Last year around this date, here at W-Cinema I posted a brief list of horror films that I considered were often overlooked despite being masterpieces of the genre. This time I decided to make a similar exercise, yet different exercise (and one that I hope won't be relegated only to the days around Halloween): picking 15 horror films from a certain country that were, in my humble opinion, the best from said country's national filmography. In this first attempt, I picked Mexico as the country to explore.
There are three main reasons I picked Mexico, the first and most obvious one was that it is my country of origin, the second was the renovated interest Mexican horror is experiencing (with new Mexican films produced and new releases of excellent DVDs of old classics), and the third and most important was the reading of Saul Rosas Rodriguez' book "El Cine De Horror en Mexico" ("Horror Cinema in Mexico"), where the author seems to conclude that very few good horror films have been done in the country. While I won't detail the many disagreements I have with the book (hopefully, one day I'll write my own), I'll just say that my main intention with this list was to recommend 15 films that to me are the proof that Mexican horror has true gems in its history and that there's more in it beyond the films of Carlos Enrique Taboada (definitely a master, but he wasn't the only one) and the occasional lucky strike.
I wouldn't consider myself an expert of the genre, and there are many films I have not seen (including several classics, such as "Dos Monjes", "La Bruja" and "El Monstruo Resusitado"), but I hope to have made a good, albeit shallow, coverage of the history of horror cinema in Mexico. I also hope to be able of making this exercise in the future for other genres besides horror and of course other countries. In the meantime, here are W-Cinema's Top 15 Mexican Horror Films of all time.
15) Cronos (1993, Guillermo Del Toro)
In his feature length debut, director Guillermo Del Toro gave a fresh twist to vampires in this story about immortality and the price one has to pay for it. Starring Federico Luppi, Claudio Brook and Ron Pearlman, "Cronos" is the tale of an antiquarian (Luppi) who finds an artifact that reinvigorates him and makes him strong and confident again, but also gives him a bizarre need of blood. Claudio Brook is a dying industrialist who has been tracking down the artifact as he sees in it the chance to cheat death and become immortal, so he decides to do whatever's necessary to get it. A great debut that already showed the talent of Del Toro for horror and fantasy.
Buy "Cronos" (1993)
14) Terror y Encajes Negros (1985, Luis Alcoriza)
Directed by Buñuel's frequent collaborator Luis Alcoriza, "Terror y Encajes Negros" ("Terror and Black Lace") is an odd beast in Mexican horror, as it's a film that fuses the very Mexican style of social melodrama with the Italian Giallo, in a very black comedy that satirize the often contradictory modern Mexican urban life: machismo, paranoia, jealousy, infidelity and the paradoxical feeling of isolation while living in a big city. A psycho stalks a young woman in her apartment while her jealous husband is away. Gonzalo Vega is wonderful as the stubborn, chauvinist husband and Maribel Guardia is very good as his beautiful wife.
Buy "Terror Y Encajes Negros" (1985)
13) El Escapulario (1968, Servando González)
An often forgotten gem of magical realism on film set in the time of the Mexican Revolution. A dying woman (Ofelia Guilmáin) calls a priest (Enrique Aguilar), and proceeds to tell him about the effects a scapular has had in the life of her sons. An anthology of sorts (each of the mother's stories is a segment), "El Escapulario" ("The Scapular") is a story that begins firmly grounded in realism but then enters slowly into the realm of horror. Directed by documentary filmmaker Servando González, it features many interesting elements such as an odd bit of animation, and great use of sound and the cinematography by the legendary Gabriel Figueroa.
eMULE: "El Escapulario" (1968) - No Subtitles
12) El Espinazo del Diablo (2001, Guillermo Del Toro)
I was in doubt about counting Del Toro's "El Espinazo Del Diablo" ("The Devil's Backbone") as a Mexican film, mainly because it was a co-production with Spain, shot there with a Spaniard cast. Still, unlike "El Laberinto del Fauno", this movie has a very Mexican atmosphere and sometimes it recalls the Mexican Gothic horror of the 60s. Set in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War, it's the story of a group of kids who not only have to put up with the harsh consequences war has on their lives, but also with the discovery of an unseen, supernatural presence deeply grounded in the orphanage.
