In honor of Cinco De Mayo, I reflect on five of my favorite Mexican horror films — from the campy to the classic to the completely twisted.
Growing up Latina in the Midwest didn’t allow me the option to select from the best and most theatrical Mexican films of all time for my viewing enjoyment. Instead, I was left with the local Spanish network channel, which played oldies and low budget films. Now, my knowledge of Spanish wasn’t the greatest back then. But as a horror loving kid, language issues meant nothing. I wanted ghosts, vampires, and evil. And on those late nights, these campy but entertaining films sufficed.
As a child, my family moved to Mexico for a few years, which let me view the more recent Mexican films of the 1970s and 1980s. Years later, living in Arizona, I still watch Mexican horror films on local Spanish television, enjoying the oldies on the rare showing. And while I laugh and roll my eyes at some of the films I used to watch, I still hold a deep love for them. So, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, here are five of my favorites.
1. El Vampiro (1957) (The Vampire)
The classic Mexican horror standard, this recreation of the original American film, Dracula, held its own with a touch of seriousness and still a flavor of Mexican spin. The story centers on a young woman who discovers her aunt has died and her other aunt is under the mind control of a strange neighbor, who turns out to be the brother of Count Karol De Lavud, a vampire from Hungary. They target the young woman to transform her into a vampire, and she must fight the evil brood with help from a doctor and her uncle. This is a classic film that is definitely worthy of a view.
2. La Tia Alejandra (1979) (Aunt Alejandra)
Brujas or witches are a Mexican staple, and every family has always suspected that someone in their family is practicing the dark arts. In this film, an elderly woman goes to live with her family. Unknown to them, she is a vengeful witch and soon sets out to destroy the once happy family. Murder and death follow in her wake. This is a creepy, dark movie that ends with a twist. The star, Isabella Corona, who plays La Tia (the Aunt), is the film’s evil heart. She is a malevolent being, and she sells this movie.
3. Santos Contra las Mujeres Vampiras (1962) (Santos vs the Female Vampires)
Any fan of Lucha Libre (Mexican pro wrestling) knows who Santos is. He was the Mexican Superstar wrestler. You could describe him as The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) of Mexico — who the American actor/ wrestler would be if he had a secret identity.
The film centers on a vampire queen, a young woman who a coven (of vampires witches?) want to kidnap. There are also henchmen who are werewolves, as well as the Devil. And the only person who can stop the evil plan is the legendary man himself, Santos, who fights off an attempt to unmask him. (Note to those who don’t know who Santos is: He wears a face mask to cover his face and identity and never unveils his true face). This film is truly campy, but it carries such a serious tone that you can’t help but be intrigued.
4. Veneno Para Las Hadas (1984) (Poison For The Fairies)
This is a great movie, and I would rank it as one of my favorite all-time gothic little tales. This one would also be near the top my all-time favorite movies list. A young girl moves to a new school and befriends a strange girl, ostracized by her classmates. She’s a girl who believes in witchcraft and the supernatural. She lives with her old grandmother and her nanny, who tells her supernatural stories/ fantasies. The poor girl wholeheartedly believes in the tales.
As the two girls befriend each other, Veronica (the witch girl) exploits her friend’s belief in her “powers”, and things become macabre. Fear leads to a horrid and tragic ending. I don’t want to blow the ending. Go see the movie.
5. Santa Sangre (1989) (Holy Blood)
No Mexican horror film list can exist without including this wacky and offbeat film that refuses to hold anything back. A young man, Fenix, is a resident in a mental hospital. And the twisted backstory on how he arrived there is a doozy. Fenix’s past is one suitable for a horror tale: love, lies, and revenge in the worst way. His parents will not be receiving any Parents of the Year awards.After a horrific incident, Fenix becomes damaged goods. To say the poor kid’s mind is warped is a mild understatement.
A few comparisons to Psycho aside, it reminds me of those low budget 1970’s American horror films like Tourist Trap and Burnt Offerings — low on budget, but great on satisfying follow-through endings.