Nollywood was founded on horror movies, but now the industry has neglected the genre


This Friday, The Nun will premiere in cinemas and it will be glorious, a horror movie so scary that YouTube had to remove the latest trailer from its platform after it traumatised some viewers. As a new installment in The Conjuring universe, I have been looking forward to the movie since 2016. As a lover of horror movies, The Nun could easily be my favourite this year after I was utterly disappointed by the overhyped Hereditary.

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In anticipation of The Nun, I found myself thinking about the horror genre in Nollywood and how it has been comatose for years. I think the genre is dead, safe for filmmakers like CJ Obasi whose 2014 zombie flick Ojuju is seemingly the last traceable blip in our consumption of movies. Ojuju had its limitations and felt derivative as an indie movie. And yet, its title was a callback to the mythical malevolent creature that plagued my childhood, told as a survival story wherein people turn into zombies in a neighborhood after their water supply is infected with rabid river blindness.

Before Nollywood became a popular industry, superstitions, witchcraft, covens, blood rituals and the occult were mined as strong themes in movies, an era of watching ghosts appear and vanish, and diabolical, femme fatale spirit worlds trapping the souls of men. Zeb Ejiro’s Nneka the Pretty Serpent (1992) frightened me so bad I had nightmares, as did Sakobi: The Snake Girl (1998) starring Saint Obi. And although there was a lack of technical sophistication about these movie then, they managed to be a scare romp.

If I saw these movies today, I will certainly not like any and that’s understandable. Horror movies are now advanced, layered and subversive. Oscar-winning director Jordan Peele used horror tropes in Get Out to explore America’s racial dynamics, and John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place was a refreshing original picture. Nollywood was founded on horror movies, Living In Bondage and its ilk, but now the industry still won’t revamp the genre.

It’s easy to understand why this is so. Nollywood movies are now designed to be commercial and cinema-ready, movies that can easily turn into tangible box office receipts. Rom-coms, romantic dramas and hyperbolic comedies are tried-and-tested formulas, and cinemas are the ruling gatekeepers. But it’s quite disrespectful that modern Nollywood practitioners aren’t paying homage to a genre that conceived the industry. Who wants to watch horror movies now? They might say, but horror movies of the 90’s were a hit so why not make an upgrade?

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Horror movies can be funny and satirical and a device to better understand human and social conditions. To think horror movies is all blood and gore is unimaginative at best. Its influence on Nigerian popular music is evident, as seen in Santi’s exorcist-themed music video for his new song Freaky, which Fader critic David Renshaw describes as a “lo-fi and psychedelic take on the Nollywood horrors of the ‘90’s.”

In this piece for The Naked Convos, I asked: Are horror movie tropes creeping into Nigerian music videos? In it, I cite Reekado Bank’s Link Up and Maleek Berry’s 4 Me, videos with a nod to Nollywood horror movies and the enchanting seductress archetype. Ostensibly, the music industry has carried the torch of the horror genre than Nollywood has ever done in recent years, with artistes splicing elements and imagery from the genre into their music videos.

Currently, Hollywood is enjoying a horror movie renaissance. After The Nun, David Gordon’s Halloween will hit theaters next month, tightly followed by Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. Guadagnino directed the Oscar-nominated tearjerker Call Me By Your Name, meaning Nollywood filmmakers can explore genres outside of their wheelhouse. Whether we will have a horror movie in the future remains to be seen though.

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