Going to the movies is always a magical experience but, if there’s one downfall to streaming and physical media, it’s how easy it can be to choose the couch instead. Unfortunately, for a good number of the movies in the Academy Museum’s latest film series, Mexico Maleficarum: Resurrecting 20th Century Mexican Horror Cinema, seeing them at home isn’t an option, making these screenings the rare opportunity to not only see these films on the big screen but to see them at all. Hopefully that changes, as these films deserve to reach more fans, but for those in the LA area this October, the Academy Museum is the place to be for an amazing lineup of Mexican horror double features, guest programmed by one of the most passionate historians on the subject, Abraham Castillo Flores. Flores will be at the screenings to provide introductions yet generously took time to answer our questions about the series over email.
Diabolique: As someone who’s had the privilege of getting to listen to one of your virtual talks on Mexican horror cinema, I can’t think of anyone more qualified to put together a film series like this. Did the Academy Museum reach out to you with the idea for Mexico Maleficarum or did you approach them?
Abraham Castillo Flores: The Academy Museum invited me to program this series, which resurrects the magical and delirious spirit of Mexican horror cinema of the latter part of the 20th century. I was immediately excited by the prospect after seeing the museum’s series highlighting Roberto Galvadón earlier this year, and I appreciate the museum’s approach to expanding the audience’s understanding of what cinema can be. Moreover, I appreciate the museum’s approach to opening the conversation about what “cinema” means–that the word is flexible and doesn’t adhere to rigid structures. I love that the museum is open to practicing that flexibility.
Diabolique: When putting this series together, were you able to spend any time in the Academy Museum or was a lot of the work done remotely?
ACF: Programming was a remote experience via emails and digital communication, which made it even more incredible to experience the museum firsthand when the series launched. Sometimes you imagine things for so long and build them up in your mind…..and when it becomes real it defies all expectations.
Diabolique: In what ways does Mexico Maleficarum differ from other series you’ve programmed in the past?
ACF: Every series I work on has its own idiosyncratic identity. This series takes as a starting point “Maleficarum,” the Latin word for witchcraft, which tragically became entangled with religious prosecution and abuse. This series aims to reclaim the word to celebrate and protect the psychotronic spirit that blossomed within Mexican horror cinema during its evolution in the second half of the 1900s. During this period, bizarre filmic flora bloomed into a mystical space within the Mexican cinematic consciousness and reveled in unhinged entertainment value, imagination that defies limitations, operatic emotions, a recurrent fear of the feminine, and a constant acknowledgement of the occult.
I suppose another way the series is different in terms of how much the museum is doing around it and committing to its community in doing so.
Diabolique: Besides La Cabeza Viviente (The Living Hand) (which had to be dropped from the series), were there any other films you wish you could’ve included but weren’t available for screening?
ACF: There were many! Some titles are literally chained due to rights issues and unavailability of materials.
Diabolique: What made you want to focus on the latter part of the 20th century, instead of more recent horror films?
ACF: In order for filmmakers to continue producing great films, it’s essential to remember our cultural ancestors—to honor not just the actors and actresses on screen but all the talented film artists who came together to create these movies. It has been years, sometimes decades, since some of these gems have been experienced by an audience in a movie theater. In Mexico, we sadly tend to forget our history and sometimes national film criticism and general audiences forget the people who made horror. The 21st century is too close to what’s happening now, and I wanted to go back and look at the past. A museum is a perfect setting for that. I wanted to look at the past so we can begin to imagine our future.
Diabolique: I really appreciated that you didn’t organize the films in chronological order, so that on any one night you might see two films from different decades. Do you have a favorite pairing amongst the lineup?
ACF: What a question—this is like asking me to pick a favorite child! First, I must say I’m very pleased that the Academy Museum’s programming team loves double features as much as I do. And while I won’t pick a favorite, I’m looking forward to Las amantes del señor de la noche (The Lovers of the Lord of the Night) and Alucarda, la hija de las tinieblas (Alucarda). Las amantes del señor de la noche is wonderful in how shamelessly it is a product of the 1980s, and with Isela Vega at the helm, it was the first feature horror film in Mexico to be directed by a woman. We are so happy to share that her daughter Shaula will join us as a special guest when we screen the film on October 27. This film uses black magic and the dark arts as the driver of its horror while Alucarda, la hija de las tinieblas relies on sordid religious rituals, iconography, lore, and nunsploitation as its source of terror. It’s important to dispel the stereotype that Mexican horror films comprises only kitsch and luchadores. This pairing helps to dissolve that paradigm and illustrates how filmmakers aren’t afraid to explore.
The pairing of El escapulario (The Scapular) and Misterios de ultratumba (The Black Pit of Dr. M) on October 22 shows the might of ghosts and of ghosts that will not rest. You cannot find a better ghoulish pairing.
As for the depiction of witches, El espejo de la bruja (A Witch’s Mirror) and El mundo de los Muertos (The World of the Dead), which played on October 7, showcase witches from different time periods and scenarios. El espejo de la bruja depicts a witch openly trying to avenge the death of her goddaughter, and El mundo de los Muertos features a witch fighting the oppression of the Spanish Inquisition.
Diabolique: One of my favorite discoveries in recent years is Hasta El Viento Tiene Miedo (Even the Wind is Afraid), which is screening on October 23rd, so I was especially excited to see another of Carlos Enrique Taboada’s films screening on October 8th (Veneno Para Las Hadas (Poison for the Fairies)). Whereas Hasta El Viento Tiene Miedo is available on Blu-Ray in the US, though, Veneno Para Las Hadas is a much harder find. Do you think there’s reason to hope that accessibility to Mexican horror films might change in the near future?
ACF: I hope so, yes! That’s the point of this series. For people to watch them again, reconsider, and reassess these great films. The psychotronic spirit is there, and there’s a kitschy factor we will always carry, but it’s important to watch them again through another lens. All these films are part of a narrative pool that produced greats like Guillermo del Toro. Yes, he had access to American and European monster movies, but at the end of the day, he’s a product of Mexican horror cinema. He’s one link in a chain that started in 1933 with La llorona; his link in the horror genre manifested in 1993 with Cronos and look where he is now.
Diabolique: For those lamenting the fact that they’re not in LA to attend this series, do you have any recommendations for an at-home lineup Mexican horror fans might try (or a good place to start with Mexican horror)?
ACF: While I do think the experience of watching these films in the cinema is unparalleled, it’s fantastic that many of the titles we are showing are available to watch at home across many different streaming services. For example, El Vampiro and La mujeres panteras (The Panther Women) are available for free on Tubi; Cronos is available on HBO Max; Santa Sangre is available on Amazon Prime and Tubi; depending on your location El barón del terror (The Brainiac)is also available on Amazon Prime; and Muñecos infernales (The Curse of the Doll People) is available on Screambox.
We hope that Mexico Maleficarum awakens screening services and Blu-ray labels to the wonders of the Mexican cinema. I am personally working very hard with these companies to bring these incredible cinematic gifts to people’s homes.