That Nollywood was founded on horror films is a cold, hard truth. Before the cinema revolution, when consuming local films required one to have a video cassette player, horror filmmaking was fashionable and manifested as femme fatale films (Nneka the Pretty Serpent, Karishika), the occult (Blood Money, Living In Bondage) or even nightmarish Christian horror flicks (Agbara Nla).
These movies were low-budget and relied heavily on jump scares, but there were also charming in their simplicity and commentary on the human condition.
Why was there a fascination with horror in the ’90s? It’s hard to pinpoint. Interestingly, majority of horror releases were done in Igbo, which means that language didn’t matter vis-à-vis consuming horror movies. Also, the careers of actors like Kanayo O. Kanayo and Clem Ohameze were launched through that phase of Nollywood. Decades later, and horror movies have lost all popularity and prestige.
Today’s churn of Nollywood films are either comedies or romantic dramas, and while there’s nothing wrong in this, movies made in these genres have dominated mainstream filmmaking for a long time, so much so that we are currently having a fatigue. By contrast, Hollywood is presently having a horror film renaissance. This is not to say that Hollywood hasn’t been making horror films. But right now, it has exploded into the mainstream. Take, for example, Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror satire Get Out, which was first lauded at the Sundance Film Festival and then Hereditary, directed by Ari Aster and was sold as the “most terrifying horror film of 2018.”
Jordan Peele’s is best known for his television work in comedy like Key & Peele and co-wrote the 2016 movie Keanu. But it was his directorial debut Get Out that amassed popularity and recognition for Peele. Transitioning from comedy to horror isn’t particularly strange – comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin. And since Get Out, we have seen comedic actors like John Kransinski with the 2018 horror film A Quiet Place. Recently, it was reported that comedian Chris Rock is set to collaborate with Lionsgate in rebooting the Saw franchise.
Although I have my reservations about Rock rebooting something as canonical as the Saw movies, it just goes to show how comedians are gravitating towards horror materials. This year, Peele released another horror feature Us, which featured Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o. Already, Kransinski is working on a sequel to A Quiet Place, which will be out in May 2020. But there has been a glimpse of promise in Nollywood – top-tier comedian Baskemouth, back in January, announced that he was done making a horror film. At the time, it seemed like a joke, because Basketmouth was a full-throated comedian and besides, many of his peers like AY Makun were purely making comedies.
But it turned out to be true. Titled The Exorcism of Alu, Basketmouth released a trailer which played on the haunted house trope. The movie is based on a true story, which makes it more creepier. And although Basketmouth is yet to announce a release date for the film, it’s worth mentioning that this will be his directorial debut. Importantly, and if the film turns out to be good, it could usher in the Nollywood horror film renaissance the industry desperately needs. Last year, Ramsey Nouah announced that he’d be making a sequel/reboot to the 1992 Chris Rapu cult classic film Living In Bondage.
It was exciting news, in that we are at least getting a horror classic remade for a new generation. Horror filmmaking can still take off in Nollywood on the back of reboots of classics, and thus mixing Old Nollywood with New Nollywood. The industry can be better diversified when other genres of filmmaking are explored. Who says we can’t have a horror comedy? Or satirical horror that highlights the issues in the country? To define horror as just blood and gore is reductive.
That said, filmmakers in Nollywood need to change the roaster. With the bubbling plethora of comedic talents on Instagram and elsewhere, it’s mind-blowing just thinking about who is incubating a horror movie idea in them. After the release of Basketmouth’s The Exorcism of Alu, we await the comedy-horror transition that might likely sweep through the film industry.