Buy "El Espinazo del Diablo" (2001)
11) Vagabundo en la Lluvia (1968, Carlos Enrique Taboada)
One of the most consistent creators of horror in Mexico was without a doubt Carlos Enrique Taboada, director of several key films in Mexican horror and writer of many more. While most of his films deal with the supernatural, "Vagabundo en la Lluvia" ("Vagabond in the Rain") was his attempt at a more realistic style of psychological horror, and while not without shortcomings, he succeeds in creating a haunting story of horror and suspense. During a storm, two women spend the night alone in the country house of one of them. Stalked by a mysterious man who's outside in the woods, they'll have to face their own demons to survive the night.
Buy "Vagabundo En La Lluvia" (1968)
10) El Vampiro (1957, Fernando Méndez)
In the film that started the Mexican "Golden Age of Horror", director Fernando Méndez successfully adapts Gothic horror to a Mexican setting in the story of an European vampire decided to establish his reign of terror in a Mexican hacienda. Adding a good dose of sensuality and classy eroticism to the vampire myth (coincidentally, Hammer Studios would do the same in the U.K. the following year) in the persons of Carmen Montejo and specially Germán Robles, Méndez created a thrilling story that would become iconic. The beautiful cinematography by Rosalío Solano shaped the visual look that Mexican horror would follow in the near future.
Buy "El Vampiro" (1957)
9) El Espejo De la Bruja (1962, Chano Urueta)
Director Chano Urueta and writer Carlos Enrique Taboada conceived here one of the most original stories in Mexican horror: a powerful witch (Isabela Corona) faces a mad scientist (Armando Calvo) in order to avenge her godchild (Dina de Marco), who was married to the scientist. What makes the film really interesting is not only its unusual storyline (which could be read in many ways, the most obvious one, as women's fight against oppressive machismo and excessive male control), but the fact that it's practically a homage to Gothic horror cinema with clear nods to movies like "Eyes without a face" (1960), "Mad Love" (1935) and many more.
Buy "El Espejo de la Bruja" (1962)
8) El Fantasma del Convento (1934, Fernando De Fuentes)
Years before the Mexican "Golden Age of Horror", the genre flourished in the 30s, during a brief period that produced several good films. Amongst them, De Fuentes' "El Fantasma del Convento" ("The Ghost of the Convent") was the best, as it perfectly adapted the classic Mexican style of horror legends about ancient monasteries to cinema, in a very atmospheric movie that explored the theme of adultery in a quite interesting fashion. Director of many classics of Mexican cinema, De Fuentes showcases an excellent use of Max Urban's music and Ross Fisher's cinematography to achieve the movie's haunting mood. The surreal climax is definitely a highlight of Mexican horror.
Watch "El Fantasma del Concento" (1934)
7) Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo (1968, Carlos Enrique Taboada)
Probably the most famous Mexican horror film of all time (and not without a reason), Taboada's movie about the haunting of an exclusive girl's school is still a powerful tale of horror. Forced to remain in school during vacations as a punishment, a group of girls will discover the secrets that the walls of their school has hidden when the ghost of a deceased student begins to manifest. With a remarkable use of atmosphere (naturally, the wind has the main role) and a great script (with subtle lesbian undertones), Taboada handles mystery, horror and suspense wonderfully, creating a timeless classic.
Buy "Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo" (1968)
6) Misterios De Ultratumba (1959, Fernando Méndez)
Also known as "The Black Pit of Dr. M", this remarkable tale of mystery and horror is, in my opinion, the crowning achievement of director Fernando Méndez. Two doctors make a pact, that the first one to die will return to prove that life after death exists. Naturally, things go awfully wrong when men try to discover what's beyond their understanding. Filled with an ominous atmosphere of dread, "Misterios De Ultratumba" is a powerful horror film that mixes Gothic horror and film noir with a noticeable touch of Lovecraft. It is also one of the most beautifully shot horror films of all time, in my humble opinion.
