Since 1933, Mexico has been a major pioneering force in Latin American horror cinema. In contemporary times, Mexican horror has blossomed into a diverse array of horror subgenres including paranormal, art house, independent, social-political, and extreme.
For those inspired to explore what Mexican horror has to offer, this film list is a beginner’s guide to contemporary Mexican horror, featuring films by art-house cinema icon Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Oscar-winning monster maker Guillermo del Toro and Mexico’s tiger queen Issa Lopez.
10. El Gigante
Though the only short film on this list, it’s a bold mix of Mexican wrestling, Rob Zombie, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with lots of blood and gore. While attempting to cross the American/Mexican border at night via a “coyote”, Armando is attacked and awakens in a dirty blood-splattered room. He is forced to wrestle for the entertainment of a sadistic family with the blood-thirsty wrestler El Gigante.
With the success of this and other short horror films, director Gigi Saul Guerrero has gone on to film movies with Blumhouse Television, including Into the Dark:Culture Shock and the upcoming Bingo Hell.
9. The Similars (Los Parecidos)
Heavily influenced by the sci-fi films and television of the 1950s and 1960s, this love letter to the genre combines fantasy and surrealism, with the unimaginable. Set on the night of the tragic day of October 2, 1968, eight people are stranded by a massive rainstorm, at an isolated bus station, desperate to get to Mexico City. As the hours go by, a strange phenomenon sends everyone into fear and paranoia, as horrific seizures create unbelievable reactions.
October 2, 1986 was the Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City, where over 1,000 peaceful student protestors were injured and an estimated 350-400 protestors were killed by the heavily armed federal Mexican Armed Forces. The Mexican government held the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, to boast about economic growth, which didn’t benefit the poor. Students protested this inequality and the corrupt Mexican government, in front of international media. This tragedy led to more student protests advocating for government change.
8. New Order (Nuevo Orden)
This recent controversial political horror examines social class, wealth, corruption, and the exploitation of political power. Two families, one lavishly rich and the other, the poor family who works for the rich family, have their lives turned upside down when violent class warfare breaks out nationally. When the Mexican government is taken over by a military coup, the families each face consequences beyond their worst nightmares.
New Order was the 2020 Venice Film Festival prize winner.
7. The Zone (La Zona)
A chilling commentary of the Mexican social class system and how the power of the privileged classes influences political corruption. In an isolated and guarded upper-class suburb called The Zone, a botched robbery by three teenagers throws the residents into a blood-thirsty manhunt to find the surviving teenage thief. As people from the outside and a Zone teenage resident try to search for answers, the wealthy Zone adults push their influence and bribes to put an end to the questions, so they can dispense their own bloody justice.
In 2007, The Zone received the Best Debut Feature award at the Vince Film Festival.
6. The Untamed (La región salvaje)
Following in the footsteps of Possession, mixed with an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired creature, this sci-fi sexual horror, evaluates relationships and the hypocritical views that society has of them. Alejandra is a young and unhappy wife, in a broken marriage, with little hope. In all her turmoil, she is introduced to a mysterious being who brings her ultimate pleasure, but also horrific destruction.
The unique concept of The Untamed was inspired by Possession and dedicated to its director Andrzej Zulawski.
5. We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay)
Intertwining the heartache of a family melodrama, with bloody cannibalism, shows how far some will go protect and provide for their family. After the death of a family’s patriarch and sole provider, the heartbroken widow mother and her three teenage children struggle to establish who will be the head of the family and continue their ritual cannibalism. As the tension increases in the household, they grapple to find their next meal.
In a cameo, paying homage to Guillermo del Toro’s first Mexican film Cronos, with the Cronos actors Daniel Giménez Cacho as Tito the mortician and Juan Carlos Colombo the funeral director, acting in similar roles, in a morgue.
4. Under the Salt (Bajo la sal)
A crime drama, where everyone has dark secrets to hide. Commander Trujillo arrives in a small Mexican town to investigate a series of unsolved murders of young women. As the investigation intensifies, Victor, a misfit teenager who works at his father’s funeral home, falls in love with Isabel, a local waitress, who he wants to protect at any cost.
The use of stop motion animation throughout Under the Salt creates a unique visual, giving the audiences an in-depth look at Victor’s emotional evolution throughout the film.
3. Tigers are Not Afraid (Vuelven)
The international breakthrough for telenovela writer and comedic film director, turned horror director Issa Lopez, brought a children’s perspective to the contemporary Mexican Drug War. Estrella, a young girl whose mother has disappeared without a trace, joins a group of young and orphaned boys for protection. Together the children face an array of tragic and supernatural events, as they are chased by the local cartel.
Adding to the strength of the film was featuring children as the main cast with no previous acting experience, creating more authentic reactions from them.
2. Santa Sangre (Holy Blood)
This arthouse film by groundbreaking Chilian filmmaker, artist, and writer Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of the most regarded modern Mexican horror films. Escaping from a mental institution, Fenix, a former circus performer reunites with his controlling, armless mother. Using her son as her arms, they go on a killing spree of jealously and revenge.
It’s a breathtaking and trailblazing film, which also pays homage to classic horror films, such as Universal’s The Invisible Man and the Mexican wrestler films.
1. The Del Toro Mexican Trilogy
No list of modern Mexican horror would be complete without a del Toro film. Each of del Toro’s three Mexican films, Cronos, Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth, possess their own individual haunting artistic beauty, while paying homage to classic tales and fables. These films have brought both del Toro international fame and a new appreciation by audiences for Mexican horror and Latino horror filmmakers.
The first full-length film of del Toro taking an innovative, yet tragic interpretation of vampire folklore. Jesus, a Mexican antique dealer accidentally discovers the Cronos, a scarab that grants the recipient youth and eternal life, with the unknown price of an uncontrollable need for blood. Wanting to maintain his new vitality and immortality, Jesus must fend off others in search of the Cronos, as he struggles to protect his wife and young orphaned granddaughter.
Influenced by his relationship with his own grandmother, del Toro uses the perspective of child heavily, which would become a signature trait in his horror films, adds depth and heartbreaking tragedy to this and the rest of his Mexican horror films.
Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo)
Del Toro’s first cinematic co-collaboration with Spain, using the supernatural to address the pain and suffering war causes society, especially children. Set in 1939, during the last year of The Spanish Civil War, Carlos, a young boy, is sent to an isolated all-boys orphanage, where he comes across a spirit of a murder orphan haunting the facility. Carlos and the other orphans suffer at the hands of the violent caretaker, while the lies and corruption within the walls of the orphanage crumble around them.
This film is considered the brother film to its sister film set a few years in 1944, Pan’s Labyrinth,continuing to supernaturally evaluate one of the darkest periods of 20th century Spanish history.
Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)
The most critically acclaimed of del Toro’s Mexican films, winning three Oscars, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Art Direction. Ofelia, a young girl is forced to live in an isolated estate with her sickly mother and sadistic control freak army officer stepfather. As the lines between reality and fantasy blur, Ofelia pursuers three dangerous tasks to fulfill her destiny as the princess of the underworld.
Pan’s Labyrinth is part of a small group of fantasy and horror films that have been nominated for Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Score at the Oscars.
If you are interested in extreme horror, We Are the Flesh (Tenemos la carne) and Atroz(Atrocious) are the most notable Mexican extreme horror films.
We Are the Flesh is a visually striking yet disturbing surreal arthouse film. Two siblings, Lucio and Fauna, are searching for food and shelter in a post-apocalyptic world until they find these necessities with a strange man. His bizarre, manipulative, and extreme demands of the siblings lead all three down a path of madness, violence, incest, murder, and cannibalism.
Atroz is considered the most violent film in Mexican cinema is so controversial, it was only released to home video and streaming. During a police investigation, two police officers find a handheld camera, with videos of two young men going on a demented rampage filled with torture and murder. Among the film’s associate producers is the controversial Italian director of Cannibal HolocaustRuggero Deodato.
August 12, 2021 marked the 60th anniversary of the release of The Pit and the Pendulum, one of the most popular films directed by the iconic and groundbreaking 95-year-old filmmaker Roger Corman.
Among the many ways to describe Corman and his impact on film, Kurt Sayenga, the showrunner of Eli Roth’s History of Horror described him best, “Roger Corman is a living legend who has inspired and promoted new filmmakers for more than six decades. There’s no one else like him. From horror to science fiction to outlaw bikers and women-in-prison films, Roger’s filmography has spanned the genres – and, as he says, he never lost a dime. He’s the most successful independent producer in film history; the ultimate avatar of DIY filmmaking. As a director, Roger’s career highlight was the series of films he made in the 1960s based on the gothic horror stories of Edgar Allan Poe.”
Sayenga continues: “Roger often had great scripts but given a slightly better budget and stronger actors, his work went from “fun” and “interesting” to “great.” The Poe films are lushly colorful explorations of the nature of evil, laced with a macabre sense of humor. Like Roger himself, there is a lot going on beneath their smooth and shiny surfaces.”
Corman shared exclusively, his memories about The Pit and the Pendulum. He also shares his upcoming projects and fond memories of other past projects.
Justina Bonilla: What is your favorite Poe story?
