There’s no doubt that Native and Indigenous horror is having a moment. Consider the recent film festival hit Slash/Back, coming to Shudder later this year, or the success of Blood Quantum a few years earlier. Meanwhile, authors like Stephen Graham Jones and Tommy Orange are winning awards and soaking up much-deserved accolades. Native and Indigenous peoples are increasingly sharing their stories and finding an audience.
In celebration of the Predator prequel Prey, coming to Hulu on Friday, we put together a list of must-see Indigenous and Native horror films.
Director John Frankenheimer’s film landed at the tail end of the 1970s, during the environmental movement. The film revolves around a public health official, Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth). He takes a job with the EPA to investigate a land dispute between a Native American tribe and a paper mill in Maine, which has been dumping chemicals into the water. Tensions worsen when several deaths sweep the community. Verne’s wife, Maggie (Talia Shire), seeks out the culprit.
Though decades old, this film has newfound relevance because of its message about corporate abuse and power, especially in the shadow of Standing Rock, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling gutting the EPA’s power. Oh, and the movie has a pretty gnarly mutated bear. It’s a cheesy creature feature for sure, but its message still resonates.
The Dead Can’t Dance (2010)
This one’s a horror comedy with zombies. The directorial debut of Rodrick Pocowatchi, The Dead Can’t Dance is about Comanche citizens Dax Wildhorse (Rodrick Pocowatchit), Ray Wildhorse (Guy Ray Pocowatchit), and Ray’s kid, Eddie Wildhorse (T.J. Williams). A mysterious disease turns everyone but the Wildhorses into zombies. The group must put their squabbling and drama behind them to fight off the undead and get Eddie to college.
Blood Quantum (2019)
A Shudder exclusive, Blood Quantum is another zombie feature, but so much different than The Dead Can’t Dance. This film centers around a zombie outbreak in Canada. It only affects people who aren’t Indigenous Canadians. Tensions rise after the Indigenous people set up a base at the Red Crow Reservation. Should the survivors house white refugees at the base, or only save themselves?
Jeff Barnaby’s film tackles immigration and colonization. That much is evident in its title, referring to the amount of “Indian blood” a person possesses. While The Dead Can’t Dance focuses on inner-personal conflicts, Blood Quantum addresses the many horrors Indigenous Canadians have faced historically. It also has some stellar cinematography and impressive gore. This one is truly a must-see.
The Dead Lands (2014)
In Toa Fraser’s film, Hongi (James Rolleston), a Maori chieftain’s son, must avenge his father’s murder to bring peace and honor the souls of his loved ones. To do this, he has to pass through the forbidden Dead Lands. Not only that, but he must also form an alliance with the ruthless Warrior (Lawrence Makoare), who’s ruled the land for years. This one is an entertaining supernatural adventure, set in a time before colonization and told in the Maori language. The film spawned a TV series on Shudder in 2020, though a second season hasn’t been confirmed.
Writer/director Tracey Moffatt’s anthology contains three Australian ghost stories. One follows Rick (Jack Charles), an Aboriginal boy haunted by an American soldier who drowned in quicksand. Another follows Ruby (Moffatt) and her family who live near abandoned train tracks that carry ghostly apparitions. And the third focuses on a landlord (Lex Marinos) who can’t quite evict a couple that’s well…dead. What’s so impressive about this anthology is its use of setting and place, be it swamps or the outback. This is a chilling anthology about the creepy visions that the living can’t quite shake.
Black Wood (2022)
This one just had its limited theatrical release and is now streaming On Demand. Dowanhowee (Tanajsia Slaughter), a Native American woman, is captured by the notorious Dutch Wilder Gang after killing one of their men as payback for what the gang did to her family. Once inside the uncharted Black Wood Forest, the gang and Dowanhowee must rely on each other to survive. This film is a clever take on the Wendigo tale, and it features stunning cinematography and 19th Century period costumes. Writer/director Chris Canfield grew up in Wyoming, near the Black Hills of South Dakota. His film is steeped in Native American lore specific to the nations of that region.
The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1978)
Okay, I have to confess that I didn’t hear about this film until I started doing research. I was equally as fascinated by the story surrounding this film and the aftermath of its release as I was by the film itself. Written/directed/produced by Fred Schepisi, the film is an adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s 1972 novel. The story follows an exploited Aboriginal Australian who goes into hiding after committing murder. It’s based on actual events surrounding Jimmy Governor. You can really fall down the rabbit hole researching this fellow. Trust me.
The film was seized and confiscated in the UK during the Video Nasty era. And though it was critically acclaimed, it lost money at the box office, causing its director to leave Australia and work in Hollywood for a while.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)
The last one on this list is another zombie flick and another Australian film. The poster for this feature boasts that it’s “Mad Max Meets Dawn of the Dead.” That’s pretty accurate. It’s definitely a fine combo of action and horror. Director Kiah Roache-Turner’s film stars Jay Gallagher. He plays Barry, a mechanic who must fight hordes of zombies after his sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradley), is kidnapped on the eve of the apocalypse. This fast-paced story is a heck of a lot of fun. It also spawned a sequel, last year’s Wyrmwood: Apocalypse.
These are only a few of the many horror movies that tackle the difficulties experienced by Indigenous people. However, the list is still small compared to the massive selection of films that solely focus on their mythology instead. The refusal to explore the realities of Native Americans proves to be yet another example of the repeated degradation they face. I do have hope, however, that more films about Native Americans will be produced, especially from directors such as Barnaby and Pocowatchit, and horror will continue to flourish as a genre of diverse stories.
Prey is incredible and you should check it out on Hulu today. If you like it as much as we did then check out these others for unique aboriginal stories.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.