Happy Cinco de Mayo! In honor of Cinco de Mayo and Mexico’s unique artistic contributions to horror films, I’ve compiled a list of five awesome Mexican horror movies!
But before I get into the horror movies, let’s talk about the history behind Cinco de May. In case you didn’t know, May 5, 2018, is the 156th anniversary of the Mexican Army’s defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Long story short, Napoleon III wanted to take advantage of Mexico’s financially weakened position at the time and force Mexico to be a “dependent empire” to benefit French interests. Of course, Mexico was not having it, and they put up a fight. After France gained the early advantage, Mexico rallied and secured a massive victory, both strategically and morally, since the French soldiers were vastly better equipped and outnumbered the Mexicans 2 to 1.
So, just remember that when you’re throwing back margaritas and watching horror movies. These Mexican horror movies are scary, intense, and creative, combining elements of ghost stories, exploitation, and the magical realism for which Mexican horror is known.
El Espejo de la Bruja (1962) (The Witch’s Mirror)
In El Espejo de la Bruja, a witch schemes to avenge the murder of goddaughter at the hands of her husband, who then wastes no time in remarrying a clueless woman. And it doesn’t stop with the death of one woman—this film trades in dead women, which is interesting considering who the murderer is. The film creates a successful mix of classic gothic tropes, borrowing everything from Rebecca to Edgar Allan Poe to Eyes Without a Face. As a result, El Espejo de la Bruja is a moody, atmospheric horror film with sinister visuals, schlocky plot developments, and scares of varying effectiveness.
Alucarda, directed by Mexican horror director Juan Lopez Moctezuma, is a retelling of the classic gothic horror novella Carmilla. Alucarda (say it backward), an orphaned teenage girl with frightening powers who lives at a convent, strikes up a very close relationship with the new girl at the convent. Eventually, they form a blood pact with each other and start practicing black magic and get into all sorts of bloody, nude trouble. Alucarda tackles issues of sexual repression and Catholicism, but the film is focused on creating a crazy viewing experience with a ton of gore and nudity.
Santa Sangre (1989)
Alejandro Jodorowsky is a pioneer of avant-garde and surreal film. This Chilean-French director is particularly known for films like El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and his failed attempt to film a 14-hour film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. He also directed the Mexican surrealist horror film Santa Sangre.
Santa Sangre is…a lot to take in. It’s the somber story of a woman who, horrifically abused and mutilated as a young woman, perpetuates psychological and emotion control over her son. This woman, Concha, though armless, can control her son’s hands and force him to murder the women who compete for his attention. It’s surreal and violent and archetypal and horrifying, overflowing with images that will haunt you for a long time.
Cronos (really, any of Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish language films) (1993)
Guillermo del Toro has achieved massive success in the United States, culminating with his recent Oscar win for Best Director for The Shape of Water. Before he was raking in the accolades for his English language films, del Toro was a talented young director writing and directing Spanish-Language films.
His very first Mexican feature film, Cronos, was released in 1993 and has all the elements that would become part of his signature brand of storytelling. In Cronos, del Toro breathed new life into vampire mythology with the story of an elderly antique dealer who stumbles upon an otherworldly device that bestows eternal life on its owners for one small price—becoming a blood-sucking vampire. Little does he know the significance of the object and what other more powerful men want with it. Del Toro combines the classic tropes of vampire tales with his own affinities for Mexican magical realism, dark fairy tales, and the religious questions we dare not ask ourselves.
We Are What We Are (2010)
Did you know that 2013’s critically acclaimed We Are What We Are is a remake of a Mexican horror film? The plot is the same—the patriarch of a cannibal family dies unexpectedly and leaves his family struggling to continue their, um, lifestyle. It’s a very gruesome, disturbing film, one that explores suppressed sexualities, stifled anger, shared shame, dysfunctional family dynamics, corruption of officials, and socio-economic hierarchies. It’s a compelling family drama and grisly horror film rolled up together.