We look at the history of horror filmmaking in Latin America and recommend 25 films from Peru, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay you can stream now.
Today is the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15. It recognizes and celebrates the contributions Hispanic Americans — with roots tracing back to Spain, Mexico, Central America, and the South American and Spanish-speaking nations of the Caribbean — have made to American society and culture.
To celebrate, we’re taking a look at the history of horror cinema throughout Latin America, with a focus on filmmakers and films you may not yet be as familiar with. We’ve also compiled a list of great films from several countries you can stream right now. It is our sincere hope you will spend time over the next month broadening your horror horizons and seeking out more must see Latin American horror.
Argentina is one of the most prolific producers of Latin horror cinema. And they’ve managed to do one thing quite well, which sets them apart from other countries: they have appropriated the sub genres of horror called “gringos” — like slashers, zombie films, etc. — and have adapted them to the local culture. Argentine horror has suffered a great deal from strict censorship laws, as have other parts of the continent. However, when an opening presented itself, genre cinema simply exploded.
The primary drivers of this explosion, interestingly, were two high school students named Pablo Parés and Hernán Sáez. In 1997, they took a camera and made an amateur feature called Plaga Zombie (which you can watch right here on YouTube). This film was a huge success, and people realized they could film their ideas without big budgets. As a result, hundreds of horror filmmakers emerged. And that was how the great names of the genre appeared in the country, such as Adrián García Bogliano (Here Comes the Devil), Gonzalo Calzada (Luciferina) and Demián Rugna (Aterrados/Terrified).
FIVE FILMS FROM ARGENTINA TO STREAM NOW
- THE BAR (2017, NETFLIX) – Directed by Álex de la Iglesia, this horror comedy follows strangers who are holed up in a Madrid bar after witnessing a murder. They begin to turn on each other as panic sets in and the body count rises.
- TERRIFIED (2018, SHUDDER) – Police commissioner Funes and three researchers of supernatural phenomena investigate inexplicable events that are occurring in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. (FULL REVIEW)
- LUCIFERINA (2018, TUBI/SHUDDER) – Natalia is a nineteen-year-old novice who reluctantly returns home to say goodbye to her dying father. However, when she meets up with her sister and her friends, she decides instead to travel the jungle in search of mystical plant. (FULL REVIEW)
- FRANCESCA (2015, TUBI) – Someone is viciously murdering people, people with criminal pasts. It appears that the murders may be linked to the disappearance of a young girl 15 years previously.
- COLD SWEAT (2010, AMAZON) – A horror film from the Spanish born Adrián García Bogliano, Cold Sweat follows Román, who stumbles upon his ex-girlfriend Jackie, who has somehow gotten caught up in a torture cult run by two sadistic, old men. The aging political radicals have managed to put Jackie’s life in incredible danger. But when Román and his friend try to help Jackie out of her confines, the elderly psychos prove to be more than meets the eye.
The father of Uruguayan cinema is the filmmaker Ricardo Islas, who is now based in the USA. Ricardo was 16 when he directed his first medium-length film, called Posesión (1986), on a television channel in the city of Colonia del Sacramento. The following year, he would make his first feature film called Crowley. The film tells the story of a bloodthirsty vampire who returns from the grave to seek the reincarnation of his lost love. The tile character was played by Islas himself. It was extremely low budget and DIY, but it was unlike anything that ever been done in the country.
The success of this film even spawned a sequel in 1990, called Las Cenizas de Crowley. Islas made several other independent films in Uruguay before heading to the States, where he works as a TV producer and independent filmmaker. He definitely opened the door for other filmmakers, like Gustavo Hernandéz and Manuel Facal.
FIVE FILMS FROM URAGUAY TO STREAM NOW
- CROWLEY (1986, RENT ON AMAZON OR YOUTUBE) – In a small, coastal colonial town, a clawed vampire rises from the ground near an old cemetery and begins terrorizing the community.
- THE HEIRESSES (2018, HBO MAX) – After her girlfriend is imprisoned on fraud charges, Chela is forced to face a new reality. Driving for the first time in years, she begins to provide a local taxi service to a group of elderly wealthy ladies. As Chela settles into her new life, she encounters the much younger Angy, forging a fresh and invigorating new connection.
- THE SILENT HOUSE (2010, RENT ON YOUTUBE) – A girl becomes trapped inside a house and becomes unable to contact the outside world as supernatural forces haunt it. The plot is based on a true story that occurred in the 1940s in a small village in Uruguay.
