mistaking her for Blacula, another vamp who’d been on a killing spree, Peters stabs her in the heart with a stake. A grief-stricken Blacula later climbs to the roof of a building and allows the morning sun to let it burn, no Usher.
Beware the Blob (1972)
Character: Chester Hargis; Marian Hargis
Played by: Godfrey Cambridge; Marlene Clark
Cause of death: Being ingested
The sequel to The Blob begins with Hargis returning from the Arctic with a frozen specimen we soon discover to be The Blob. Through Hargis’ ineptitude, The Blob thaws and reanimates, consuming an insect, a (white) cat, and Hargis’ (Black) wife. Hargis is next, eaten whole while watching the original Blob on television because, hey, why not go full meta? Word to The Zuck.
The Shining (1980)
Character: Dick Hallorann
Played by: Scatman Crothers
Cause of death: REDЯUM
The archetypical sacrificial negro, Hallorann gets impaled by Jack Torrence’s ax after sensing danger at the Overlook Hotel. His death would not be in vain, though; Wendy and Danny Torrance escaped in Hallorann’s car.
Blood Tide (1982)
Played by: James Earl Jones
Cause of death: Kamikaze mission
Blood Tide (not to be confused with Crimson Tide) is the rare instance where a Black character’s actions spells trouble for white folks. Frye, a treasure hunter, steals Neil and Sherry’s boat to go on an undersea treasure hunt. When he detonates an explosive to clear a path, he awakens a monster. The movie ends with Frye using another bomb to kill the sea creature—and himself.
Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Character: Roland Kincaid
Played by: Ken Sagoes
Cause of death: G(ut) check
Kincaid is among the Black horror GOATs, having survived the gore and murder of Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Unfortunately, Freddy Kruger’s anti-Blackness couldn’t let that stand. In the opening scene of Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Freddy drives his razored hand into Kincaid's stomach. Being the G he is, Kincaid tells Freddy: “See you in hell.” Freddy’s response? “Tell them I sent you.”
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Character: Julius Gaw
Played by: Vincent Craig Dupree
Cause of death: Johnny Cage-esque fatality
Trapped on a New York City rooftop, amateur boxer Julius shoots the fade with Jason, battering him with nearly 30 punches. Jason, unfazed, grabs Julius and knocks his block off, sending his head rolling off the roof and into a dumpster, Mortal Kombat style.
Def By Temptation (1990)
Played by: Cynthia Bond
Cause of death: The power and glory of Jesus Christ almighty
What in the T.D. Jakes is going on here? Black bodies pile up in this self-righteous film about a succubus (Temptress) who murders men after bedding them like a duvet. Her serial seduction is brought to an end when protagonist Joel—who has been struggling with his faith—grabs a cross and rebukes her for her sins. Let the church say… Yikes!
Dr. Giggles (1992)
Character: Trotter; Leigh; Officer Joe Reitz
Played by: Doug E. Doug; Denise “Dee” Barnes; Keith Diamond
Cause of death: Medical malpractice
How do you mend a broken heart? Hint: It’s not unaliving everyone in your path in an attempt to find a replacement organ. That was the M.O. of Dr. Giggles, who deaded one romantic couple in cartoonish fashion before hacking the Black cop who was hot on his trail.
Scream 2 (1997)
Character: Phil Stevens; Maureen Evans
Played by: Omar Epps; Jada Pinkett Smith
Cause of death: Poor public bathroom etiquette
One of the most blatant instances of Black folks dying first in a horror movie, these two lovers don't even make it past the opening scene. Making matters worse, Phil dies by not doing the one thing Black people do best: minding our own damn business.
Character: Policeman Leonard Norton
Played by: Charles S. Dutton
Cause of death: Lack of bug spray
Officer Norton is trapped underground with a group of scientists and an impending threat: a swarm of giant, genetically modified insects that are quickly taking over the city. In an effort to save the scientists, an injured Norton leaves the pack, hoping his blood will lure the insects away from the others. Solid as a Roc.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Character: John F. Kennedy
Played by: Ossie Davis
Cause of death: Cardiac arrest due to a ridiculous-ass plot
In what is easily one of the wildest horror movie storylines (and titles) you’ll come across, President Kennedy survives his infamous assassination attempt and lives out the rest of his days in an old folks home—disguised as a Black man. There, he befriends the real Elvis Presley (who is alive and not in colored cosplay) and dies of a heart attack while doing battle with [rewinds DVD] a reanimated mummy! Something tells us this filmmaker wasn’t wrapped too tight.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Played by: Kelly Rowland
Cause of death: Talking reckless to a supernatural serial killer
After managing to pull Freddy Kruger from the dream world, lead character Lori is seconds away from meeting her maker. But Kia distracts Freddy by insulting his, uhh, size. Before Freddy could defend his manhood, Kia backpedals into Jason, who kills her with a single comedic blow. Guess you could say [puts on shades] it was her destiny.
I Am Legend (2007)
Character: Dr. Robert Neville
Played by: Will Smith
Cause of death: Going out Big Willie style
Just as Dr. Robert Neville develops a concoction that could rid the planet of its undead, a horde of zombies attack his home. Neville leaves the potion with Anna and her young son, Ethan, cryptically telling them to wait ‘til dawn. He then faces the mob of monsters, detonates a grenade, and eradicates the horde and himself.
[Wait… what’s that? There’s an I Am Legend sequel in the works, and they’re retconning the whole ending? Hey, Will, pass me the mind eraser thingy...]
Saw V (2008)
Character: Luba Gibbs
Played by: Meagan Good
Cause of death: Foul play
In the horror equivalent of Survivor, Luba and her two white counterparts are given a challenge by Jigsaw. Long story short, the white folks banded together, and the Black woman took the L, getting electrocuted in a bathtub. Frankly, we can’t say we’re shocked.
Halloween II (2009)
Character: Nurse Daniels
Played by: Octavia Spencer
Cause of death: Stabbed again and again and again
Nurse Daniels finds herself in the worst possible place for a Black person in horror: Standing between the bad guy and the white woman they’re stalking. Nurse Daniels learns this the hard way.
Played by: Alfre Woodard
Cause of death: Taking one for the team
To atone for losing her own daughter in a car accident, Evelyn grabs death doll Annabelle and leaps from a window to save the child of Leah and John. Leah and John’s grief over the martyred woman bleeding on the sidewalk lasts all of 0.3 seconds. Sigh.
Child’s Play (2019)
Character: Doreen Norris
Played by: Carlease Burke
Cause of death: Uber ride from hell
Poor Doreen's death is what every skeptical elder warns us about regarding autonomous vehicles. Chucky—whose 2019 rendition is essentially a tiny robot—takes over Doreen’s self-driving car, disables her seatbelt and airbags, and runs her into another car. She survives the crash but is ultimately stabbed by the killer robot doll. OK boomer… you were right this time.