Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I’m passionate about horror, but also how frustrated I have become that the horror genre in Nollywood is on life support. In other words, it doesn’t much exist. I have accepted that we won’t see a revival of horror movies in the industry, and I sound like a broken record whenever I address these concerns.
The only reason I’m bringing up this subject again is that I saw a tweet from Sim Shagaya asking why Nollywood doesn’t do horror. It was a simple, casual tweet. Yet, it weighed heavily on my heart.
Why doesn’t Nollywood do horror? There are many reasons why this is so, but the simplest is that there’s no desire to make horror movies. What is informing this lack of desire is the belief that horror is ”serious cinema” and reserved for bespectacled, arthouse-loving cinephiles who exist as a minority and bully people who disagree with them on their subreddit platform.
It’s in the belief that horror is highbrow and requires one to be ”intelligent” enough to grasp certain concepts. That Nigerians won’t appreciate, understand, or aren’t ready for horror movies is perhaps the most infantilising thing Nollywood filmmakers have said about their audiences. It is also ahistorical. Nollywood was founded on horror movies and although they were lo-fi and kitschy, they had a certain appeal, remarkable for blending our superstitious beliefs, mythologies, folklores and phobias into a prodigious golden era.
Veterans like Kanayo O. Kanayo, Ngozi Ezeonu, Kenneth Okonkwo and others have their careers launched from 90’s horror movies. The Mount Zion films, at the behest of Mike Bamiloye, never missed the chance to scare viewers with the dimension of Hell and churning out a distinct beat of evangelical horror. Hello, Ayamatanga. ”Nigerians aren’t into horror movies” serves as an easy cop-out for Nollywood people who don’t want to reckon with how homogenised the industry has been. Why? Because this homogenisation has been profitable.
Back in January, Funke Akindele-Bello’s Omo Ghetto: The Saga became the highest-grossing Nollywood film of all time, raking in more than N468 million in the first month at the box office and toppling Kemi Adetiba’s The Wedding Party. This feat aside, and not to take anything from Omo Ghetto as an artistic product, the film is a neon signpost about how Nollywood is heavily skewed towards comedies. The top 10 grossing films in Nollywood are mostly comedies, case in point.
Not that making comedies is inherently bad, but it’s problematic when the image of Nollywood is entirely seen in this genre. If you need another reason why there aren’t horror movies as before, this is it. A worsening Nigerian economy has also contributed to filmmakers and studios desiring faster routes to box office success, a formula that has sustained the crossover of reality stars and Instragram comedians cast along B-tier actors in every comedy.
The current glut of comedies is always justified with the need for escapism. The popular notion is that Nigerians face too much stress and loosing themselves in these kind of lightweight films helps with decompression. But it’s lazy and ignorant to think that horror, or any genre at all, can’t make Nigerians laugh.
The arrival of Netflix and its partnerships with Nollywood producers hasn’t been much of a game changer, as the streamer is still yet to commission a single original horror title. If there’s no desire to make horror films, it simply means this could be our reality for years to come.
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies and reading comics and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.