Latinx Horror Filmmakers To Watch For Hispanic Heritage Month And Beyond
Since February (remember February?) and the historic wins for Parasite and Bong Joon-ho at the Academy awards, representation in film has been an important topic of conversation, especially in the horror genre. It’s becoming increasingly more important that marginalized communities be afforded the opportunity to see themselves properly represented in the entertainment industry, an opportunity that has long been denied.
This has been a long time coming, and this necessary change has been steadily gaining speed over time. In 2009, Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark) won the best director Academy Award for The Hurt Locker. Jordan Peele was nominated for best director and won best screenplay for Get Out in 2017 and directed Us in 2019. No less than three Mexican directors have been awarded the Oscar for best director nearly every year since 2013. Of the three — Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón — del Toro is probably best known to horror fans as the acclaimed director of The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Devil’s Backbone. But there are many other Latino filmmakers equally deserving of your attention that you may not yet know. Since it is still National Hispanic Heritage Month, now is an excellent time to highlight some emerging Latino horror directors for you to check out and to learn more about this very exciting time for Latino film making.
Jayro Bustamente directed 2020’s La Llorona, the superlative take on one of Latinos’ most cherished ghost stories. Having grown up in Guatemala, he loved going to a local cafe to watch movies as there wasn’t a cinema in his hometown. Those old VHS tapes made such an impression on him that he saved up enough money and moved to Europe to study since there were no film schools in his home country. He became entranced by the Italian Neo-Realist films and moved on to France to continue his education.
His work is a combination of multi-layered stylish visuals with heartfelt and socially conscious themes that are well versed in cinema history with a strong sense of social justice. He has an innate ability to show the audience both the psychological and realistic horror that could be living on your street without ever knowing it. La Llorona is his third feature and follows his chosen path of portraying Indigenous Latinos in cinema, specifically the Mayan-Ixil of Guatemala, who were the victims of a horrific genocide at the hands of the government and still face discrimination and racism from others in their country.
Sol Moreno, from Panama, is the first-time director of Diablo Rojo PTY, which she co-wrote, co-directed, and produced with J. Oskura Nájera. Diablo Rojo is another movie based on a Latino legend, specifically La Tulivieja, from Panama and Costa Rica. Moreno and Nájera have worked together for nearly 15 years in various different capacities, including running the Sitges Film Festival Zombie Walk. Moreno has worked in production design, special effects make-up, and also studied documentary filmmaking. Arguably, this gave her an edge in creating believable films from even the most fantastic elements.
From the very start of the film, Diablo Rojo PTY is an eye-catching, neon-lit experience with a terrific monster and a coven of witches. It definitely has a very distinctly Latino point of view and offers a unique representation of an under-recognized segment of the Latino community by showcasing Afro-Latinos. Yes, Latinos are Black, too.
Issa López is the Mexican filmmaker responsible for the outstanding Tigers Are Not Afraid and is currently working with Blumhouse on the upcoming Our Lady Of Tears. Tigers was her third film after writing for television for years, where she made it into the business by working on Mexican soap operas and romcoms. It was also her first foray into horror.
Tigers is the tragic story of children orphaned by the cartel wars in towns where much of the population goes missing, and their efforts to survive through sheer grit and the power of their imaginations. An orphan herself, it’s a topic very near to her heart, and the film caught the attention of none other than Guillermo del Toro.
Lopez and Bustamente both work in the realm of magical realism, a trait that del Toro also shares. It’s a very Latin American ethos as Bustamente explained to me, saying that “magical realism is not just literature or a movement — it means that we live like that. It is the style of their lives.” Since key parts of Latino culture have always included elements of magic and communication with spirits, the importance of these ideas in Latino filmmaking cannot be overstated.
Gigi Saul Guerrero is probably best known on social media as La Muñeca del Terror or The Doll of Horror. A Mexican filmmaker, her family emigrated to Canada early in her life and she has been involved in horror for the entirety of her filmmaking and acting career. She feels compelled to use her films to discuss the immigrant experience, especially in the context of Mexicans coming to the United States and the related racist objections to Latino immigration. She most recently directed Culture Shock as part of Blumhouse’s Into The Dark series which offered a realistic and searing depiction of the dangers migrants must face in order to enter the United States. She has also directed episodes of The Purge television series and La Quinceañera digital series.
Latino filmmakers have strong artistic voices and offer portrayals of underrepresented aspects of humanity in an effort to tell those people’s stories. In doing so, they reaffirm our shared humanity. Their work is full of strong thematic elements that engage with fantasy and magical realism that show the connection between Latino culture and the unseen or supernatural. Horror comes naturally to us as our culture is peppered with otherworldly horror stories and our history is riddled with tales of genocide and racist disdain for our people, even within our own culture.
El horror está en nuestra sangre y en nuestro aliento. Horror is in our blood and in our breath.
We walk the path where the wind howls and we might hear the ghostly cries of La Llorona. We walk in the dark, brushing the trees of the Chiquiri jungle, where we might feel the wind from the wings of La Tulivieja. Latinos love horror and filmmaking and we have much to share with you.
Dolores Quintana is a film, theatre, and television critic, actress, and journalist who regularly contributes to Nightmarish Conjurings and on her personal blog on Medium.com. Previously, she has written for FANGORIA, We Like LA, We Are Horror, Pocho.com, late period Buddyhead, and The Blog @ Boston Court. As an actor, she is part of Native Voices at the Autry, Alone: an Existential Haunting, Screenshot Productions, and Warner Brothers Horror Made Here.