Roger Corman: It would be “The Fall of the House of Usher”. That was the one I did first because it was the one that was actually more complete than many of the others. For instance, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, which we’re talking about, was just a couple of pages long. And we had to elaborate it to make it a full-length picture. But “The Fall of the House of Usher” was a complete story. And I think it encapsulated much of Poe’s thinking.
Bonilla: What inspired you to pursue your first Poe themed movie House of Usher, which you based on the story “The Fall the House of Usher”?
Corman: Well, first, I read “The Fall of the House of Usher” when I was in school, and I loved it. I asked my parents for Christmas for the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe. They were happy to give it to me because I might have asked for a shotgun or something. I read everything Poe had written that was available at that time.
The reason I made the picture of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” as the House of Usherwas that I was making some pictures for American International Pictures. They had a way of distributing which was to make two about $60,000 to $70,000 black and white films and send them out together in the theatres for the price of one. They wanted me to make two horror films. I felt I’d done this sort of thing too many times and wanted to move on.
So, I said, which I think was correct, “This has been a great advertising concept for you. But I think it’s growing old. It would be better to spend a little bit more money and make one picture”.
American International asked me what I wanted to make. I said I wanted to make House of Usher. Samuel Z. Arkoff, who was vice president of American International Pictures knew the story. He said, “Roger, that’s a good idea, but your movies always had a monster. There’s no monster in “The Fall of the House of Usher”. And thinking fairly quickly, I said, “Sam, the house is the monster”. Sam said, “Okay, we’ll make the picture”. That’s how I got to make House of Usher.
Bonilla: How were you able to get Richard “Dick” Matheson to write not only that script, but all the Poe film scripts?
Corman: I had read a number of his stories. I knew he was writing also for The Twilight Zone. I simply contacted him through his agent and told him what I wanted to do. I gave him some of my thoughts, and he agreed with that. We simply went forward and made House of Usher.
House of Usher was very successful. American International Pictures wanted me to make another one. Since I was very friendly with Dick Matheson, and Dick said, “Yes, whatever you want to do”. My second actual choice was “The Mask of the Red Death”. But, Ingmar Bergman made a picture about the Middle Ages, The Seventh Seal.
The Seventh Seal had some elements that were similar to “The Mask of the Red Death”. I thought, if I make “The Mask of the Red Death”, everybody will say, I’m simply copying Ingmar Bergman. So, my second choice was “The Pit and the Pendulum”. The reason it was a second choice was that both “The Fall the House of Usher”, and “the Masque of the Red Death”, were pretty much complete stories. Whereas “The Pit and the Pendulum”, was just a couple of pages.
Dick and I had to try to figure out how to translate this into a picture. We did this with several of the Poe pictures, taking Poe’s story, and using it as the third act, if you were to think of it as a play. We created the first and second acts, hopefully in the style of Poe, leading us to the third act. That’s how we handled The Pit the Pendulum.
Bonilla: The story was a collaboration between you and Richard?
Corman: I have to give Dick most of the credit. He and I came up with the idea of the first two acts, and he wrote a little outline. I gave him my notes on the outline. We went from that to screenplay.
Bonilla: The drama in The Pit and the Pendulum film is very Shakespearean, like Othello and Hamlet. Was that or any other Shakespeare play an influence on the script?
Corman: It probably was, but it would be unconscious. I wasn’t thinking specifically, and neither was Dick. We’re all influenced by Shakespeare.
Bonilla: Did you always have Vincent Price in mind for the role of Nicholas?
Corman: Yes, Vincent was my choice for House of Usher. He was really very good at it. We got along very well. I simply said, “I will go with Vincent again”.
Bonilla: What was it like working with Vincent?
Corman: It was very good working with Vincent on all these Poe pictures. He was a highly intelligent man and had been a leading man when he was younger. But he had never played the handsome, romantic leading man. There was always a little quirk, a little neurosis within him. I thought that little offbeat quality that he had of being both intelligent, and maybe just a little bit off.
Bonilla: Do you have a favorite memory of working with Vincent?
Corman: My favorite memory of working with Vincent was not on The Pit and the Pendulum, it was on The Raven, which we interpreted very freely, into a horror-comedy. At that time, we’d made so many Poe films, I felt we’re starting to repeat ourselves. How can we change it? So, it became a horror-comedy.
We got Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre to work with Vincent. The three stars in the picture. The first day of shooting was a little bit difficult because Boris did not seem to get along well with Peter.
On the second day, as he came out of makeup, Boris came to me and said, “I am a trained classical actor. I learn my lines, I come in, and I’m ready to give the performance. Peter comes in, and he starts making up lines. I don’t know when to speak or what to say, because he’s not really saying what’s in the script”. I said to Boris, “Well, that’s because you come from the traditional English classical acting. Peter comes from the Berliner Ensemble with Bertolt Brecht, who emphasized improvisation. He’s improvising. And actually, I thought he was very funny”. Peter added all kinds of things to The Raven.
Vincent was very cooperative. He really helped me there because he knew how to work both ways. Finally, it was decided. I said to Boris, “Understand that Peter is going to improvise a little bit, and you have to adjust to this”. I said to Peter, “I love what you’re doing. It’s really good, continue doing that. But stay a little closer to the script. And Vincent said, “Yes, that’s the way we should do it”.
Boris reluctantly agreed. After a couple of days, he began to enjoy it. He started improvising a little bit too.
Bonilla: How did you select John Kerr for Francis?
Corman: I simply chose him because he was very good. In South Pacific, he was the handsome young leading man. He had the look, and he was a good actor. He had a little bit of name and that would add to the picture. I knew that he’d been doing TV. In a number of his TV performances, he showed a different quality. I thought it was very good.
Bonilla: Since Barbara Steele was so young and new to acting, what influenced the decision to cast her as Elizabeth?
Corman: I had seen the Italian horror film Black Sunday directed by Mario Bava. I thought she was wonderful in it. I hired her simply off the performance in Black Sunday. Barbara was a good actress and very beautiful. There was also a dark tone to her just as Vincent was a leading man with a little quirkiness. I thought there was sort of a dark mysterious quality behind Barbara’s performance.
Bonilla: What was your experience working with Barbara Steele?
Corman: It was very good. She was very cooperative and a good actress.
A problem came up that I didn’t realize. I knew Barbara was English, so I thought, “Okay, she can play this role”. She’d been dubbed into Italian in Black Sunday. Barbara had a working-class British accent, which I had not anticipated. All of the characters in The Pit and the Pendulum were aristocrats or upper class. So, I brought in a dialogue coach. He worked with her for the picture, to get the accent I was looking for.
Bonilla: Barbara and Vincent, what was their relationship like on set?
Corman: They got along very well. It was a very friendly set. Because I’d worked with Luana Anders before, and I knew she was a good actress. The three of them were essentially the leads. It was a very pleasant, good picture to work on.
Bonilla: Did any issues arise on set?
Corman: There was one problem that came up. It was the pendulum. We had constructed a large pendulum with a blade that was blunted. It hung from the top of the studio, and it swung back and forth, as it was getting lower and lower. It was going to eventually cut John, who was lying on the platform.
As they were rehearsing it, John said to me, “Roger, do you think that thing is really safe? That looks a little dangerous”. I thought, “Gee, I don’t want a leading man who’s playing the key seen in the picture, worried about being hurt by the pendulum”. I said to John, “John, we’re going to go for the final rehearsal. I’ll show you, so don’t worry about it. I’ll get in there”.
So, I laid on the platform, looked up, and saw this pendulum swinging back and forth, coming closer and closer to me. I thought, “Maybe John is right. Maybe this thing is a little dangerous”. Then I emerged alive.
Bonilla: In the film, I noticed that there was a heavy emphasis on colors like blue, black, and gray. Was there importance to these colors?
Corman: It was important, but it wasn’t crucial. For instance, in Masque of the Red Death, red obviously was crucial to the picture. I was looking for a dark, somber palette, but I didn’t want it to be all black. So, I chose those colors with Danny Haller, the art director to whom I give a great deal of credit for these films. We were able to get a darker look, but vary it between different colors that could blend.
Corman: By coincidence, or possibly out of my unconscious mind. You absorb everything you see. It’s very possible. I saw these films, and maybe they influenced me without even being aware of it.
Bonilla: How surprised were you that the movie became the most financially successful out of the whole Poe series?
Corman: I think it was really the final scene. It’s one of the things added that was not in the script, and not in my shot plan. I diagram my shots very carefully in advance. We had finished the picture and had about 20 or 30 minutes left for the crew without having to pay them anything extra in overtime. I thought, “Well, I want to use this set. What can I do?”. I said to Floyd Crosby, the cameraman, “Let’s put the camera on a boom, and I’ll set up there with the camera. We’ll move back and forth along the wall and photograph all those images, just to use up the 20 minutes”. When I had those shots, they look very good, and I use them inner cutting with the pendulum itself. I thought they added to the scene.
Bonilla: I love that shot on Barbara steel in the Ironmen.
Corman: Yes, I remember we zoomed in and on that.
Bonilla: Was there ever a Poe story that you wanted to make into a film but never could?
Corman: Not really. The reason I finally made The Masque of the Red Death, because it had now been a number of years since Bergman’s film, and it was one I wanted to make all along. I just chose to finally make The Masque of the Red Death. I thought if somebody wants to say it’s a little bit like Bergman then Okay, let them say it.
