a guide to the exorcisms, witches and cults of nigerian horror
Let your new fave musician and huge horror fan Santi give you nightmares.
Courtesy of Santi
Santi, a key player in the game-changing new wave of Nigerian artists, makes dancehall with a difference. fusing influences as diverse as cable TV cartoons, Nollywood VHS tapes and goth-rock ballads, the singer and director describes his sound as being “made up of my imaginations, memories and most importantly, feels”. His latest single, Freaky, is a reimagining of Nigerian hip-hop veteran Ikechukwu’s 2008 classic Shoobeedoo, reworked by Monster Boys producer Genio with vocals by himself, Toronto-based R&B artist Nonso Amadi and Nigerian rapper BRIDGE.
The accompanying music video takes direct inspiration from the Nigerian horror films Santi was raised on. Starring alongside his guest vocalists as an exorcist, the self-directed visual is an overly-dramatic and grainy ode to the genre — creepy trees, burning candles and soul-devouring women included. “Being raised in a Nigerian household, watching movies was one of our main pastimes and over the years I started to develop a certain passion for horror flicks,” Santi told us over email. “When the classics came out on VHS, our older siblings or people who worked around our parents had these releases, and if you were in the living room on a Sunday before school, you were sure to catch them.”
"There was a period of time in Nigeria where people were kidnapped for blood money and rituals, which made these films even scarier."
So how does Nollywood horror differ to its Hollywood counterpart? Aside from the lo-fi aesthetics, it seems that it’s all in the message. American horror, according to Santi, tends to let it all ride on the scary characters, while Nigerian horror movies taught viewers that evil was real and around. Nice. “Every horror movie had to do with witches and the lengths people will go to to be rich — all which seemed to be completely conceivable and happening in the real world,” Santi explains. “In the late 90s and early 2000s, there was a period of time in Nigeria where people were kidnapped for blood money and rituals, which made these films even scarier. At the end of some films the credits even began with the warning: BEWARE. MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL.”
This is Santi’s brilliant Freaky. Apt title, huh? Much possession. Very crucifix. But what else is on the recipe card for a wholesome Nigerian horror? We’ll let the young musician break down his favourite genre for you. First up — 5 essential tropes:
“This is the emotional premise for most Nigerian horror films. A man desperate for a way out of his poverty-stricken lifestyle happens to meet a childhood friend who is doing very well. He gets offered a chance to be rich beyond his wildest dreams if he will just sacrifice a family member (see: The Billionaires Club and Raging Storm). Films like Witches, End of the Wicked and Highway to the Grave commonly depicted jealousy as the singular motive for the protagonist being hell bent on ruining the lives of family members for simply having more money or having produced children.”
“Growing up, we were told never to eat food from strangers because of films like The End of the Wicked in which child witches initiated other kids into cults, luring them in by giving them food during a sports break. They were then given specific orders to wreak all sorts of havoc in their homes. Most Nigerian classic horror movies have something to do with cults involving human sacrifice or initiation rituals. These films were received so literally. We all believed that this stuff actually happened.
“No Nollywood horror film is complete without a ritual. It could be a woman sleeping with a witch doctor to ensure the love of her life loves her back, or having to roam a treacherous forest for days on end. At the end of Tade Ogidan's Raging Storm we find out that the devil needed a million souls and had sent his demons to become pastors in the church, to recruit them for a ritual. In the same movie, a man is asked to choose one of two members of his family to sacrifice in order to get rich.”
“Films such as Blood Money and The Billionaires Club showed men being haunted by the family members they had sacrificed in exchange for wealth. The souls of the dead often come back either tormented and begging to rest, or just merely to disturb the peace. In another classic film Diamond Ring, the ghost of an old lady pays terrifying visits to the relative who stole her rings.”
4. Kanayo O and Pete Edochie
“Once you saw either of these guys in any movie, you’d know that there was a slaughtering on the way. Kanayo has starred in many classic horror movies where he kills without remorse. He’s often cast as the childhood friend who the poor man runs into. As a result of these movies, he’s become something of a cult figure. Pete Edochie is always the leader of the cult, the one in charge of communicating with the medium that brought wealth. His no-nonsense attitude and peculiar figure of speech have made him a primary figure of the classic Nollywood movie.”
5. The Church
“Every Nigerian horror Film ends with the phrase ‘To God be the glory’, and rightly so, as every single Nigeria horror movie theme is the triumph of good over evil. After various sacrifices and spiritual attacks, the plot ultimately leads us to church where the pastors will either break the connection made with the medium through prayer or eradicate the whole cult in battle. It just wouldn’t it be a Nollywood classic without God winning in the end.”
Got it? Play horror hallmark bingo now as you make your way down Santi’s comprehensive and highly recommended much-watch movie list. Nollywood horror heaven, here you come!
1. Raging Storm, 2007
“My all time favourite, generally ranked one of the best of all time. A man loses all his money and joins a cult to acquire wealth. After he grows tired of performing the heinous rituals the cult keeps asking keeps asking him to do, he decides to opt out only to face the terror and doom that awaits him and his family. It was directed by Tade Ogidan.”
2. End of the Wicked, 1999
“This film was directed by Helen Ukpabio, a controversial pastor and filmmaker, and is about old witches and children being initiated. This was a film that made parents warn kids about accepting gifts or food from strangers. What was most impressive is the knowledge and insight into a part of the supernatural — everyone had spiritual names and specialised duties in the real world.”
3. Last Burial, 2000
“A classic! A man who worshipped at both a cult and a church dies. The family want the body so they can lay him to rest, but the cult has other plans.”
4. Billionaires Club, 2003
“This film has everything. Slowly paced but worth the journey, it tells the story of a poor man who joins a certain club to acquire wealth. Kanayo O Kanayo and Pete Edochie play key roles in this classic.”
5. Witches, 1998
“This film was so well done. It stars Nollywood legends Liz Benson and Zack Orji. Liz Benson plays a woman who was a formerly a witch but decides to settle down with Zack Orji and their adopted child, but as soon as she tries to settle down bad things keep happening.”
6. Karishika, 1996
“One of the most revered cult figures in Nigerian horror, Karashika was referred to as the queen of Lucifer and the queen of darkness. The film starts off with her shape-shifting and causing havoc in her wake. The theme song is legendary as well.”