The last few years have been a great time for the horror genre, and in particular, horror anthologies have been doing really well. With films like The Mortuary Collection, The V/H/S series, and now SATANIC HISPANICS, this is a great time to be a horror fan.
Please, step right this way.
SATANIC HISPANICS started life as a cool title thought up at a film festival, and then directors Alejandro Brugués (Juan Of The Dead, ABCs Of Death 2) and Mike Mendez (The Convent, Big Ass Spider, Don’t Kill It) had to find a way to make it happen. They added directors Gigi Saul Guerrero (Into The Dark: Culture Shock, “The Purge” TV Series, Bingo Hell), Demián Rugna (Terrified, You Don’t Know Who You’re Talking To), Eduardo Sanchez (co-director of The Blair Witch Project, V/H/S/2 segment ‘A Ride In The Park’, Lovely Molly) to the mix and they have come up with the Latino anthology film and not just because it is the first. SATANIC HISPANICS is magnificent, hilarious, and frightening genre storytelling so distinctive that it instantly creates its own world.
Chapter One: The Traveler (El Viajero), directed by Mike Mendez and written by Alejandro Mendez.
Chapter Two: También Lo Vi (I Saw It Too) Guión y dirección by Demián Rugna
Chapter Three: El Vampiro, Directed by Eduardo Sánchez, written by Adam Cesare
Chapter Four: Nahuales, Dicretora Gigi Saul Guerrero, Guión Shadan Saul, Raynor Shima
Chapter Five: The Hammer Of Zanzibar directed by Alejandro Brugués, written by Lino K. Villa
This film is so Latino, unapologetically Latino, and it’s a true gift coming to us during “Hispanic Heritage Month”. Not only are all of the creators Latinos, but the lead cast is also Latino and the film wasn’t made with an eye to success in the mainstream market. I really don’t think that any thought was given to making the film more audience friendly. It is what it is and glories in its wild Latino soul. The stories are set in El Paso, Texas, Argentina, Catamaco, Mexico, and Burbank.
What you know if you’re one of us is that we’re strange and we’re funny. Latino people live at the intersection of the ordinary world and another world filled with magic and el extraño. We all have an abuela who sees ghosts or that tia who does spells and to us, it’s no big deal. As a culture, we’re more open to what most of the world might call “the supernatural” and that’s why a story with dimensional portals, witches, demons, shapeshifters, and vampires fits really well within our culture.
The Traveler set-up
Now, SATANIC HISPANICS fires like a well-cared-for revolver, and the wraparound story, The Traveler, sets up the tone and the story very well. A drifter found in a room of dead people is questioned by the police and while he’s trying to explain why it’s imperative that he leave the police station within an hour and a half, he tells stories that tell more about who he is and how the regular world treats people like him. Without overt preaching, the story talks about what it’s like to be Latino in this world.
The casual arrogance with which the cops treat The Traveler speaks volumes. As a Latino, he is treated with suspicion and assumed to be ignorant. I’ve encountered it before. When you look like us, if you don’t open your mouth immediately to answer someone’s questions, they assume that you can’t speak English, you’re an “illegal”, and that you are stupid.
But the film puts entertainment first and manages to balance the two-pronged tonal shifts between horror and humor in a truly impressive and very Latino way.
The Traveler is a very strong frame story and is not only woven in between each of the individual tales, it bookends the finale as well. Mike and Alejandro Mendez did a great job with the usually dullest part of any anthology film and The Traveler is frequently surprising. The actor playing The Traveler, Efren Ramirez, has given one of the best performances in a film that is filled with terrific performances. Just looking into his face is like looking into a portal to another world. With no creature effects make-up and hardly ever raising his voice, he manages to be one of the most chilling characters in the film. Once you watch him, you can’t forget him and he makes the interrogation scene crackle with eldritch energy.
También Lo Vi
También Lo Vi is a story set in Argentina focusing on a mathematical savant with power, that revolves around algorithms that he doesn’t understand and can’t control, but that he is seemingly powerless to stop performing. Demián Salomón (Punto Rojo, Bienvenidos al infierno) plays Gustavo in a distracted, yet fiendish manner. He’s intense and yet doesn’t seem to care about or have any other purpose than executing his endless combinations. He’s obsessed and even he doesn’t know why. Everything, right down to the shape of his pizza on a plate is governed by this. Luis Manchin and Victoria Maurette are very good in their roles and Carlos Segane is really spooky as a curious pizza delivery person with a face that has such an indefinable quality.
The story mostly takes place during the night, so the cinematography takes full advantage of shadowy corners and rooms to enhance the creepiness in the segment and uses mainly greens and golds that seem to hover within the frame. It’s really beautiful to look at. The concept itself is frightening, but this segment has little fear bombs, like exactly how vulnerable our bodies really are, within it. Rugna has done an excellent job of crafting one of the most overtly sinister of the segments.