- A MONSTER WITH A THOUSAND HEADS (2016, AMAZON) – When Sonia receives news that her husband’s cancer has progressed to a critical stage, she races to secure the insurance company’s approval for the care that can help him. Met with indifference and negligence at every turn, Sonia’s desperation triggers a primal survival instinct as a series of increasingly violent confrontations unfold.
- MONOS (2019, HULU) – On a faraway mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage and a conscripted milk cow.
Chile started taking its first steps into the genre world back in 1946 with the production La Dama de la Muerte, directed by Argentine filmmaker Carlos Hugo Christensen. However, the first official pure Chiliean horror film wasn’t until 2000’s Ángel Negro (2000), directed by filmmaker Jorge Olguín. Heavily influenced by American slashers and Italian giallos, Olguín has become one of the great names in Chilean horror cinema.
The production of Chilean cinema really ramped up in the 2000s, with many filmmakers heavily influenced by what was happening in Hollywood at the time. As a result, a lot of the films of the time were extremely gory and violent. In fact, Eli Roth, who earned entry into the Splat Pack with films like Hostel and Cabin Fever, produced some films in the country. He also wrote and starred in the feature film Aftershock, which was filmed in Valparaíso and is a co-production between Chile and the United States.
FIVE FILMS FROM CHILE TO STREAM NOW
- MOTHER (2016, AMAZON) – A pregnant woman, who is taking care of her son with development problems, is at her breaking point when a caregiver from the Philippines steps into her life. Diana suspects that she’s using voodoo against her after the quick improvements of her son.
- DOWNHILL (2016, TUBI) – Deeply upset by the passing of his best friend, a professional BMX rider accepts to partake in a race in Chile. Everything goes as planned until he stumbles upon a man who is infected by a mysterious virus and becomes the target of local assassins.
- VISCERAL: BETWEEN THE ROPES OF MADNESS (2012, TUBI) – He is a washed-up boxer waiting for his big chance to prove himself worthy of the champion’s title, but above all, he is a man in a hopeless struggle to earn his mother’s approval, a fraction of her affection, a glimpse of her respect. Finally, a big opportunity appears and his manager offers him the chance of a lifetime in a win-all, lose-all title fight. Rejected by his mother, frustrated and void of any feelings, he will become a slave of pure evil, a tool of destruction of the human flesh. (READ FULL REVIEW)
- POST MORTEM (2010, AMAZON) – In Chile, 1973, during the last days of Salvador Allende’s presidency, an employee at a Morgue’s recording office falls for a burlesque dancer who mysteriously disappears.
- AFTERSHOCK (2012, TUBI) – Mayhem and death follow when an earthquake traps a group of tourists in a Chilean town.
Peruvian horror cinema is literally divided into two parts. At Lima, the capital of the country, we have commercial production — closely linked to international trends and only occasionally exploring the country’s legends in storylines.
Then there’s the underground part of this chain, with vast production taking place in the provinces, far away from Lima. Here, folk myths take shape on the screen and are frequently used to talk about everyday life, religion, politics and various other important themes. The indie output of the country yields very creative stories.
FIVE FILMS FROM PERU TO STREAM NOW
- THE ENTITY (2015, TUBI) – A group of media students embark on a documentary project, filming people watching intense shock footage online to monitor their psychological effect. And they find one example so terrifying the viewers have all died in mysterious circumstances. But what exactly is on this gruesome Internet footage? Their search leads to an obscure corner of cyberspace known as the Dark Web, a Quechua curse dating from the Spanish Inquisition and a demonic power they cannot escape from.
- THE SECRET OF EVIL (2014, AMAZON) – An investigation into the mysterious disappearance of a young man in the supposedly haunted Matusita House reveals its darkest secrets to those who dare to open its doors.
- WE ARE NOT ALONE (2016, RENT ON YOUTUBE) – A family, Mateo, Monica and eight year old Sofia, move into a house on the outskirts of Lima. From the first night, the girl is haunted by a terrifying being. These harassments become every time more violent and disturbing, and soon enough will require the presence of a priest, who will try to help without imagining the consequences.
- THE VANISHED ELEPHANT (2014, RENT ON YOUTUBE OR VUDU) – A crime novelist receives a vital clue to the whereabouts of his long-missing fiancée.
- WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE (2016, NETFLIX) – In this tense and immersive tour de force, audiences are taken directly into the line of fire between powerful, opposing Peruvian leaders who will stop at nothing to keep their respective goals intact. A tense war of words erupts into deadly violence.
The father of Colombian horror cinema is Jairo Pinilla. His first feature, Funeral Siniestro (1977), inaugurated the cycle of horror, which would influence a later movement called Caliwood. Directors from the city of Cali, Luis Ospina (Pura Sangre) and Carlos Mayolo (Carne de tu carne), made feature films about vampires as part of a movement known as Tropical Gothic.
After a hiatus in new content creation, genre filmmaking was once again reignited when Juan Felipe Orozco released Al final del espectro (At The End of the Spectra) in 2006. That film centers around Vega, an agoraphobic woman who shuts herself away in an apartment, where she soon begins to hear and see things.
FIVE FILMS FROM PERU TO STREAM NOW
- OUT OF THE DARK (2014, TUBI) – A couple and their daughter moves to Colombia to take over a family manufacturing plant, only to realize their new home is haunted.
- THE SQUAD (2011, HBO MAX) – After losing contact with a military base, a high mountain unit is sent to investigate. Upon arrival, they find only a woman in chains. Isolation and the impossibility of escape serve to undermine the soldiers’ judgment.
- CORD (2015, AMAZON) – On a post-apocalyptic world of never-ending winter, a sparse cast of outsiders live underground. Due to their unsanitary conditions, sexual contact has become dangerous. Masturbation has become the paradigm of sexual experience and an array of low-tech devices with this purpose has come into existence. In this bleak reality, Czuperski (a dealer of such machines) and Tania (a sex addict) make a deal: she will allow him to experiment new devices on her body in exchange of pleasure. Soon however, their relationship goes out of control.
- THE HIDDEN FACE (2011, STREAM ON STARZ OR RENT ON YOUTUBE) – A Spanish orchestra conductor deals with the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend.
- MANOS SUCIAS (2014, RENT ON AMAZON) – Towing a submerged torpedo in the wake of their battered fishing boat, a desperate fisherman and a naive kid embark on a journey trafficking millions of dollars worth of cocaine. Shot entirely on location along the Pacific coast of Colombia—in areas that bear the indelible scars of the drug trade—Manos Sucias refuses to glamorize the drug trade but rather seeks to offer a rare glimpse of its devastating effects.
The Future of Latin American Horror
While other Latin American countries may be light on horror output, the tide is starting to turn as more and more filmmakers are exploring genre content creation.
Paraguay‘s first horror feature film was just released in 2016. Directed by Justiniano Saracho and Héctor Rodríguez, Gritos del Monday (Cries of Monday) follows a group of young people who travel to Monday’s ecological reserve, a well-known tourist spot in Paraguay. They decide to camp there and, in the middle of the night, something sinister happens that shakes the group.
Another very successful horror film was recently produced in the country’s capital, Encarnación, called Morgue (2019), directed by Hugo Cardozo. The film tells of a night of terror by a night guard who is trapped inside the morgue of the Encarnación hospital. Variety has reported that Morgue had more than 60,000 movie house admissions in Paraguay in 2019, out-grossing even IT: Chapter Two and Annabelle Comes Home. While you can’t see it yet in North America, the film will be distributed soon via FilmSharks. Furthermore, a US remake is already being developed by Eric Heisserer (Bird Box, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing, Final Destination 5) via his company Chronology, which has a first-option deal with Paramount Pictures. Check out the International trailer below.
If you’re interested in checking out a great Paraguayan film right now, the 2012 thriller film 7 Boxes is available to stream for free on Tubi. This film received critical praise and broke box office records in Paraguayan cinemas. It’s about a boy named Víctor who receives an unusual proposal: to carry 7 boxes of unknown content through the Market Number 4. But things get complicated along the way. It’s not a horror film, but it is a fast-paced thrill ride with some dark humor. View the trailer here.
Bolivia‘s first feature was only released in 2010. Casting, directed by Denisse Arancibia and Juan Pablo Richter, appropriates the language of the splatter and meta horror film to tell the story of a group of actors who are appearing in Bolivia’s first horror film but end up victims of a bloodbath.
Ecuador is also at the early stages of genre exploration. Its first horror film was released in 2009: Impulso by Mateo Herrera.
Finally, Suriname has very recently taken the first step in horror film production with 2018’s All Alone, a ghost film directed by AJ Sasra. Watch the trailer here.