Tuesday, October 11, 2022

‘Even the Wind is Afraid’: A Gothic Youth Rebellion Tale in 1960s Authoritarian Mexico

1968. A turbulent period in Mexico, specifically on the political end of the spectrum. A new movement was on the rise, with demands made for a change to the authoritarian rule that was the Mexican norm for generations. Known in Mexico as El Movimiento Estudiantil (The Student Movement), it wasn’t long before the Mexican government acted, quashing the movement in an attack that is now remembered as the infamous Tlalteloco Massacre in October of 1968. Just like that, the steadily rising movement for the youth of Mexico was quelled in practically in an instant; a brutal display of the Mexican government’s power.

Today, one of the most prominent artifacts of that era that we may still use as a window into the growing rebellion of Mexican youth in the 60s exists as the 1968 Gothic supernatural horror film, Hasta el viento tiene miedo (Even the Wind is Afraid in English).

Directed by prominent Mexican horror director Carlos Enrique Taboada, Even the Wind is Afraid tells the story of a group of school girls who are punished for entering forbidden property on school grounds by being forced to stay during a school break. In the midst of their stay, they become aware of increasingly bizarre sightings of a mysterious womanly figure, with student Claudia encountering a silhouette of the figure hanging by her neck in the school’s clock tower.

Despite the figure being visible to all of the girls, they are given no mind from Bernarda, headmistress of the school. Bernarda enforces the rules of the school with an iron fist, having no tolerance for sass or indecency. Even being strict enough to reprimand one of the girls for sleeping in somewhat revealing clothes on a hot night, Bernarda insists that there is nothing wrong with the school in spite of her harboring some dark secrets that may in fact be connected to the ghostly girl sightings.

Tabaoda recreates a familiar, conservative setting with the attitude and aesthetic of a repressive school system, as was the norm for 1960s Mexico. A standard, stuffy interior combined with a massive, yet suffocating outdoor field of grass, gates, and the aforementioned clock tower looming over the entire school both physically and metaphorically. The school’s restrictive nature heavily contrasts with the stylish posh and energy of the students, more focused on boys and the joys of going back home over anything remotely school-related.

Even the Wind is Afraid horror

If we were to look at this film purely based on its plot, Even the Wind is Afraid doesn’t appear to have much going for it beyond the usual scares that populated Mexican horror cinema at the time. A Mexican ghost story in the 1960s wasn’t reinventing the wheel, not with the Mexican horror standard at the time primarily being supernatural and creature features.

Accompanying Mexico’s simple horror stories were an equally simplistic approach to morality, often playing the tried-and-true method of absolute good battling and eventually overcoming an unquestionable evil. Even films with villains as the main characters chose simplicity over complexity and with the rising success of horror films in Mexico during the 1950s, why fix what isn’t broken? Even the Wind is Afraid initially follows this logic to a tee, introducing us to a creepy spirit right away for the girls to investigate and solve the mystery of as a hook for the plot.

As the film progresses, the unmistakably tense dynamic between the youthful rebellion of the girls and the steel resolve of the headmistress paints a clearer and far more complicated narrative than what was presented to us in the beginning. The girls, though often vain and occasionally vindictive towards one of their straight-laced peers, are united through both the circumstance of Claudia’s first ghostly encounter and the struggle to break through the restrictions put in place by Headmistress Bernarda.

Despite only starring a small cast, a sense of community pulsates within the handful of girls forced to stay behind at the school. The differing personalities between the likes of the somber, yet cheerful Claudia and the snappy and openly hormonal frustration of fellow classmate Kitty make for a lived-in and natural friend dynamic that arguably serves as a bigger threat to Headmistress Bernarda and her rule on the school than the presence of a noose-friendly ghost.

Because the further along we get into the story of Even the Wind is Afraid, the more apparent it is that Bernarda herself is the most threatening antagonist of the film, in spite of not being a traditional bloodthirsty lunatic. In many ways, she is not a villain on an individual level. Her determination to keep the harrowing truth of the ghost a secret is not an effort to directly harm her students, but her insistence in not facing her demons is indicative of the tangled web of deceit and corruption that plagued institutions like the school.