Buy "Misterios de Ultratumba (1959)
5) El Esqueleto De la Señora Morales (1960, Rogelio A. González)
One of the best black comedies ever made, this movie tales the story of a taxidermist (a terrific Arturo De Córdova) who has lived 15 years of tortuous marriage with his wife (Amparo Rivelles). While he loved her very much, her annoying antics and general lack of love and respect for his person have finally made him to be tired of all. So he begins to plan the "perfect crime". Weird and insanely funny, this very original comedy with touches of horror is enormously enjoyable due to the witty and irreverent script (by Luis Alcoriza) and Arturo De Córdova's unforgettable performance.
Buy "El Esqueleto de la Sra. Morales" (1960)
4) La Tía Alejandra (1979, Arturo Ripstein)
While the 70s weren't the best decade for Mexican horror, Ripstein's "La Tía Alejandra" ("Aunt Alejandra") appeared as an oasis in the desert, being a terrific film that explored horror coming from the dearest of all institutions: family. A middle class family receives aunt Alejandra (Isabela Corona), who has arrived to live with them after the death of her mother. At first everything looks promising, as the old lady has decided to help with the family's financial troubles, but under her apparently harmless exterior is hidden a powerful witch who won't hesitate to kill anyone who tries to stop her plans. Including her own family.
Buy "La Tia Alejandra" (1979)
3) El Libro De Piedra (1969, Carlos Enrique Taboada)
While many regard "Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo" ("Even the wind is Afraid") as Taboada's best horror film, I find "El Libro De Piedra" ("The Book of Stone") to be his ultimate masterpiece. In the film, Marga López plays a governess hired to teach a young girl (Lucy Buj) in a country-house. The girl always talks about her imaginary friend Hugo, who is actually a statue she found in the woods, but this makes her family think she's losing her mind. However, the governess will soon discover that probably there's more in Hugo than just an imaginary friend. While low on production values, the movie is filled with suspense, something that Taboada handles masterfully through the film.
Buy "El Libro De Piedra" (1969)
2) Pedro Páramo (1967, Carlos Velo)
Based on Juan Rulfo's celebrated novel, "Pedro Páramo" is a very dark and poetic film of magical realism about a young man (Carlos Fernández) who travels to the forgotten town of Comala to find his father, Pedro Páramo (John Gavin). What he discovers is a ghost town, where the spirits of those who lived there tell him the story about the downfall of Pedro Páramo and the town as a whole. With a beautifully haunting photography by Gabriel Figueroa, director Carlos Velo recreates the nightmarish town of Comala and brings to life the very human emotions that fill the novel: cruelty, despair, passion, nostalgia. "Pedro Páramo" may not be a horror film in the strict sense of the word, but it's definitely a powerful experience.
Buy "Pedro Páramo" (1967)
1) El Hombre Sin Rostro (1950, Juan Bustillo Oro)
The years from the late 40s to early 50s are not really a strong period for horror in general (although they were great years for cinema as a whole), but in 1950 Mexican cinema produced what in my opinion is the best Mexican horror film of all time. Written and directed by Bustillo Oro (responsible of a wide variety of classics), "El Hombre Sin Rostro" ("The Man Without a Face") is a crime drama that mixes perfectly horror and film noir, in a tale about a detective (Arturo De Córdova) obsessed with a serial killer that he has been unable to identify and tortured by nightmares where he sees the killer as a man without a face. Very stylish in its visual look, the film finds the equilibrium between the realism of urban drama and the surreal nightmares the detective has. It's very unusual and beautiful look together with its intelligent and original (for its time) storyline make this psychological thriller one of the best Mexican movies of all time.
eMULE: "El Hombre Sin Rostro" (1950) - No Subtitles