“Don’t Die First” explores the comedy and tragedy of black characters in horror

Horror is full of well-worn tropes that genre fans have come to expect. From sexually active teens condemned to fear of jumping, we’ve seen it all. But some of these tropes aren’t that harmless, especially the wait for a horror movie’s token black character to be killed first. It’s no secret that horror is a white dominated genre that treats people of color as props, or worse. That’s why filmmaker Daniel Foster made his short film Don’t die first.

The short film is set in a call center where two employees, Monica and Craig, answer calls from black people who realize they are in horror movie situations. These callers are also the only black person in a group of white friends. They call to prevent their untimely death and provide details of their situation (i.e. sitting, cabin in the woods). In turn, Monica and Craig consult their trusty filing cabinet filled with solutions to ensure the caller’s survival. One notable tip is to stay close to a white girl, don’t grab weapons, and don’t fuck with ghosts.

While Don’t die first is a comedy, Foster takes a more serious tone with the end of the film when a caller doesn’t experience something supernatural. Instead, he is needlessly harassed by a white woman who calls the police on him. Here the short turns are horrible as Monica and Craig are helpless in the face of the real terrors black people face on a daily basis.

To concern Don’t die first here:

Dread Central spoke to Foster about his inspiration for the film and why it’s such an important topic to tackle in the genre.

Dread Central: How did the idea for the film come about?

Daniel Foster: Don’t die first was an opportunity to explore the horror genre from a black perspective. Our goal was to create a plot structure that allowed us to explore different horror genres, slasher creature features, and [comment] on all the ways the characters could avoid dying. For a long time, black characters would sadly die first in horror movies. We thought this would be a unique opportunity to create a world where a service exists that specifically helps black people avoid dying first. This comedic take evolved after the events of the summer of 2020 and allowed us to explore deeper themes of race and what is truly scary for people of color.

Our goal in making the film was to offer a different perspective on a serious subject. We wanted the movie to have some comedic moments, before moving into the serious tone of the final act which explores what really haunts people of color in real life. We wanted our audience to reflect on the real-life horrors around us, contrasting them with the comedy of the most fantastical scares.

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How do you relate to the horror genre? Did this relationship fuel your inspiration for this film?

Foster: I’ve been a horror fan ever since I first saw an alien shoot out of John Hurt’s chest. I’m a huge fan of Mike Flannagan, Sam Raimi, Tobe Hopper, Karyn Kusama, and many other modern filmmakers working today. To be honest, it’s rare that something that isn’t horror airs on my TV. This love of the genre greatly influenced my direction for the short film. I wanted to use as many horror references as possible to help build the world of Don’t die first. My co-writer Greg Griffin and I wanted to show a little preview of a movie already in progress via the various phone calls. We wanted to use visual references to classic movies such as evil Dead, The foreigners, The ring, Candy, and Conspiracy films in order to quickly establish to the public what we were satirizing.

What horror films were you inspired by for this short film?

Foster: One of the great inspirations of the film was the documentary Dark Horror on Shudder, which examines Black’s relationship to horror. We wanted to delve deeper into this idea in a way that is comedic and talking about the horrors of real life today. Another influence has been Scream. We were inspired by his meta-tone and wanted to pay homage to the opening scene of our [first] call. Several other movie references can be seen throughout the short. If we had a longer runtime we would want to expand the work and pay homage to more horror genres that we weren’t able to in Don’t die first.

Tags: Don’t Die First

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