Bonilla: Are there any new projects that you’re working on that you’re allowed to talk about?
Corman: Yes, I’m allowed to talk about anything.
I’m preparing three screenplays at the moment. I don’t want to shoot because of the Corona Virus and the difficulty in shooting because you have to be careful where you go. You have to check the crew every morning.
My thought is by fall 2021, there will be enough people vaccinated. So, I’ll be able to put together a regular crew, all of whom are fully vaccinated, and we can just go ahead and shoot the way we always did.
I’m working on three pictures. One, it’s a remake of my old picture The Unborn.
Two is a picture called Crime City, which is a low-budget picture. Because there was a terrible hurricane in the Caribbean, particularly in the Bahamas, a year and a half, or so ago. Therefore, I arranged to photograph all the damaged villages and everything about this, I thought, this gives me a great background. So, Crime City is written to fit the footage I’ve already shot in Nassau, Bahamas.
The third to me is my most important. I made a picture in the 1970s called Death Race 2000, which was a futuristic science fiction picture. Universal Studios remade it four times [as the Death Race franchise]. I told Universal, “What you’re doing is good. But you’ve missed some elements in it”. They said, “Well, Roger, why don’t you make the next one”.
I think there’s something in here that clearly has resonated with the audience. I think Death Race has run its course, so, I’ve come up with a new story that takes some of the elements from Death Race, and it’s called Death Games. That’s a picture I hope to shoot first in the fall.
Corman:The Fast and the Furious was very strange. Neil Moritz had made this car racing picture, but he didn’t like the title. And his father was Milt Moritz, who was the head of advertising for American International Pictures. They were having dinner, and Milt said to Neal, “You know, Roger made a picture a long time ago, in the 1950s called The Fast and the Furious. What do you think of that title?”. Neil liked that title. So, Neil and I had lunch, and he bought the title from me, but not the story. The story is entirely different.
Bonilla: This year is also the 40th anniversary of The Howlingfrom one of your students of “The Comoran Film School”, Joe Dante. What was it like for you to have Dante direct to when you appeared in your phone booth cameo in The Howling?
Corman: It was great! A number of the directors who started with me, have me play little roles. For instance, in The Godfather Part II, I was a senator on the senate crime committee. With one of Jonathan Demme‘s pictures, I was the ex-President of the United States. I kept playing sort of governors, Senators, lawyers, and business executives.
Joe called me and said, “You play all these distinguished people, how would you like to be a bum on Skid Row?”. I said, “Great, Joe, I’ll play it”. Since I’m known a little bit for using what little money I have, after the first take, Joe said, “Roger, put your finger in the coin slot and see if you can get your coin back”.
All the rules are broken as a sect of lawless marauders decides that the annual Purge does not stop at daybreak and instead should never end.
The fifth installment of the wildly popular Purge franchise takes The Purge concept from the city and suburbs to rural Texas, near the Mexican border. As in the previous Purge films, The Forever Purge commentates on current political issues, with this film focusing on issues impacting Latinos in contemporary America.
he main characters, Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and Adela (Ana de la Reguera), a married couple, who fled cartel violence in Mexico, adjust to their new life in Texas. They work blue-collar jobs at a meatpacking factory and the family-owned Tucker ranch. As they survive their first Purge, domestic terrorists illegally continue The Purge under the banner the “Ever After Purge”, with the intent of overthrowing the American government. During this chaos, the Purge Purification Force, a white supremacist domestic terrorist group, aim to “purify America” by killing as many Mexicans as possible. Along with survivors of the Tucker ranch, Juan and Adela race against time to cross the opened Mexican border before it closes. Their only chance for survival is to work together to fight off the domestic terrorist while confronting bias within their group.
Having two Latino leads in a major Hollywood studio film is a welcomed sight, considering how underrepresented Latinos are in Hollywood films. According to The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, in the top 100 films of 2019, only 5% of all speaking roles were Latino, despite Latinos being 18% of the total American population.
In both American and Latin American cinema, it is rare to have a dark-skinned Latino as a starring character. Latino casting in film tends to lean towards lighter-skinned Latinos, such as In the Heights. With The Forever Purge, not only is Huerta, a dark-skinned Latino, the lead, he is also a hero. Typically, if a dark-skinned Latino male is in a film, he usually portrays a villain, against either the lead light-skinned Latino or White hero. This exhaustingly perpetuated image in film continually perpetuates the stereotype of associating dark skin with criminal and undesirable behavior. This image also adds to the issue of colorism within the Latino community.
Huerta portrays Juan as a dedicated husband, hardworking, and bold fighter. His acting style appears to be influenced by Jorge Negrete and Bruce Willis. This image of Juan is a breath of fresh air. It’s very encouraging to see this positive image chipping away at the exhaustingly overused stereotype.
De la Reguera portrays Adela as a powerful woman, who is also caring, loyal, and a skilled fighter. The fighting skills that Adela shows throughout the film appears to be an ode to the Soldaderas of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Soldaderas were female rebel fighters, many of whom were trained in weaponry, espionage, and warfare. They were essential to the rebel resistance, holding an array of positions from commanding officers to camp followers.
Adela is put in a unique position of serving as a model leader. She is compassionate and protective to those who need the most help, especially the very pregnant Tucker wife Cassie. An action hero that little girls, especially Latinas, can look up to, seeing how there is still a lack of strong Latina heroes in film.
Director Everardo, like Huerta and de la Reguera, Gout is also Mexican, bringing an authentic voice and vision to The Forever Purge. His artistic direction is best seen in the Spanish spoken by the Mexican characters. In many American films, the Spanish spoken is too formal and sounds too rigid. With Gout’s direction, he helped authenticate the Spanish spoken by the characters, adding phrases and slang words commonly used in daily Spanish. This helps to create a deeper connection to Juan and Adela, especially to audience members who speak or understand the use of typical conversational Spanish.
The Forever Purge is an enjoyable action horror movie. It would have added to the film’s story, to have more character buildup and background for Juan and Adela, such as more explanation about their lives in Mexico and an exploration of their relationship as a married couple. However, it most importantly provides a positive representation of Latinos and role models that lack in overall American cinema.
With the ever-increasing Latino audience hungry for representation, especially in the horror genre, The Forever Purge shows the potential of what Latinos can be in a horror movie, if given the opportunity.
As part of our Filmmakers of Cannes 2021 series, we will be screening Malcom X this week, directed by this year’s President of the Cannes Film Festival Jury, Spike Lee. A visually striking biopic from the pioneering director, the film stars Denzel Washington as the revolutionary Black leader and thinker.
Washington, of course, is an icon of modern Hollywood, with his signature bold and passionate acting style. Just recently, The New York Times honored Washington as the #1 actor on its list of “The 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century (So Far)”. With the amazing array of acting roles he has created over the years with Lee and other talented directors, it can be tricky to decide which films/television series to watch first. These 6 roles are a marvelous introduction to the eclectic work of Denzel Washington.
#6 Happily Ever After:Fairy Tales for Every Child
This HBO original animated series from the late 1990s retold classic fairy tales with racially diverse main characters in their cultural environments, featuring an array of famous celebrities like Washington. Through his roles as both a king and Humpty Dumpty, Washington displayed a playful yet strong performance showing that he is also a talented voice actor.
#5 St. Elsewhere – Dr. Philip Chandler
Washington’s first major television series role places him as Dr. Philip Chandler in St. Eligius, a Boston teaching hospital, where the lives and tragedies of the hospital staff are explored. As a doctor, Washington shows a bluntly honest yet caring demeanor for patients and is willing to go head-to-head with other doctors for them.
#4 Man on Fire – John W. Creasy
After the young daughter of a rich family in Mexico City is kidnapped, ex-CIA operative bodyguard Creasy goes on a journey of vengeance bulldozing his way through corrupt cops and seedy characters. Washington expresses the deep sorrow and guilt of a man who has been forced to kill but finds compassion and the need to nurture through his protection of the young girl.
#3 Glory – Private Trap
This American Civil War drama is based on the Union Army’s first African American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, and their struggles for equality both on and off the battlefield. Washington won his first Oscar (for Best Supporting Actor) as Trip, an escaped slave who is embittered and trusts no one yet through time sees the 54th regiment as his family.
#2 Training Day – Alonzo
Washington won an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role as Alonzo, a seasoned but corrupt police officer who takes a rookie LAPD narcotics officer out on his first day, forever changing both of their lives. The controlled energy Washington escalates throughout the film gives Training Day its tension and power, with the powerful line “King Kong ain’t got shit on me” particularly lingering in viewers’ memories.
Honorable Mentions: Fences The Book of Eli Crimson Tide Philadelphia John Q American Gangster Devil in a Blue Dress The Magnificent Steven Remember the Titans The Pelican Brief The Manchurian Candidate The Equalizer
#1 Malcolm X –Malcolm X
A jewel in the cinematic crown of Spike Lee, Malcolm X follows the life of the iconic and controversial 1960s civil rights leader. Washington, who was received a Best Actor nomination for the role, channels Malcom’s spiritual intensity, while also showing the complexity of his journey and the Black experience in America. The legacy of Malcom X’s social justice activism and elevation of Islam, along with this film’s artistic style, still influences society today.
