Comic-Con 2020 was held online this year which was sad for people who go every year but an amazing experience for introverts. Latin American Horror Cinema 2: Sometimes They Come Back was moderated by Sebastian Fink, featuring Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid), Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead), Demián Rugna (Aterrados), Isaac Ezban (The Incident), Victor Osuna, director of Las Reglas de la Ruina, and Gigi Saul Guerrero, who directed Into The Dark’s Culture Shock, an episode that focuses on Mexican immigration.
Alejandro Brugués’ introduction was worth every word, “Alejandro Brugués! This man crossed the road from hell to find out things that will terrify the world.” Brugués, an Argentinian director who grew up in Bolivia, directed Juan of the Dead, a horror-comedy about zombies in Cuba with a political subtext that is relevant today. Presently, he’s working on a story he wrote during lockdown for Blumhouse’s anthology series Into The Dark and Sam Raimi’s new show Fifty States of Frights.
Brugués early taste for horror comes from Guillermo del Toro’s films and from urban legends in Bolivia, where he grew up. He says it’s different in Cuba, which doesn’t have as many ghost stories. But what they do have is crime stories that become lore. In Cuba, crime isn’t reported on the news because the press is controlled by the government. But information spreads through social circles regardless, twisting gossip into a horror story after being retold several times to different people.
Brugués says he heard a story about a man who had his arms chopped off which freaked him out as a kid. He says that lore is the root of his work and that he wants to go back and check out those stories and see if they’re true, which is what he does with his films, exploring the idea. He lists the horror-comedy Vampires in Havana as an early inspiration because it was a funny cartoon and one of the few horror films to reference Cuba.
Gigi Saul Guerrero, a Mexican filmmaker, and actor, directed sixteen shorts before she broke into the industry, and created her own production company in Vancouver, Canada. That’s the sort of tenacity required for aspiring filmmakers, you have to make things, a lot of things. Her viral shorts caught the attention of Eli Roth, who brought her into Crypt TV where she was one of the first filmmakers to produce films for Crypt.
Guerrero grew up in the ’90s and was obsessed with Jurassic Park, Independence Day and Little Nicky because she wasn’t allowed to see scary movies until she rebelled and saw Children of Men and Amores Perros, which led her to Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, who are strong influences on her work, which she describes as an unapologetic love of blood and gore.
Demián Rugna, director of Aterrados (Terrified on Netflix) is an Argentian writer, director, and editor who broke into the scene in 2005 after making five horror shorts. He made a black comedy about a monster No Sabés Con Quién Estás Hablando (You Don’t Know Who You’re Talking To). During Latin American Horror Cinema 2: Sometimes They Come Back, Rugna, in agreement with Brugués, says there are few Latin American heroes in horror and that although Guillermo del Toro was an influence, del Toro was the only one making films at that level in the genre. He explains that there hasn’t been a big-budget horror film released in Argentina for over 24 years, indie yes, but not one in the theaters.
Rugna says his father, who was Brazilian, practiced what is translated in English as ‘witchery,’ a syncretic religion in Brazil. Rugna grew up in a house with chicken bones, sacrifices, and lots of blood, which inspired his filmmaking. He also liked toys as a child, like G.I. Joe because he could build stories for the characters while playing with them. Creative influences can come from family stories, books, and toys in addition to horror films.
Victor Osuna, a Mexican director who produced and directed 2018’s Las Reglas de la Ruina (The Rules of Ruin) a Lovecraftian horror film, was influenced by Guillermo del Toro, whose influence spreads wide. Everyone loves his work! Osuna says one of the important things about Latin American horror filmmaking is that the creators have it in their veins. And there’s no end to learning or admiring the work of other filmmakers from around the world but that Latin American filmmakers have a special flavor for him.
As a director, Osuna, who is very visual, looks for references outside of movies for inspiration. Some of his favorites are H. R. Giger, Kandinsky, and music. He loves music. He used to listen to movie soundtracks, repeatedly it seems; and he would put on The Smashing Pumpkins, Korn, and Depeche Mode when working because it put him in the right kind of mind to imagine things.
Issa López, a Mexican filmmaker, started in comedy, specifically romantic comedy, before writing and directing Tigers Are Not Afraid, a horror film that represents her true voice after years of collaborative projects. And what an achievement Tigers Are Not Afraid is! Lopez says that magical realism is over (for now) and that the time is ripe for visual horror. She is writing a script for Blumhouse called Our Lady of Tears about a true story that happened outside of Mexico City, where six hundred girls fell into a spell of mass hysteria.
López, like many of us, was influenced by John Carpenter, Neil Gaiman, and 80s horror movies. But as a kid in Mexico city, she grew up watching fantastical B-movies from the 50s and 60s on tv. She laughs saying that they also had their own Mexican werewolf which she clearly loved. López was inspired too by the director Carlos Enrique Taboada who made films with great titles like, Blacker Than The Night about four women in a house of the supernatural.
She said that her grandmother would tell her stories about the devil she heard in her hometown in Northern Mexico. She said if the devil came to visit you could escape by wearing your clothes inside out. She said listening to these stories is what gave her the voice she has today. I relate to López and Rugna’s stories about their family because my mother would talk about the devil and spells and how she hired a brujería to curse my father’s boat.
Isaac Ezban, a Mexican filmmaker, writer, and director, and one of the co-founders of Autocinema Coyote, the only drive-in theater in Mexico, said that one of the few good things about the pandemic is that people can gather online from different countries. Ezban has made nine short films and three features: The Incident and The Similars, two sci-fi psychological films similar to “The Twilight Zone”, which was a huge influence on him. His third film Parallel was his first English spoken film about the multiverse. In his science fiction films, he tries to write about real situations and something very human through the lens of genre.
Ezban grew up watching Wes Craven. Scream was the first horror movie he ever saw. He loved 80s slashers, early Cronenberg and The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and of course, the titan himself del Toro. He loves Stephen King, Philip K. Dick, and the tv show Lost. But he keeps coming back to Stephen King and “The Twilight Zone”. He says “The Twilight Zone” blew him away because there was always an unexpected twist at the end that could be supernatural. He says that Rod Sterling was a great storyteller who could tell mind-blowing stories about aliens, time travel, deals with the devil, artificial intelligence — complex ideas that could be told at a reduced scale.
At the end of the hour, the moderator pointed out that each member of the Latin American Horror Cinema 2: Sometimes They Come Back panel is the new wave inspiring a generation of Latin American horror directors. He asked the panel to offer advice to aspiring horror directors which came down to — make stuff, small films, anything even if it’s with your phone. Making shorts will teach you about filmmaking. Don’t be afraid of doing movies. Watch a lot of cinema. Use social media. Or don’t use social media. Hull your creativity until you come up with a truly great idea that is worth the emotional investment. And my favorite advice from the panel: if everyone hates your idea that usually means that you are on the right track. Don’t be afraid of failure.
If you haven’t already, check out the features and early shorts made by these artists. Comic-Con 2020 continues until end of day today. There are several exciting panels for horror fans of every subgenre. Don’t worry if you miss a panel, many are still uploaded on Youtube so that you can watch them at your own leisure — for free. Happy Con!
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