Satanic Hispanics is a scary and stylish showcase of Latino filmmakers

Satanic Hispanics is a scary and stylish showcase of Latino filmmakers

Of all the subgenres of all the genres of all the movies in the world, there are few more enjoyable than the anthology horror film. Small bites of horror sharing real estate under a “house style” umbrella, within which even further divisions of subgenre can be made. It’s a formula that works on account of the allowance for tonal variety, and the simple fact that any individual segment which doesn’t rise to meet the quality of the rest represents such a small chunk of the movie that it’s hardly enough to sink it. In the case of Satanic Hispanics, the segments are all quite strong, and they are connected by one thing: the filmmakers behind them are, as touted by the trailer, “Latino AF.”

Overall, it’s a welcome entry in the anthology canon, and one that would be a blast to revisit with a game crowd. There’s gore, comedy, and more than a little Latino flair injected into each. Be it history, mythology, or even the contemporary experience of being Hispanic, the film’s cultural identity is more than just set-dressing, allowing for an overall branding that is anything but a gimmick.

Typically with this sort of thing, the weakest entry is the wraparound story. It’s a thankless task, and one that many anthology projects eschew entirely or, at the very least, phone-in with the hope that an undiscerning audience will happily dismiss it and focus on the meat of the film at large. Here, the wraparound story is The Traveller, from The Convent filmmaker, Mike Mendez. It’s one of those rare wraparound tales that is an exception to the rule. In this case, The Traveller is just as complete and satisfying as the miniature stories it hosts. In it, we witness a police interrogation of the sole survivor of a bloody raid. The mysterious interviewee asserts that if he isn’t released in the next 90 minutes, everyone in the building will die. The police roll their eyes and proceed grill him about the many unfortunate souls involved in the raid. And wouldn’t you know it? Each one is worthy of their own short film…

Tambien Lo Vi, from Demían Rugna (When Evil Lurks) is the outright scariest of the bunch. It tells the upsetting story of a Rubik’s cube savant whose mental “algorithm” accidentally opens a portal to the other side. The results aren’t pretty. Being so expressly scary, this short would perhaps be better suited in a later slot, but as far as attention-grabbers go, holy hell. Rugna is easily one of the most exciting genre filmmakers working today.

This is followed by El Vampiro, from Eduardo Sanchez of The Blair Witch Project fame. More of a sweet-natured comedy than a horror film, El Vampiro is about a somewhat mild-mannered vampire who uses the cover of Halloween to indulge his dietary needs. Everything is going swimmingly until it becomes apparent that he has forgotten about daylight savings time. The sun is going to be up soon, and he’s way too far from home to make it back safely. What follows is a madcap dash that, through the interactions the titular vampire has with his wife, doubles as a charming romance. It’s After Hours for the undead.

Next is Gigi Saul Guerrero’s Nahuales, the most formally audacious of the bunch. Similarly to Guerrero’s excellent contribution to V/H/S/85, God of Death, there’s a sense of folk mythology behind the scares. When a CIA collaborator finds himself crossing the path of a religious group with…unique biologies, he must endure an extreme torture session. Nahuales is the most outwardly brutal entry in the film, and also the most visually stunning. If any one segment could be expanded to feature length, this is it.

The last, and arguably least of the bunch is The Hammer of Zanzibar from Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead). It’s the silliest short my a mile, but it lacks the charm exhibited by El Vampiro. This isn’t to say that the film is bad — it’s very funny, and delightfully queer — but compared to the rest, it feels more like something you’d see in a Funny or Die video than it does a piece of cinema in its own right. Even so, when beloved comic Jonah Ray dons a leather duster and goes full John Woo on a clever demon, it’s impossible not to be entertained.

This all loops back to our wraparound story for a particularly strong, action-packed finale with creature design so inspired and spooky that it’s easy to forget the notably shaggy connective tissue between each short film. As such, Satanic Hispanics ends with a bang (and a killer needledrop). As an anthology horror flick, it’s a sturdy product, but as a calling card for exciting Latino talent, it’s exceptional — essential even. I see no reason why this couldn’t follow in the footsteps of V/H/S and become a perennial showcase for genre filmmakers do their thing.

Directed by Alejandro Brugués, Mike Mendez, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Eduardo Sánchez

Written by Pete Barnstrom, Alejandro Mendez, Lino K. Villa

Starring Efren Ramirez, Greg Grunberg, Sonya Eddy, Demián Salomón

Rated R, 112 minutes