On July 5, 2021, director Richard Donner passed away at 91 years old. He left behind a massive legacy of films and television shows spanning from 1960 to 2016. His diverse work varied from beloved films such as The Goonies to the influential classic TV series The Twilight Zone. With so many projects, this list includes my favorite television episodes and films that Donner directed.
Top 5 Television Episodes:
#5 Wagon Train, “The Bettina May Story”
While on a wagon train from the East Coast to California, matriarch Bettina May (Bettie Davis) faces mounting conflicts between her three adult children and must reevaluate her role and influence in their lives. Davis shows her powerful yet compassionate acting style as she navigates through the multiple dramas that emerge with her family throughout the episode.
#4 The Twilight Zone, “From Agnes with Love”
Lonely and lovesick computer technician James takes love advice from Agnes, an A.I. computer that becomes obsessed with him. Though this episode was made in 1964, it’s an unsettling reminder of how our growing dependency on technology like A.I. could potentially destroy our lives.
#3 The Banana Splits Adventure Hour
A Saturday morning variety show for children, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour stars a fictional live-action band of silly animal characters and featured Donner as the director for season 1. I loved watching this show when I was little–not because it made any sense but because it was so over-the-top and fun.
#2 Tales from the Crypt, “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”
An amateur ventriloquist (Bob Goldthwait) pursues his recluse ventriloquist hero (Don Rickles) only to learn his dark secret. Rickles, a comedic icon, shows his darker side in this role while also keeping his beloved signature comedic style.
#1 The Twilight Zone, “Come Wander with Me”
Floyd (Gary Crosby), a fame-obsessed singer, searches deep in the American backwoods for new songs and meets the beautiful, yet mysterious country girl Mary Rachael (Bonnie Beecher). The song heard throughout the episode, “Come Wander with Me”, has to be the most haunting one in the series, adding to the eeriness and isolation of the episode.
Top 5 Films:
#5 Lethal Weapon
Roger (Danny Glover) and Martin (Mel Gibson), two extremely opposite cops, must work together to capture a drug-smuggling gang. It is a fun take on the classic buddy comedy trope, filled with action and memorable lines from Glover.
#4 Superman: The Movie
Raised on Earth, alien orphan Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) uses his powers for good to protect the earth as America’s most beloved American superhero, Superman. Reeve is my favorite Superman because he is as strong as he is compassionate and caring.
#3 The Omen
Robert (Gregory Peck), an American diplomat to England, follows the paper trail of his adopted son Damien, as a series of tragic deaths and strange events following his family, leading to the horrific discovery of who Damien really is. Though not a very violent movie, the fear of how easy it is for evil to hide in plain sight, is the driving force of the film. The older I get, the more impactful the idea of hidden true evil feels.
A 1980’s metropolitan New York interpretation of the classic Charles Dickens tale A Christmas Carol, Scrooged focuses on Frank (Bill Murray), a successful but heartless television producer. He’s visited by three ghosts to help him re-evaluate his actions and change his ways. This uniquely dark and humorously SNL-influenced story takes on a timeless classic tale, making it one of my essential films to watch each Christmas.
One of Donner’s most underrated films, Ladyhawke combines the 1980s fascination with the medieval era, the supernatural, and a cast of great talents including Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Matthew Broderick. Gaston (Broderick), a career thief, escapes prison and meets Navarre (Hauer) and Isabeau (Pfeiffer), a couple under a devastating curse who desperately need his help to break the curse. My favorite ’80s movie, Ladyhawke is a campy, fun, entertaining, and sweet film that reminds us just how powerful love can be.
Fun fact: Donner met his wife Lauren Shuler while directing Ladyhawke, with the two falling in love with each other as they worked on the film.
1981 was a diverse year for cinema history, with such classics as The Evil Dead, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Time Bandits, and The Fox and the Hound hitting theaters that year. Among these films celebrating their 40th anniversary is the rebellious and radical punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. Directed and produced by Penelope Spheeris, the trailblazing documentary filmmaker exposed the world to the artistic, social, and cultural significances of the Los Angeles punk music scene despite most of society at the time disregarding punk as worthless noise and violence.
For the 40th anniversary of The Decline of Western Civilization, it was my honor and privilege to interview Penelope. We discussed her influences, connection to the LA punk scene, the process of creating the documentary, and her connection with Orange County.
You spent your teen years and early 20s here in Orange County. What was that like for you?
When my father died, my mother married a guy in the army, and we moved to Southern California from Arkansas. We lived in different trailer parks near San Diego. Then she divorced the soldier, married a sailor and we moved to Long Beach to live in the cockroach-infested tenements. At one point she was able to buy a house and we moved to Midway City and then Westminster.
I went to Westminster High School and got in a lot of trouble hanging out with my lowrider friends. After a bad car crash, my mom screamed at me, slugged me in the face, and said I would never amount to anything in life. That really pissed me off. I think I was fueled by anger ever since then. I had something to prove.
Were you involved in the OC punk scene? If so, who were your favorite bands?
When I lived in OC, which was during the ’60s, there was no punk scene. That scene didn’t happen until the late 70s, but even way back then, we had our own version of disdain for suburbia.
One day it occurred to me that the oldest building in our neighborhood was a 7-Eleven. It’s weird living in a place that has no history. OC does have a history now though and so many awesome bands were created as a result of that suburban boredom.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I don’t know. Think it might be in my DNA if that is possible. I have a very prolific and respected Greek cousin, Costa-Gavras. He’s directed some amazing movies like Z. Costa’s mother and my father were brother and sister.
As the oldest of four kids, I was placed in charge of my two brothers and my sister because our mom always worked 2 jobs, 16 hours a day. We would save up money by cleaning people’s yards and go to Saturday matinees to see double features, usually comedies.
Who were the creative influences on you in your early filmmaking?
Ironically, when I was at UCLA film school, my favorite filmmakers were Costa-Gavras, John Cassavetes, and Frederick Wiseman. I was unaware at that time that I was related to Costa. I just loved the way he could make a scripted movie feel like a documentary. Same for Cassavetes. Frederick Wiseman’s work was so fascinating to me because he was incredibly objective with regard to his subject matter. My favorite of his films is Titicut Follies, made in 1967, right when I started studying film at UCLA.
What inspired you to make a documentary about the LA punk scene as your first full feature film?
I had always been a rabid rock ‘n’ roll fan. I had a massive vinyl collection back then. When the mid-’70s rolled around, however, I decided I couldn’t buy records or listen to the radio any longer. It was all Bee Gees and Doobie Brothers. Unbearable.
Then, when the punk scene started up here in LA, I went to all the underground clubs. I felt so compelled to document the scene because it was unique, like nothing that I had ever seen before or experienced before. I felt instinctively there was historical importance to it.
How did you get the title of the film?
All of us who worked at Slash Magazine were sitting on the roof of the office one evening drinking beers. I was about halfway through filming, and we started talking about what I would title the movie. We all agreed it had to have something to do with respect for entropy. We tossed around ideas about disorder and disruption of the mainstream.
As I was driving home, it occurred to me that it should be called The Decline of Western Civilization, which is a derivation of the book by Oswald Spengler titled The Decline of the West.
How were you able to get so many bands involved with this documentary?
Basically, they were just bands that I knew and had become a fan of. I went out of my way to film the Germs because they were banned from every club. I had to rent a rehearsal studio to film them. And I really knew I needed Black Flag because if you had to name one band that started it all in So Cal, it was them in Polliwog Park in Hermosa Beach, CA.
I am forever grateful to [singer] Keith Morris of Circle Jerks because he helped put together the show I filmed at The Fleetwood [a club in Redondo Beach, CA] in which he performed on the same bill as Fear.
What was the most memorable moment you had during filming?
I had a really hard time convincing Darby Crash (singer of the Germs) to do an interview. He was actually a very shy guy, believe it or not. Unless he was fucked up.
I think the most memorable moment was when I was finally able to do an interview with him. He would only agree to do it if I would bring breakfast over for him and Michelle (Darby’s confidant) because they both had hangovers. So, I went to Ralph’s Market, bought a bunch of breakfast stuff, and asked him to cook it while I filmed them.
What would you consider to be the most difficult scene or scenes to shoot?
Probably the part of the Fear performance when Lee Ving [singer of Fear] got in a fight with the girl on stage. I was very conflicted. I didn’t really know if they were doing it because the cameras were rolling, because they were just trying to be really punk rock at that moment or if someone was going to get hurt. I didn’t know how far the physical confrontation would go, but, at a certain point, I realized that nobody was going to get hurt and that it was all pretty theatrical.
What would you consider to be the most enjoyable scene or scenes to shoot?
I really loved filming the intro, “Please be advised” sections of the film, because each of the announcements were read in such creative and different ways. I still like watching those parts of the movies and I never re-watch my movies.
The film was banned in LA by the Chief of Police Daryl Gates. What caused this ban? Were you able to find an alternative way to show it? When was the film eventually played in LA?
After I finished the movie, I brought it around to the different theaters in LA trying to get a week’s run or at least one night, but everyone shut me down. I practically begged the Mann brothers who owned the Chinese Theater at the time, and they told me that no one would want to see a punk rock movie, especially a documentary punk rock movie.
