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Friday, March 19, 2021

Intro to Mexican Horror: 8 Must See Horror Films

Since 1993’s Cronos, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro quickly became synonymous with horror hailing from Mexico. More recent releases like Issa Lopez‘s Tigers Are Not Afraid, Emilio Portes‘s Belzebuth, and even Gigi Saul Guerrero‘s Culture Shock indicate an emerging new class of talented genre contemporaries. While that’s exciting for horror’s future, there’s already a vast, rich history of Mexican horror worth exploring—a world of genre films that reinterpret culture, history, and national traumas through the horror lens.

El Santo and his respective film series that saw the luchador take on vampires, mummies, and monsters made luchadores famous on a broader scale. Still, for every El Santo movie, there’s a horror gem awaiting discovery. So much so that it can be difficult knowing where to begin. Here’s a brief, helpful primer to help get you started. One quick caveat before we start; Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s Santa Sangre is absolutely worth checking out but missed out on this primer for being a co-production and much more well-known than the other films on the list.


Two Monks (1934)

If you want to start at the beginning, you begin with Juan Bustillo Oro‘s filmography, the father of Mexican horror. When dramas and westerns were all the rage, the prolific filmmaker focused on genre storytelling. Two Monks, aka Dos monjes, tells the nonlinear tale of the rivalry between Javier and Juan. Set in a Gothic monastery, Oro employs a heavy German Expressionist style for his violent narrative told from two different perspectives. It’s moody and minimalist, biding its time in revealing the truths behind the men’s opposition. While the Oro-penned The Phantom of the Convent (1934) is much more firmly in the realm of horror, the Oro-written/directed Two Monks gives a better grasp on the filmmaker and is more easily accessible thanks to Criterion.


El vampiro (1957)

Director Fernando Méndez and writer Ramón Obón brought the classic bloodsucking monster to Mexico, marking its first vampire movie. The plot sees a young woman returning to her small hometown to make funeral arrangements for her aunt. When rumors begin circulating that a vampire infestation has taken root, she suspects her suave new neighbor, Count Karol de Lavud (Germán Robles). The Vampire proved highly popular and influential, ushering in a Mexican wave of horror classics. It’s also worth highlighting that El vampiro starred Abel Salazar, the native genre equivalent to icons Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. Salazar also stars in two additional features on this list; The Black Pit of Dr. M and The Curse of the Crying Woman.


The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959)

To hammer home just how integral and prolific Director Fernando Méndez and writer Ramón Obón were to Mexico’s genre output in the ’40s and ’50s, this one is an underseen masterpiece of Gothic horror. Occupying the same space as Mario Bava or Val Lewton’s Gothic work, The Black Pit of Dr. M is a moody, haunting feature that makes excellent use of shadows and composition. As for the plot, two doctors make a pact that whoever dies first will return to tell the other the afterlife’s secrets. Because it’s horror, things don’t end well for many of its characters. There’s melodrama, there’s tragedy, and of course, there’s plenty of surprising terror.


Macario (1960)

Macario marks the first Mexican film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Directed and co-written by Roberto Gavaldón, the film follows its eponymous character desperate for a meal on the Day of the Dead. When his wife cooks him turkey, he’s visited by the three apparitions of the Devil, God, and Death. All ask Macario to share his meal, but he refuses each- save for Death. In return, Death grants him a potion that can cure the sick. Macario uses it for selfish gain, earning him a trip to the underworld. It’s a gorgeous and well-crafted Faustian fantasy.


The Curse of the Crying Woman (1961)

Also known as La Maldición de la Llorona, this loose telling of the legend is highly underseen outside of Mexico. It’s a fantastic gothic gem that borrows a lot from Mario Bava (Black Sunday, in particular). The plot follows Selma, who has summoned her niece Amelia to her mansion to claim it as part of an inheritance. It soon becomes clear that Amelia has been lured into playing a role in the family’s curse and reviving the witch La Llorona. This one has witches, bats, gothic set pieces, and imagery that feel straight out of a Bava film. There’s not much familiarity to the actual legend here, but La Llorona is pretty creepy.


Alucarda (1977)

Directed and co-written by Juan López Moctezuma, this English-language Mexican horror film stars Tina Romero as the titular Alucarda. Since infancy, the orphaned Alucarda was raised by nuns at a repressive Catholic convent. Now a teen, Alucarda finally has a friend her age with the arrival of a newly orphaned Justine (Susana Kamini). They become inseparable, perhaps even more so when they stumble upon a crypt and release a Satanic force that seduces the best friends and uses them as a conduit to destroy everything in their path. It’s arthouse meets exploitation grindhouse. Moctezuma weaves a sacrilegious coming-of-age story with striking imagery that slowly developed a cult following over time.


Cemetery of Terror (1985)

Rubén Galindo Jr. long since moved onto writing and producing, but in the ’80s, the filmmaker delivered a trio of solid horror movies worth checking out. The most well-known of the three is the American-influenced Don’t Panic, but it’s the Halloween-centric Cemetery of Terror that offers the most fun. A trio of college kids decides to impress their ladies by stealing a body from a morgue for a Halloween prank and party in an abandoned house. It happens to be the body of a serial killer, and reading an incantation from a book revives it. This supernatural slasher brings the bloody mayhem in the vein of Fulci and features legendary character actor Hugo Stiglitz as the occult expert.


Poison for the Fairies (1986)

Horror director Carlos Enrique Taboada is regarded as a national talent in cinema and one of the most influential. His direct influence is reflected in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. Taboada also chose to work in horror when others sometimes only did so by necessity. The filmmaker could take a shoestring budget and make it work through expert atmosphere and scare-crafting, and any of his films make a great entry point. Even the Wind Is Afraid (available on Tubi), The Book of Stone, or Darker Than Night serve as masterclasses in suspense. But it’s his final feature that’s the most regarded, and its doozy of an ending packs a potent punch. In it, a young girl convinces her schoolmate that she’s a witch, forcing the girl into a series of games that grow increasingly violent and nasty.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3655794/intro-mexican-horror-8-must-see-horror-films/

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