• Film

Sacred Mexican Monsters Arrive in Hollywood

The creatures that walk the screen in the series, “Mexico Maleficarum: Resurrecting the 20th Century Mexican Horror Cinema,” have passed Customs from Mexico to the United States to be appreciated by fans and the curious in the heart of Los Angeles, California.

Now running through October 27, 20 double programs that take place at the Academy Museum highlight the series made up of films that mostly have B cinema aesthetics, with monsters that do not deny their low-budget bill, coming from either beyond the grave, from outer space or from hell itself. With most of them in black and white, these productions heighten the feeling of nostalgia.

Among the selections in the Ted Mann Theater are El vampiro (1957), with Germán Robles; El espejo de la bruja (The Witch’s Mirror) (1960), Rosita Arenas; El mundo de los muertos (The World of the Dead) (1970), “El Santo”; La nave de los monstruos (The Ship of the Monsters) (1960), Ana Bertha Lepe; and La invasión de los vampiros (The Invasion of the Vampires) (1962), Erna Martha Bauman; as well as award-winning films, including Golden Globe winner Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos (1993), which won the Mercedes-Benz award in Cannes Critics’ Week.

We spoke with programmer Abraham Castillo Flores, a veteran of the horror and fantasy film festival in Mexico City called Morbido Fest, and who is in charge of opening the vaults of films for restoration by Fundación Televisa-Univision, as well as the collection of the UNAM Film Library and other institutions such as Alameda Films, IMCINE, and TV Azteca, to restore the films in digital format.




What is the spirit and intention behind Maleficarum?

There is a cliché that has followed the Mexican horror film genre, which is believed to be merely about fighters or stories about giving lectures. And although these are topics that you can run into in these films, I think that this type of genre in my country is broader and more complex.

One of the ideas behind the Maleficarum program is to bring back the cinema that talks about witches, ghosts, and devils. Remind the world that in Mexico, we don’t mind mixing genres. For example, La nave de los monstruos combines science fiction with horror and elements of the western – an overflowing feast of styles.

We also screened El espejo de la bruja (The Witch’s Mirror), which combines gothic horror with film noir themes and where men are afraid of women because they can’t deal with their own emotions.

How do you explain the popularity of many of these late-night or matinee movies, most of which never screened in festivals, much less won awards, but they have their space at the Academy Museum?

Many of these movies were low-budget but that didn’t stop their creators from conceiving them with big imaginations. They never stopped being horror artists. They went out of their way to give us their monsters on the screen.

These films brought and discovered a new audience that Mexican cinema needed at the time to fill the movie palaces in times when the so-called “golden age” of national cinema was waning or had already disappeared.

Each programmer of a festival or film series has a choice close to his heart. Which ones are yours?

For Maleficarum, I was delighted to have been able to help a film like El baron del terror (The Baron of Terror) (1961), with Abel Salazar, to be seen after a long time of not being available. Did you know that virtuoso Frank Zappa composed a song (“Debra Kadabra”) honoring the film?

Something that fills me with pride is that we invited stars of these films, including Rosita Arenas, to the presentation with El espejo de la bruja (The Witch’s Mirror) and La maldición de la llorona (The Curse of La Llorona).

She was married to Abel Salazar, who turned out to be a visionary and pioneer of horror cinema. It is an honor to have Arenas, who is 89 years old, at the Academy Museum, whom I thank for having the vision to resurrect with us this cinema that deserves to be seen by Latino generations in the United States.

Towards the end of Maleficarum, Blanca Guerra, winner of the Ariel awards (Mexican Film Academy Award), will share anecdotes from her film Santa sangre (Holy Blood) (1989), by Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky while Isela Vega’s daughter will be part of the presentation of Las amantes del señor de la noche (Lovers of the Lord of the Night) (1986).

People forget that this was the first time a woman directed a horror film of this proportion. Although it was released in the early 1980s, when the quality of the industry was not ideal, the film deserves to be seen again. I am delighted with her presence because Isela, in addition to directing, acted and wrote.

Maleficarum has also included a screening of Cronos, from the director who won the Golden Globe for The Shape of Water, who has said that his favorite Mexican horror film is Hasta el viento está corazón (1968) by Carlos Enrique Taboada, who is also featured in this series.

It fills my heart to see a couple of films of the so-called duke of Mexican terror, Carlos Enrique Taboada with Hasta el viento tiene miedo (Even the Wind Is Afraid) and Veneno para las hadas (Poison For the Fairies), whose ghosts marked an era of being always beautiful on screen.

Beyond being part of the story, how do you define the power of transcendence of these monsters?

Many of us will agree that the monsters of Mexican cinema, even when they are not official ambassadors, are cultural ambassadors. It’s impossible to forget them once you’ve seen them walk the screen.

These films invite us to find metaphors and analogies with political, religious, and taboo themes, in these stories of delicious horror that filmmakers like Chano Urueta, Fernando Méndez, Rafael Baledón, and Servando González forged to bewitch us, something they achieved without a doubt.


Translated by Mario Amaya