I was finally able to book one night at a theater on Hollywood Boulevard. It was a midnight showing and so many punks came out that they were spilling into the street after packing the theater and the cops shut Hollywood Boulevard down. Then, to keep the rowdy crowd happy, they had a second screening at 2:00 a.m. The brilliant photographer Ed Colver has some great photos of all the kids and 300 motorcycle LAPD cops.
The next day, I got a letter from the chief of police that told me never to show the movie in Los Angeles again. Of course, I ignored it, was able to four-wall the Fairfax Theater and we had a pretty good run there. I noticed after our showings they were able to refurbish the theater!
How does it feel to have this film added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry next to such classics as Psycho and The Godfather?
It feels absolutely flabbergasting! When I think back on all the criticism I got for making the film at the time and how difficult it was to even get it shown, to have it inducted into the national film registry is quite an honor. It just proves that if you really believe in something, keep fighting for it. That’s what I did with The Decline and it has somehow managed to survive and even be given a respected place in history.
How does it feel to look back at a film you released 40 years ago?
It feels like I’m old. Ha!
What are your thoughts on modern punk culture?
Punk has been bastardized, homogenized, ripped off, and fucked over. Especially recently, all the posers have jumped on board without ever understanding the true principles and raison d’etre (the reason of being) of the movement. The shameless fashion industry has stolen elements of punk culture with despicable disregard.
Shameless musicians steal, like unrelenting bandits. They may toss it off as “paying homage”, but it is sad that most of them are not aware of where it all came from and why it happened in the first place. They don’t understand the true original purpose.
Are you still in contact with any of the people you interviewed for the film?
Yes, quite a few. My best friend from the movie is Keith Morris. I have such respect for him in that he has lived his whole life committed to that true punk ethic. He is so smart, so eloquent, so productive and one of the sweetest guys I know. And by the way, the only person who ever thanked me for including them in the movie. But the audiences have thanked me immensely, so that’s enough for me.
Exclusive from John Doe: When asked for comment for this article about his participation in The Decline of Western Civilization, co-founder and singer/bassist of the band X, John Doe, shared, “What an insane adventure those days were. Penelope was a warrior to undertake such a task. Even though most of the filming happened under extreme circumstances, I’m glad the document exists & hope the audience forgives any questionable behavior. We were doing our best”. X, like many of the bands featured in this documentary, became the backbone and icons of LA punk.
Latinos in Punk: Penelope also showed the Latino influence in punk, with Latinos as a part of the pioneering generation of LA punk, such as Alice Bag of the Alice Bag Band and Ron Reyes of Black Flag. With Latinos being the majority of punk fans today, especially in the west coast and southwest, it’s deeply moving to see Latinos as punk pioneers. Though Latinos are a major ethnic population in America (18.5% of the total population), the documentation or acknowledgment of our historical influence in America is still sadly underrepresented. Through this documentary, Penelope challenged the gender and racial/ethnic stereotype of who is a punk, while simultaneously showing another perspective of the American Latino experience.
Hostel director Eli Roth is venturing into real-life horror as a director and executive producer in the shark endangerment documentary film FIN.
In Fin, Roth presents the urgent environmental need to stop mass shark killings, which has a greater impact on global environmental health than many are aware of. Many sharks are being killed for their fins for a multitude of uses, including shark fin soup.
The documentary also exposes how strong financial incentives, both legal and illegal, are a driving force in the mass killing of sharks.
In an exclusive with Variety, Roth shared, “Fin is the scariest film I’ve ever made, and certainly the most dangerous, but I wanted to send a message of hope to end this needless massacre of sharks”. Roth further elaborated, “They keep our oceans clean to produce half our oxygen, and they deserve our respect and deserve to be saved.”
Roth also noted, “Fifty years ago, the world came together to save the whales, then we did it for dolphins, and recently for Orcas. It’s time to do the same for sharks, and time is running out.”
Executive producing for this film are actors and well-known environmental activists, Oscar-winning Leonardo DiCaprio, and Nina Dobrev of The Vampire Diaries.
It appears that the title Fin is a play on words. While fin does refer to the fins of a shark, fin is also used in many foreign films, especially Mexican, to signal the end. As Roth concluded in the trailer, “Without sharks, the planet can die”.
Fin will premiere exclusively on Discovery Plus on July 3rd for Shark Week. Learn more about the project at finthemovie.com
2021 marks the 90th anniversary of the release of Universal Studio’s two most iconic classic monster films Dracula and Frankenstein.
Another Universal Studios film celebrating the 90th anniversary of its cinematic release is the Spanish-language Drácula. And no, that accent mark is not a typographical error, it’s a cultural one. Though highly praised at the time of its 1931 release, the Spanish-language Drácula fell into the shadows of Universal Studio’s past, and sadly, like many older films, a significant part of its original nitrate film negatives was severely damaged. It was in danger of becoming permanently locked in the Universal Studios film volt, never to be enjoyed again by an adoring film audience.
Thankfully, the perseverance and investigation of author DAVID J. SKAL brought the Spanish-language Drácula back from the dead. Skal is a critically acclaimed and highly respected American cultural historian, film critic, and author, most notably for his knowledge of classic horror cinema and horror literature.
Skal has been featured in on-camera interviews as a horror history authority in the horror television specials Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments and currently on AMC’s Eli Roth’s History of Horror. Among his array of published books include science-fiction novels and non-fiction horror cinematic history, such as Hollywood Gothic, The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, and most recently Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond.
In this exclusive in-depth interview with Latin Horror, David J. Skal shares the journey he followed with the Spanish-language Dracula, while revealing the stories and people behind one of the first groundbreaking Latino horror films in American horror film history.
Note: Due to Universal Studios labeling both the Spanish-language and English-language films as Dracula, for this piece, the Spanish-language film will be referred to as Spanish Drácula and the English-language film as English Dracula.
Hollywood Gothic and the journey to rediscover Universal’s forgotten Dracula:
JUSTINA BONILLA:What does the Spanish Drácula mean to you?
DAVID J. SKAL: I’ve got a special place in my heart for the Spanish Drácula, because I was the only one interested enough to track down the complete film, in Havana in the late 1980s. I’m very proud of that. Universal, without that missing reel, they never would have brought it out on home video. They almost didn’t because the quality difference between what I found, the only full print of the film, and the original negative still in their vaults. You can see immediately why film preservation is a good idea.
The release of the Spanish Dracula in 1992 on home video outsold Spartacus, which was one of Universal’s big-budget releases, and really opened up the whole Spanish-speaking market for Universal home video.
I don’t think Universal expected really much of anything from the Spanish Dracula. But it’s still chugging along all these years.
BONILLA:How did you learn about Spanish Drácula?
SKAL: It took me forever to see Dracula when I was young, because it wasn’t being shown on Cleveland television at the time I got interested in the monster magazines, the fan clubs, and that sort of thing.
I had to wait for six years, until Dracula showed up in a theatrical revival. I saw it at night, and fully expected Dracula to be the greatest movie ever made. And, I saw what people had been complaining about. It becomes a very slow static stagey picture. So, I felt cheated.
I was so delighted when I found out that there was this alternate version made that was not being shown. The negative had partially dissolved. Nitrate film is very, very, very, very volatile. The third reel was just horrible. Everything else was pristine.
BONILLA:When were you first able to see Spanish Drácula?
SKAL: The Library of Congress had a viewing print in mothballs. I went down there and watched the thing on a movieola. One reel at a time. And I said, ‘I’ve got to write about this, this is just great. I’ve got to find that damn third reel’. I learned that The Cinemateca de Cuba in Havana, Cuba had a show print, probably from the 1950s. It was complete.
American businesses couldn’t do business in Cuba, but journalists and educators could get visas to go down there. I applied for a journalistic visa, my publisher, W.W. Norton loved what I was doing with this and sponsored my efforts with the U.S. Treasury Department to get the visa. I went down there for three days.
BONILLA:What was your experience in Havana, Cuba?
SKAL: This is June 1989, when I went down there. It was fascinating, for all kinds of reasons besides Dracula. Here was this whole society, less than 100 miles off U.S. shores that was in this crazy kind of time warp. People were still driving 1950s cars that were billowing black smog, everywhere. It was the worst air pollution I’d ever experienced in my life.
I remember waking up in the middle of the night at my hotel thinking that there was a gas leak. And it wasn’t. It was this miasma of smog that had kind of descended over the city at night. And nothing, no buildings seem to have had a paint job since the 1950s.
It was like seeing an apocalyptic version of Miami beaches, Art Deco, historic architecture, because they were just beautiful examples, but they were just covered with peeling paint and dilapidation.
The people were wonderful though. They were the warmest, nicest people you could want. They were very curious about all my interest in this film.
They showed Spanish Dracula publicly just a few weeks before I had come down. It wasn’t too big of a deal for them. So, they set up that third reel and screened it for me several times. They let me set up my camera tripod and crudely shoot frame blow-ups from the screen. That I incorporated into my book Hollywood Gothic.
BONILLA: What happened after your trip to Havana?
SKAL: It got the ball rolling and finally came to the attention of Universal, who initially would not cooperate with Hollywood Gothic at all. They said, ‘Dracula’s a classic. We’re not going to license any rights or let you have any studio documents’.
