All true horror movie fans know this — you don’t need to be in Hollywood to make an amazing horror film. In fact, nowadays, it seems at least half of the truly inspired genre movies to hit the market come from other countries. The creators of dark visions from all over the world continue to find a way to exercise their craft, and ultimately share it with audiences everywhere. Mexico, for example, has been offering up compelling celluloid for decades — yet for whatever reason, we’ve often opted to ignore or underplay so many Mexican horror films.
After studying as many Mexican productions as possible over the last few weeks, I can’t begin to formulate a valid explanation for this neglect… there are some top-notch Mexican genre titles out there, and it’s high time the rest of the world started paying more attention.
In order to ensure that you stick around long enough to soak up all of our picks, we’ve narrowed the list to just a healthy handful of suggestions.
Now… prepare to travel across over half a century in Mexican horror cinema!
THE BRAINIAC (1962)
There’s no point in denying it — THE BRAINIAC is often absurd and goofy, summoning far more laughs than dread. But it’s still a joy, as a direct result of its seemingly self-aware status. The filmmakers knew their story was preposterous, so they showed up less concerned with making a monumental film and more concerned with entertaining an audience. It works! There’s an almost PHANTASM-like mood to the film, as there are about a dozen ideas stuffed chaotically into one little picture — and that proves to be the key to its charm. If you’re in the mood for a good, engaging throwback film, you can’t lose with THE BRAINIAC.
MÉXICO BÁRBARO (2014)
An anthology loaded with absurd, disturbing and downright bewildering tales, MÉXICO BÁRBARO quietly crept into our homes last year… unfortunately, not many were paying attention; the picture is simply not developing the following it seemed so destined to have prior to release. But the good news is particularly good news: MÉXICO BÁRBARO is badass. Sure, it’s got its flaws, but it also works hard to give genre freaks a little bit of everything they love — from gore to nudity, and everything in between, it’s present and pronounced in this anthology.
Long before most commercial studios knew who Guillermo del Toro was, he was already pumping out awesome stories drenched in dread and terror. CRONOS is this living legend’s very first feature length picture, and it’s an incredible work of art. Anyone who’s tired of standard, bland and predictable vampire stories should give this one a peek. Although CRONOS could be considered on the visually tame side by del Toro’s personal standards, it’s truly an exceptional movie that works for a lot of different reasons.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2010)
Somehow (perhaps with the aid of witchcraft), director Jorge Michel Grau gifted us with a gritty cannibal flick that doesn’t feel like basic white trash exploitation. By all accounts it should — it’s ugly, it’s dark, and it could be an extension of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, were it still the 1970s. But WE ARE WHAT WE ARE always feels more like art than exploitation. It’s such an intense familial drama, with a brutal streak of horror running down the center, that you can’t help but view it with high expectations. Grau has crafted a fine feature that’s already produced an American remake — which is a bit inferior, but still very much a standout of the genre.
SANTA SANGRE (1989)
No doubt the strangest of the films on this list, SANTA SANGRE is a twisted revenge tale dipped in pure insanity. Random moments clutter this strange but fascinating film, which has an interestingly magnetic effect. Some viewers are likely to find it too far-fetched… but for those on a serious mission to unearth unique productions SANTA SANGRE is a winner through and through. Even if you can’t call this film a personal favorite, it’s hard to deny director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s measure of talent.
THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001)
Hands down one of the finest ghost stories produced in the last few decades, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE remains one of Guillermo del Toro’s strongest efforts — even though it was only his third feature-length film. The story involves a haunted orphanage, so you know de Toro doesn’t hold much back when it comes to the scares. But beyond those shocks are a series of haunting, melancholy compositions that don’t just strengthen key characters — they really climb under the viewer’s skin. THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE isn’t one of del Toro’s better-recognized works… but it’s truly one of his best.
HERE COMES THE DEVIL (2012)
Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare, and while HERE COMES THE DEVIL explores some interesting horror elements — particularly in the final act — this one is really about the damage that comes with that horrific loss. Don’t get me wrong; Adrián García Bogliano (who helmed recent werewolf standout LATE PHASES) has created a minimalist creep-out which no doubt deserves its classification as a horror flick… but there’s a lot more to it, which dedicated film fans should appreciate. Anticipate a very measured first act before the terror begins to really kick in; once the ball gets rolling, the film becomes a beacon for your attention.
PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)
Wait… another Guillermo del Toro movie? Well, what can we say? As a director, he’s prolific as well as consistent. He’s also got a few legitimate smashes on his resume — and PAN’S LABYRINTH is one of the best: This folkloric tale spawns mesmerizing characters, mystifying monstrosities and a taut quest to claim an unlikely fate. Few motion pictures look nearly as amazing as PAN’S LABYRINTH, but these surface details are but one piece of a complete and intricate puzzle.
WE ARE THE FLESH (2016)
Here’s a killer flick you should seek out immediately, because it’s certifiably bad-ass. The story, which finds a pair of impoverished siblings in a surreal, bizarre arrangement with a mad mystic, is engaging and often times extremely clever… but it’s the visuals that take home the award here. The film is just captivating, and its indelible imagery and symbolism are impossible to ignore. This is the rare motion picture that looks so ridiculously hypnotic that it could function as a silent film.