Eduardo Sánchez has continued his run of idiosyncratic horror anthology segments with El Vampiro. Outside of his best-known work, The Blair Witch Project, Sánchez’s work has a strong sense of empathy for the monsters that he creates in his films and Vampiro is no exception. Hemky Madera (Spiderman: Homecoming, “Queen Of The South”) shows the all too human side of the bloodsucker while still ripping out throats. Sánchez expertly mines the comedy that most vampire tales miss, even the comedies about vampires, but it’s also a tale of male and female relationship dynamics and how some people just hate Halloween. His specialty in El Vampiro and A Ride In The Park is showing the human frailties and feelings of the monster and it’s captivating.
This is probably the most touching of all of the segments and one of the funniest. Sánchez and the writer Adam Cesare really understand that there’s more than the super cool inhuman fiend to specific monsters and that those characteristics and motivations make for very entertaining viewing especially when they take the time to understand what makes them tick. Is El Vampiro a vampire character study? Kind of? But it’s relentlessly charming, so much fun, and kind of sweet.
Patricia Velasquez (The Mummy Series, “Mindhunters”) as Maribel does a great job as the Vampire’s mate who’s had enough of his shit. Ken Arnold and Darien Rothchild as Cop #1 and #2 do good work as two not-so-bright cops who work better as an unwilling comedy team. Sánchez makes good use of the old-style horror technique of shadow play on the wall which suits the segment beautifully.
One of the segments that is straight horror than any of the others. I won’t define Nahuales because I think it would be better for the audience as viewers to come to an understanding of the concept on their own while watching it. In it, Gigi Saul Guerrero makes a smashing success of illuminating one of the deeply buried cores of the Latino identity, the majesty, and power of Indigenous peoples from the pre-Columbian time period in Mesoamerica. All too frequently, when Americans or Europeans view Latino people, they don’t think of us as powerful people with an ancient history and culture. They tend to think of us as not being relevant until they arrived. They can accept the Pyramids of Giza as architectural wonders of the ancient world, but can’t quite accord Chichen Itza and Machu Picchu the same kind of respect.
The segment is set in Catamaco, Mexico, known as the capital of sorcery in the country. Ari Gallegos (“Narcos: Mexico”, El Vigilante) plays de la Cruz, a frightened man who has done something wrong. Gabriela Ruíz (New Order) is powerful as Madre Tierra. Her character totally takes over the story and you can feel the character’s power as a Latina woman and a bruja. What you feel when you look upon Madre Tierra is not fear. It goes past that. What you fear is awe because you know that you are in the presence of a truly unimpeachable being who lives outside of conventional society’s structure. She and her Nahuals, Oso (Jesus Meza), Perro (Pedro Joaquín), Lobo (Marcio Moreno), Búho (Carlos L. Vazquez) all give performances that emanate power and authority. Guerrero starts in a mysterious place with the segment and bit by bit her direction expertly amps up the dread. It’s all over de la Cruz’s face. Guerrero has made a truly transfixing film with her segment.
The Hammer of Zanzibar
By borrowing part of a legend from, literally, Zanzibar, Alejandro Brugués has created a tale that is equal parts demonic farce, intentional shaggy dog story, and one of the world’s greatest dick jokes. It’s hilarious and kind of astounding. HOZ is truly entertaining with more than one moment that reverses course just when you think you have it figured out. Brugués mastery of comic tone with most of the story and characterizations delivered through conversations is splendid. It has just the right amount of horror elements to offset the humor and accent it as well.
Jonah Ray Rodrigues (Into The Dark: Pooka Lives, “Mystery Science Theater 3000”) as Malcolm has haunted eyes and a smug smile as a nerd who learns how to fight demons quickly, and Danielle Chaves as Amy has just the right amount of the glazed look of an ex who isn’t terribly comfortable with the situation, Jacob Vargas (Traffic, “Sons Of Anarchy”) as El Jefe is the totally chill owner of the Mystic Museum and raconteur. All of the comedic bits are played totally straight-faced which makes them work perfectly. The horror is always just under the surface, mostly telegraphed through Malcolm’s desperate ojos.
SATANIC HISPANICS is a cinematic brujeria: both healing and empowering. Brutally funny, it does have good gore, but most of the real horror takes place in the cathedral of your mind. It’s one of those great films that will sit in your mind until you are alone, and then start working on your fears when you hear an odd noise. The film’s performances are all fantastic.
The segments are directed and written extremely well, and the quality of the work of the craftspeople behind the scenes is equal to those in front of the camera. The film is filled with the essence of the many ideas and qualities that Latinos possess, many of them different from others. Through the making of the film, it shows that Latinos are not a monolith, but also that when Latinos work together, someone is going to make good-natured fun of Cubans.
It is the work of talented creators who do not ask anyone’s permission to excel or express themselves.
SATANIC HISPANICS, the title of which is a very funny joke and observation about how Latinos are perceived, has magic. It’s that indefinable quality of the unknown that is native to our people. Los estranos are never too serious about ourselves or our demons. Brilliant and jocose, SATANIC HISPANICS is going to a la mierda tu mente.