I did the whole book without a single Universal proprietary document, which was a feat in and of itself. Having these obstacles just made me want to go a little harder with it.
So finally, Universal decided to restore the film. They couldn’t directly deal with Cuba, but they could go through various, international archives, nonprofits and educational institutions (the UCLA Film Archive). So, the reel was brought to LA, duplicated, sent back, and thrown together.
Life after Hollywood Gothic:
BONILLA:What impact did Hollywood Gothic have on your career after it was released?
SKAL: I remember when Universal released Spanish Drácula, they put out a press release and just plagiarized pages out of Hollywood Gothic. Instead of threatening them with legal action, I took a different route completely.
I started to do documentaries and I produced the behind-the-scenes chronicle of the academy award-winning film, Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters with Ian McKellen, which was an extraordinary experience to have. Gods and Monsters was the first feature film I worked on, and it went on to win Oscars. Universal released the DVD, and they purchased the documentary. That got my foot in the door as a kind of in-house historian and documentary filmmaker for a couple of years.
BONILLA:What type of content did you create for Universal?
SKAL: I did about a dozen special edition DVDs. I produced all the extras, the documentaries, the audio commentaries, and the animated still galleries. It was fun because I had the run of Universal for two years. Almost anything I needed they gave me. There’s still there were files I couldn’t get access to. They would have revealed a lot.
BONILLA:What do you remember of the first screening of the Spanish Drácula after the restoration?
SKAL: I was there at the Directors Guild theatre when Spanish Drácula was first screened in 1992. It was the same week that Francis Ford Coppola his version of Dracula, Bram Stroker’s Dracula, was being released. I interviewed Lupita Tovar Kohner (the leading lady of Spanish Drácula). In front of the audience, I said, ‘You know, Mrs. Kohner, for all the publicity that this new film is going to be getting, I think your film is going to be talked about for a longer period of time’.
And, Lupita said one of the nicest things anybody’s ever said to me. She reached over and put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘I have to say something. This man gave me back my life’.
I hope not. She had quite a fantastic life. But it gave her something to do in her later years. She went on for quite a long time, she was 96 she lived, she lived to 106. And quite a legacy.
BONILLA:Did Lupita attend other Spanish Drácula screenings?
SKAL: Lupita did go to a number of screenings of Spanish Dracula. Although, I remember she turned one down. I think it was being shown at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown LA. They were doing a Halloween show, and wanted her to arrive in a coffin, in a hearse. She said, ‘I’m nearing my 100th year and I don’t need any more reminders’. She was a lovely, lovely lady. And meeting her was just one of the highlights of my, my time out here in Hollywood.
I was just awestruck. What a living doll.
The main players of Spanish Drácula:
BONILLA:Who was Paul Kohner?
SKAL: Paul Kohner was Carl Laemmle Sr.’s protégé from Czechoslovakia. He was kind of a second son to Laemmle Sr. Kohner expected that he was going to take over the reins of the studio when Laemmle Sr. retired. And lo and behold, Laemmle pulled a switcheroo and gave Universal to his 21-year-old son, Carl Laemmle Jr. We must credit Laemmle Jr. with his enthusiasm for horror movies that made all the Universal classics happen. Universal had their eye on Dracula for a long time.
Kohner became the head of Universals foreign productions. He had already had European distribution. He was in charge of these foreign language versions of the English films.
BONILLA:What was Kohner’s role in Spanish Drácula?
SKAL: By this point, Kohner had fallen in love with Lupita Tovar. I’m not sure when she became aware of this. He used the Spanish Dracula to glorify her status, because Lupita was going to go back to Mexico. She felt that talkies were the end. There would be no career for her in Hollywood. There’s a wonderful love story going on behind the scenes.
Kohner tried to upstage English Dracula at every turn. He had his crew look at the daily rushes and then improve upon them. He and cinematographer George Robinson improved the lighting. It’s interesting that in many of the scenes the compositions is reversed, because they had to hang their own lighting at a different spot on the ceiling, switch the furniture around and all that sort of thing.
BONILLA: How would you describe Carlos Villarías’ interpretation of Drácula?
SKAL: Carlos Villarías was the only actor encouraged to view footage from English Dracula, presumably so the character of Dracula would be consistent throughout the world. Villarías is often criticized for giving a hammy performance, but it is also possible he was giving his own straightforward interpretation of Bela Lugosi’s acting, which was highly stylized.
Dracula was not yet a familiar icon, and Lugosi’s line readings and mannerisms were—to say the least— highly idiosyncratic. Even today, people attempting Lugosi impersonations tend to go immediately “over the top,” and Villarías may have simply been doing the same thing.
BONILLA:What were the differences between the acting styles of Lupita Tovar Kohner and Helen Chandler?
SKAL: Lupita was not permitted to view the performance of her American counterpart, Helen Chandler (the leading lady of English Dracula). Her approach to the part of Eva is quite independent, and more overtly sexual. Her nearly transparent negligee is eye-popping even by Pre-Code standards. Under Dracula’s control, she becomes animated and amorous, whereas Chandler plays Mina as dazed and obedient.
BONILLA:What are the differences in the performances of Renfield between Pablo Alvarez Rubio and Dwight Frye?
SKAL: In the English Dracula, Dwight Frye played Renfield before his transformation as a slightly fey, even prissy character, underscoring a homoerotic tension with Dracula many critics have found both in the film and Bram Stoker’s novel.
The film conflated two characters from the book—Renfield, who never left England, and Jonathan Harker, who journeyed to Transylvania to complete a real estate transaction for the Count.
In Spanish Dráula, Pablo Alvarez Rubio gives no hint of effeminacy, and his fits of madness are often more visceral than Frye’s, and most dramatically presented in the scene where the hatch of the ship is thrown open. Instead of Frye’s intense stare and low, menacing laugh, Rubio loudly cries out, as if the sunlight has somehow scalded him.
Spanish Dracula behind the scenes:
BONILLA: In the 1920s and early 1930s, how influential was the Spanish-speaking market for Hollywood?
SKAL: During the silent era, 50% of Hollywood’s revenues came from non-English speaking parts of the world. The Spanish language market was the biggest international market for Hollywood.
It’s funny, we think of Lugosi as Dracula as such an icon. But, he wasn’t Dracula to a very big part of the movie-going globe. They saw Villarías as Dracula.
BONILLA:Why did Universal make a non-English versions of their English language films?
SKAL: In the days of the early talkies, Universal made these separate foreign language versions to hold on to the international market. Since, half of Hollywood’s revenues during the silent era came from overseas, it was a market they couldn’t let go.
Most of the excitement about talking pictures came from hearing actors speak in their natural voices. So, some of the earliest experiments with dubbing were knocked down or not accepted. It seemed like cheating. It was fake. It wasn’t a real talking picture.
BONILLA:Why is Spanish Drácula a half hour longer than the English Dracula?
SKAL: The Spanish film shot the entire shooting script. Apparently, the studio was not happy with Todd Browning’s cut of English Dracula. They felt that it just lagged. It had a lot of the problems that Browning’s early talkies had. It was stiff and stage-bound. They reshot some extra scenes. I think almost all those scenes of Lugosi, with little pinpoint spotlights added.
There are some loose ends. We never find out what happens to Lucy in the English film. We also don’t know what happens to the maid that Renfield is crawling toward on the floor. We find out in Spanish Drácula that Renfield is not going after the maid, he’s going after a fly that’s buzzing around her head. This was the comic relief to let you give up those pent-up emotions that have been shaking you to the core.
BONILLA:Did the Spanish Drácula cast use the same sets as the English Dracula cast?
SKAL: Yes, they did it. They did it at night on the same sets. But a much quicker amount of time. In fact, you can see they got ahead of English Dracula, because in some of the scenes, there are no cobwebs on the walls. They were that far ahead of the English Dracula production.
BONILLA:Were there any other goals or creative differences that the Spanish Drácula had than the English Dracula?
SKAL: There’s much more interesting uses of the moving camera, which goes on throughout the film. Especially in Dracula’s first appearance, he just kind of appears from nowhere on the castle staircase. They use the big moving crane that just dallied in and zooms up the steps, until he’s in a medium shot. And, it’s just, wow. Who would have thought of that?
I think George Melford, the director of Spanish Drácula, and his cinematographer George Robinson, editor Maurice Pivar, and everybody else involved technically just work intuitively, looking at what Browning had done during the day.
One thing I noticed is that there’s more visual depth. There are things in the foreground, centered around and background more frequently in Spanish Dracula than the English Dracula. They were thinking on their feet. This wasn’t a planned thing. But Kohner was driving it. He wanted Spanish Drácula to upstage in as many ways as he could English Dracula.
Spanish Drácula after release:
BONILLA: What did Lugosi think of Spanish Drácula?
Kohner got a big compliment from Lugosi, who attended the Spanish Drácula Los Angeles premiere, which was a couple of months before the English Dracula premiere. Lugosi announced to the world that Spanish Drácula, ‘Was magnificent.’
There was no kind of hoopla when the English Dracula opened in March at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Mrs. Lugosi remembered that there was no hoopla, there was no premiere, no red carpet. Nothing. For some reason, they released it in Los Angeles. Weeks after, it debuted around the country.
