Latin America boasts a rich variety of film markets, although most are still relatively young on the international scene (Mexico and Argentina being the main exceptions). The films that most often reach international audiences and critical acclaim tend to fall into the category of ‘beautiful, but devastating drama’. Audiences love slow, beautifully filmed, naked examinations of the many sufferings in Latin American history. Yet these same elements can make for great horror, too.
There is, of course, the dominance of Catholicism to consider. The religion is both a staple of the culture and an integral part of the violent past of colonialism. (The recent film, Embrace of the Serpent is not a horror film, but scenes of an isolated mission in the depths of the Amazon were riveting and utterly disturbing). Then there are the countless indigenous myths, the rich traditions of fantastic literature, and the violent political and social conflicts of the last century.
The past decade has seen an increased interest in original horror among Latin American filmmakers (Mexico, again, being a notable exception, as a near-constant staple of the horror genre since the 30s.) Here are five of the best and the weirdest horror films that you probably missed.
Al final del espectro (Colombia, 2006)
This critically acclaimed film by Juan Felipe Orozco centers on Vega, an agoraphobic woman who shuts herself away in an apartment, where she soon begins to hear and see things. Of course, the dark history of the place is only revealed through a slow unravelling of the past and Vega’s psyche. A traditional story but wonderfully acted and executed. An interesting tidbit is that Nicole Kidman apparently went to great lengths to get the remake rights and is jonesing to star in it, although it hasn’t been made yet. You would do just fine watching Nolle Schonwald carry the film as Vega.
La segunda muerte (Argentina, 2012)
The most WTF title in this list comes from director Santiago Fernández Calvete. A policewoman investigating a series of mysterious deaths by immolation meets a clairvoyant tot who claims the killer is the Virgin Mary. Although it has some genre staples — religious paranoia, the skeptic, the bucolic small town with a dark secret, the creepy little kid — it’s a particularly weird one. The visual style is at times inconsistent, which only makes it more surreal. What can I say? The trailer made me laugh but the film sucked me in.
La casa muda (Uruguay, 2010)
This film, supposedly based on true events, follows Laura and her father as they go to an abandoned country house to assess the value and begin fixing it up for sale. The only other character is the creepy owner, Néstor. Needless to say, they have a mysterious and terrifying time. This ultra-low budget, single take film by Gustavo Hernández was remade in the U.S. as Silent House, but even if you saw the remake, this one won’t be spoiled. The ending was altered significantly and the original makes more sense, in my opinion.
El páramo (Colombia, 2011)
This thriller by Jaime Osorio Marquez follows nine soldiers sent to a remote military base near the mist of the Andes, to investigate a loss of communication. Marquez taps into some very Colombian fears of witchcraft, religious superstition, and the ever-present threat of the guerrilla to build a suspenseful and artful thriller.
The film is beautifully shot in muted tones at 4000 meters of elevation in the spooky Colombian páramo. Colombia has a small presence in international film and produces very little of this genre despite the setting lending itself beautifully the this type of psychological terror. Released as The Squad in English, the dialogue is sparse enough so you might prefer the original with subtitles.
Sangre eterna (Chile, 2002)
We could include any one of several films by Jorge Olguín, although you all know his film Solos under the American title Descendents. Don’t expect Sangre eterna to look anything like the zombie hit, though. Psychological, campy and twisted, the film follows a college student who becomes sucked in by a group of mysterious goths and a role playing fantasy game. It became a cult hit and one of the highest-grossing horror movies in Latin America. This was the film that attracted the attention of Guillermo del Toro and consequently brought Descendents to the US. If you can handle the dubbing, it was released in English under as Eternal Blood.