Bernarda represents the oppressive control of institutional bodies that the Mexican Youth Movement protested against. A larger icon of authority that used its privilege to treat the youth and working class like second rate citizens that should only have a mind for following and taking orders. Bernarda’s strict handling of the school’s policies towards its dress code, contact with the outside world, and the students’ general attitudes towards school is a direct reflection of the Mexican government’s similar goals before and during the 1960s.

If it at all sounds as though I’m keeping the supernatural aspects of Even the Wind is Afraid tethered to the backseat, it is not without purpose. Tabaoda’s Gothic ghost story refrains from overexposing the spirit herself. In fact, most of this film focuses solely on the exploits of the frustrated teen protagonists having to deal with the daunting shadow of Bernarda along with an apparition. A good chunk of the film is spent developing the girls’ unity through banter and the itch to break rules whenever thought possible.

Tabaoda warms us to our protagonists through their relatable urges to let loose every once in a while. Any talk about boys (specifically Kitty’s off-campus boyfriend) or forbidden topics is treated with a certain sense of innocence. Yes, the girls are talking about sex, not paying attention in class, and other forms of slight rebellion, but never in an attempt to overthrow the school’s structure. The girls are simply acting like teenagers, but for a school as rigorously helmed as Bernarda’s, this very attitude is viewed as the most urgent issue to quell even in the face of a ghost.

If the content of Even the Wind is Afraid was presented to us in the modern day, we are forgiven to believe that a melodramatic Ghost drama from the 1960s does not showcase a social issue that we don’t already have some knowledge of. It’s easy to think that a story of teenage girls subtly rebelling against an authoritarian body is something born out of the modern ”woke” movement that has been ranted about in just about every online film circle you can think of.

Tabaoda’s film is over 50 years old.

In addition to helping revitalize the horror genre in Mexico, Even the Wind is Afraid was notable for its content that was considered shocking and supremely edgy at the time. In spite of the grim subject matter, much of this controversy was pointed at an infamous striptease sequence where Kitty undresses during an impromptu piano jingle. Despite Kitty’s actress Norma Lazareno being well into her 20s at the time of filming, this was still a portrayal of a school girl stripping in front of the camera (in a private school no less).

The sequence itself is one that is primarily character-driven, keeping the plot in the backseat until the ghost scares her from going any further. But the scene itself is fascinating simply for existing during the time it did. The same year that saw the Mexican Youth Movement brutally silenced in an act of violent oppression also saw a mouthy horror dame strip for the camera, one who had a secret boyfriend she hid from Headmistress Bernarda.

All of these factors did not influence the fact that Kitty and her friends were the undeniable protagonists of the film. A horror film that outright called out the sickening consequences of absolute authoritarianism and the repression of expression. Weirdest of all, a film that contained these elements in an era before movies like Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Last House on the Left provoked and scared audiences with their respective transgressive content.

Even the Wind is Afraid movie

Though the film has garnered a significant cult reputation in Mexico since its release, it is not as well-known beyond the borders. But Even the Wind is Afraid is as important to cinematic history as it is to the horror genre. I’ve reiterated this time and time again, but horror is a genre that calls for social, economical, and political issues to be confronted and sometimes flipped on their heads.

It’s frankly miraculous that this movie came out in the turbulent and chaotic period it did and while the extent of the film’s influence over film as a whole is arguable, Even the Wind is Afraid stands today as an eerie window into the darker underbelly of 1960s Mexico. Don’t let the spooky melodramatics and special effects fool you; the movie’s stance on social issues was as risky as you could be at the time.

A film like this is easy to get lost in the shuffle, especially now that it is well over 50 years old, but the newfound reach of the internet has made this distant cult classic more accessible for worldwide audiences than ever before.

The post ‘Even the Wind is Afraid’: A Gothic Youth Rebellion Tale in 1960s Authoritarian Mexico appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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