But there was a special premiere screening of the Spanish Drácula in Hollywood. That was something that Kohner got for himself.
BONILLA:Was Lugosi’s Dracula ever shown in Spanish?
SKAL: The Lugosi version with Spanish subtitles was shown in Puerto Rico. I haven’t been able to find out much about it in the newspaper advertisements. It must have been one of the earliest experiments with subtitles in Hollywood.
BONILLA: Was there any criticism from the Spanish press about Spanish Drácula?
SKAL: When these films were being made and released, they were delighted to have Spanish-language talkies. But, there was no uniformity of accents. In other words, you would clearly have Mexican, Argentine, and Spanish, all thrown together in the same room.
After you watch the Spanish Dracula again, and again, you can see some of the shortcomings. It was under rehearsed. But the actors haven’t been doing these lines with each other. Sometimes it feels like the first time.
Lupita and Paul: The love story behind Dracula’s Cape:
BONILLA: What was Lupita’s relationship like with Paul?
SKAL: The Lupita biography called The Sweetheart of Mexico by their son, Pancho Kohner, is worth looking down, because of the amazing life she and Paul had together. They knew everybody in Hollywood, especially the European community.
BONILLA: Were you able to interview Kohner?
SKAL: He died on March 16, 1988, shortly before he was going to give an interview putting the record straight for once and for all about Spanish Drácula.
I wish people had started doing what I did earlier. Because I missed so many people just by months, or years, or even weeks. People who never gave a retrospective interview, talked about their careers, or even had any idea that they had fans who would just hang on to every word, if you got them in front of a microphone or a camera.
Fortunately, that’s not happening now. We got plenty of audio-visual documentation. Documentarians in the future will have a lot of footage to work with.
BONILLA: How was your first interview with Lupita?
SKAL: When I talked to Lupita, I think it was only about six months after Kohner had died. I was a little apprehensive about approaching. Kohner’s agency, who I went through, assured me that it would be very good for her to talk, and she’d be delighted. So, I came out to Los Angeles and met her.
She said, ‘I can’t answer so many of your questions, because I knew almost no English at the time’. It’s funny, by the end of her life, she could speak five languages fluently, quite remarkable. But, in 1930, she knew all the faces and could understand instructions given to her in Spanish, but not much else. Imagine all of the politics, all of the drama, and all of the wonderful gossip that might have been there.
I just wish her English had been better when she did Spanish Drácula, but I’m glad she did it. I’m sure she’s looking down on all of us is delighted that we’ve given a kind of immortality to this strange little movie she made.
BONILLA:What did Kohner do after his time at Universal?
SKAL: After Universal, Kohner became one of the leading agents for European top talent in Hollywood, and he represented everybody like Greta Garbo. Lupita knew these people intimately as friends.
Kohner was John Houston’s agent. I think the longest agent-client relationship in Hollywood history going over 50 years. Lupita had a million stories about Houston and his wonderful legacy. And the anecdotes just went on forever.
Paul also had a photographic memory. He never even wrote captions on the back of all the pictures they had in their photo collection. It was just extraordinary. Lupita said, ‘I can’t identify these for archival purposes’. A number of people actually did help her do that. It’s remarkable photo documentation. It wasn’t only her work at Universal, it was the whole family’s history. They use the studio photographers basically to document their own lives. It’s a very rich history.
BONILLA:What was your favorite memory with Lupita?
SKAL: Oh my gosh. Well, I went where she lived, I believe, until the end of her life, in the house she and Paul had bought in the 1930s. And, for a pretentious neighborhood like Bel Air, it was a very unpretentious house. A very lovely little Spanish colonial kind of place, warm and inviting. I couldn’t help but notice when, after I shook her hand, and she showed me around that there was a painting of her two children as children. It was signed by Diego Rivera (Mexico’s greatest muralist and husband of Mexican art icon Frida Kahlo).
You meet a lot of strange people in Hollywood. You meet a lot of people who must have been damaged in high school in some terrible way. That’s the only way that explains their behavior. I spent 20 years in New York, dealing with traditional publishers and those kinds of people, not studio executives. Not people whose lives have been totally shaped by the movies. So, I’ve met quite a few pieces of work.
Then there are these wonderful human beings who somehow have survived it all, have not been driven crazy, and their values are not warped. They know how to behave like human beings. I just fell in love with her. She was so nice to me. so generous with their time. And it was so great to see how much pleasure she gave to other people, making these appearances with her film she never expected to. I don’t think she had that kind of attention since she made Santa in 1931.
Lupita had starred in Mexico’s first talking picture Santa (1931), which is a classic. They call it, ‘The Mexican Gone with the Wind’. That’s not really accurate, but it was that popular. She was known as ‘Mexico’s Sweetheart’.
BONILLA:Were you ever able to film other interviews with Lupita?
SKAL: I have one interview on camera that we’ve never used for anything. She doesn’t really go into any new territory. But, I will have to get that transferred from the old analog videotape that it was on and digitize it. Lupita may have something to say to her fans.
The future of Spanish Drácula:
BONILLA:Why do you think many people today are unaware of the Spanish Drácula?
SKAL: Well, if they don’t own a copy of the DVD or the Blu-ray, they’re not likely to ever be exposed to it.
Every once in a while, a show print does go out for some film festival or retrospective, but not very often. So, occasionally, when a college or a Film Society shows the film, they invite me to come talk about it. Those are very small audiences. I’m trying to think if it’s been shown on Turner Classic Movies or not.
BONILLA:I don’t believe that Spanish Dracula has reached a mass audience like TCM.
Think of home videos as the mass audience. It’s usually it’s there as a supplement to English Dracula. Film buffs know about it. But not so much the general movie going public.
BONILLA:How important is film restoration? Considering how easy it could have been to lose Spanish Drácula forever without it.
SKAL: Half the films ever made, no longer exist. That’s how bad film preservation is. Film’s not a stable medium. Photographs aren’t either. Everything ought to be digitized as quickly as possible, because after 100 years or so, original photographs aren’t going to be holding up very well either.
Thank God we have digital magic. But, all of these dreams are very fragile things. The long-range preservation is never a part of the film’s budget. And that’s part of what happens. Each film is like a corporation in and of itself. Preservation archives are just afterthoughts. We need to keep reminding them exactly in any way we can.
I hope that lousy-looking third reel of the Spanish Dracula is argument enough for why films need to be pampered and taken care of. Because you can see what could happen. It was almost gone. Without that bit, it never would have been shown to the public again.
In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we list the trailblazing Asian and Pacific Islander talents throughout Oscar history, highlighting the winners and nominees of each category. The films are dated by year of release in the United States.
2019: Parasite – Bong Joon-Ho & Kwak Sin-ae
2020: Nomadland – Chloé Zhao
1986: A Room with a View – Ismail Merchant
1989: Born on the Fourth of July – A. Kitman Ho
1991: JFK – A. Kitman Ho
1992: Howards End – Ismail Merchant
1993: The Remains of the Day – Ismail Merchant
1996: Jerry Maguire – Richard Sakai
2019: Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi & Chelsea Winstanley
2000: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – ang Lee, William Kong & Hsu Li-kong
2012: Life of Pi – Ang Lee
2005: Ang Lee – Brokeback Mountain
2012: Ang Lee – Life of Pi
2019: Bong Joon-Ho – Parasite
2020: Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
1999: M. Night Shyamalan – The Sixth Sense
2000: Ang Lee – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
2020: Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
1956: Yul Brynner (Mongols) – The King and I
1982: Ben Kingsley – Gandhi
2003: Ben Kingsley – House of Sand and Fog
2020: Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
2020: Steven Yeun – Minari
1935: Merle Oberson (Sri Lanka) – The Dark Angel
2003: Keisha Castle-Hughes – Whale Rider
Best Supporting Actor:
1957: Sessue Hayakawa – The Bridge on the River Kwai
1966: Mako Iwamatsu – The Sand Pebbles
1984: Having S Ngor – The Killing Fields
1984: Pat Morita – The Karate Kid
1991: Ben Kingsley – Bugsy
2001: Ben Kingsley – Sexy Beast
2004: Ken Watanabe – The Last Samurai
2016: Dev Patel – Lion
Best Supporting Actress:
1957: Miyoshi Umeki – Sayonara
1966: Jocelyne La Grande – Hawaii
2020: Youn Yuh-jung – Minari
1985: Meg Tilly – Agnes of God
1994: Jennifer Tilly – Bullets over Broadway
2006: Rinko Kikuchi – Babel
2010: Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit
Best Original Screenplay:
2019: Parasite – Bong Joon-Ho & Kwak Sin-ae
1986: My Beautiful Launderette – Hanif Kureishi
1999: The Sixth Sense – M. Night Shyamalan
2006: Letters from Iwo Jima – Iris Yamashita
2017: The Big Sick – Kumail Nanjiani
2020: Minari – Lee Isaac Chung
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi
Nomadland – Chloé Zhao
1955: James Wong Howe – The Rose Tattoo
1963: James Wong Howe – Hud
1938: James Wong Howe – Algiers
1940: James Wong Howe – Abe Lincoln in Illinois
1942: James Wong Howe – Kings Row
1943: James Wong Howe – Air Force
1943: James Wong Howe – The North Star
1958: James Wong Howe – The Old Man and the Sea
1966: James Wong Howe – Seconds
1975: James Wong Howe – Funny Lady
2010: Matthew Libatique – Black Swan
2018: Matthew Libatique – A Star is Born
Best Film Editing:
1977: Richard Chew – Star Wars
2014: Tom Cross – Whiplash
1975: Richard Chew – One Flew Over the Coco’s Nest
1999: Tariq Anwar – American Beauty
2010: Tariq Anwar – The King’s Speech
2016: Tom Cross – Lala Land
2019: Yang Jin-mo – Parasite
2020: Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Best International Film:
1951: Rashomon – Akira Kurosawa
1954: Gates of Hell – Teinosuke Kinugasa
1955: Samurai, The Legend of Musashi – Hiroshi Inagaki
2000: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Ang Lee
2008: Departures – Yojiro Takita
2011: A Separation – Asghar Farhadi
2019: Parasite – Bong Joon-ho
1956: Harp of Burma – Kon Ichikawa
1957: Mother India – Mehboob Khan
1961: Immortal Love – Keisuke Kinoshita
1963: Twin Sisters of Kyoto – Noburu Nakamura
1964: Woman in the Dunes – Hiroshi Teshigahara
1965: Kwaidan – Masaki Kobayashi
1967: Portrait of Chieko – Noboru Nakamura
1971: Dodes’ka-den – Akira Kurosawa
1975: Sandakan No.8 – Kei Kumai
1980: Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) – Akira Kurosawa
1981: Muddy River – Kohei Oguri
1988: Salaam Bombay! – Mira Nair
1990: Jo Dou – Zhang Yimou & Yang Fengliang
1991: Raise the Red Lantern – Zhang Yimou
1993: Farewell My Concubine – Chen Kaige
1993: The Scent of Green Papaya – Tran Anh Hung
1993: The Wedding Banquet – Ang Lee
1995: Eat Drink Man Woman – Ang Lee
2001: Laggan – Ashutosh Gowariker
2002: Hero – Zhang Yimou
2003: The Twilight Samurai – Yoji Yamada
2013: The Missing Picture – Rithy Panh
2018: Shoplifters – Hirokazu Kore-eda
2020: Better Days – Derek Tsang
Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
2017: Kazu Hiro – Darkest Hour
2019: Kazu Hiro – Bombshell
2006: Kazu Hiro – Click
2007: Kazu Hiro – Norbit
Best Production Design:
2017: Paul Denham Austerberry – The Shape of Water
1936: Eddie Imazu – The Great Ziegfeld
1956: Albert Nozaki – The Ten Commandments
1969: George B. Chan – Gaily, Gaily
2008: James J. Murakami – Changeling
2019: Lee Ha-jun & Cho Won-woo – Parasite
Best Original Score: None
Best Original Song:
2008: “Jai Ho” by Gulzar A. R. Rahman – Slumdog Millionaire
2013: “Let It Go” by Robert Lopez – Frozen
2017: “Remember Me” by Robert Lopez – Coco
2020: “Fight for You” by H.E.R. – Judas and the Black Messiah
2000: “A Love Before Time” by Tan Dun – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
2012: “Pi’s Lullaby” by Bombay Jayashri – Life of Pi
2013: “The Moon Song” by Karen O – Her
2019: “Into the Unknown” by Robert Lopez – Frozen II
2020: “Husavik” by Sawan Kotecha – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
1999: Ren Klyce – Fight Club
2008: Ren Klyce – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
2010: Ren Klyce – The Social Network
2011: Ren Klyce – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
2017: Ren Klyce – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
2020: Ren Klyce – Mank
2020: Ren Klyce – Soul
Best Visual Effects:
1992: Doug Chiang – Death Becomes Her
1977: Greg Jein – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
1979: Greg Jein – 1941
1993: Ariel Velasco Shaw – The Nightmare Before Christmas
1999: Jerome Chen – Stuart Little
Best Documentary Feature:
1994: Maya Lin: A Strong Clean Vision – Freida Lee Mock
2010: Inside Job – Audrey Marrs
2015: Amy – Asif Kapadia
2018: Free Solo – Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin
1985: Unfinished Business – Steven Okazaki
1988: Who Killed Vincent Chin? – Renee Tajima-Peña
2014: Virunga – Joanna Natasegara
2018: Minding the Gap – Bing Liu & Diane Moy Quon
2018: Hale County This Morning, This Evening – Su Kim
2019: Edge of Democracy – Joanna Natasegara
Best Animated Feature:
2002: Spirited Away – Hayao Miyazaki
2005: Hayao Miyazaki – Howl’s Moving Castle
2011: Kung fu Panda 2 – Jennifer Yuh Nelson
2013: The Wind Rises – Hayao Miyazaki & Toshio Suzuki
2014: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – Isao Takahata & Yoshiaki Nishimura
2015: Anomalisa – Rose Tran
2015: When Marie Was There – Yoshiaki Nishimura & Hiromasa Yonebayashi
2016: The Red Turtle – Toshio Suzuki
2017: The Boss Baby – Ramsey Naito
2018: Mirai – Mamoru Hosoda & Yuichiro Saito
2019: Klaus – Jinko Gotoh
Best Documentary Short Subject:
1990: Steven Okazaki – Days of Waiting: The Life & Arts of Estelle Ishigo
1996: Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien – Jessica Yu
1998: The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years – Keiko Ibi
2011: Saving Face – Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
2015: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness – Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
2016: The White Helmets – Joanna Natasegara
1982: To Live or Let Die – Freida Lee Mock
1983: Sewing Woman – Arthur Dong
1984: The Children of Sooning Ching Ling – Paul T.K. Lin
1988: Family Gathering – Lise Yasui
1990: Rose Kennedy: A Life to Remember – Freida Lee Mock
1995: Never Give Up: The 20th Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper – Freida Lee Mock
1998: Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square – Shui-Bo Wang
2001: Sing! – Freida Lee Mock
2005: The Mushroom Club – Steven Okazaki
2008: The Conscience of Nhem En – Steven Okazaki
2019: St. Louis Superman – Smriti Mundhra & Sami Khan
Best Animated Short Film:
2010: The Lost Thing – Shaun Tan
2018: Bao – Domee Shi
1968: The Magic Pear Tree – Jimmy T. Murakami
2011: Adam and Dog – Minkyu Lee
2014: The Dam Keeper – Robert Kondo
2015: Sanjay’s Super Team – Sanjay Patel
2017: Negative Space – Ru Kuwahata
2018: Weekends – Trevor Jimenez
2018: One Small Step – Bobby Pontillas
2019: Sister – Siqi Song
Best Live Action Short Film:
1977: I’ll Find a Way – Youki Yoshida
1997: Visas and Virtue – Chris Tashima
1982: The Silence – Michael Toshiyuki Uno
2004: Two Cars, One Night – Taika Waititi
2005: Out Time is Up – Pia Clemente
2013: The Voorman Problem – Baldwin Li
Academy Honorary Award:
1989: Akira Kurosawa
1991: Satyajit Ray
2014: Hayao Miyazaki
2016: Jackie Chan
2004: The Gordon E. Sawyer Award – Takou Miyagishima
In honor of our upcoming June 5th A Nightmare on Fourth Street fundraising marathon–featuring eight films from the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise–we’re taking a look at 10 iconic kills from this beloved slasher horror franchise, examining the most unique, gruesome, and, at times, comical deaths of the original series
Glen: Bloody Bed Geyser
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Unlike other victims on this list, you don’t see Glen (Johnny Depp in acting debut) die. Freddy’s claws come up from underneath Glen and drag into a hole in his bed. Suddenly, a gigantic blood geyser sprouts from the hole, overtaking the room. Though it was an extremely dangerous scene to shoot–with a crew member being electrocuted during production–it’s by far one of the most surreal deaths in a Nightmare film.
Jennifer: The Television
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
This kill gives the most quoted Freddy line, “Welcome to prime-time, bitch”. However, this kill could also count as two kills in one. As Jennifer starts to drift to sleep, while watching a television interview between famed talk show host Dick Cavett and actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dick turns into Freddy, about to kill Zsa Zsa, but the screen goes static. Then, Freddy slams Jennifer’s head into the television, shocking her to death. A kill that worked perfectly with the bulky electronics of the era.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1985)
Taryn, a recovering drug addict that gets into a knife fight with Freddy, showing no fear as she stabs him. However, when Freddy reveals his fingers have turned into drug filled syringes, she slips into her fear, immediately giving him the power to transform her arm’s track marks, into little mouths hungry for the drugs. He injects her with the drugs, slowly killing her, leaving those with a fear of needles, cringing at the edge of their seats.
Carlos: Hearing Aid
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
While many of the deaths on this list do contain an element of comedy, this is a funny scene overall. The hearing-impaired Carlos gets his hearing-aid back from Freddy, but it turns into a spider like creature clinging to his ear, amplifying every noise to an unbearable level. Acting like a Loony Toons cartoon character, Freddy taunts Carlos by dropping pins with cartoonish sound effects. Then, Freddy gleefully scratches his claws on a chalkboard, leading to Carlos’ head exploding. As irritating as that scratching noise is, the goofy way Freddy acts, makes it comical.
Dan: Need for Speed
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
As Dan tires to escape Freddy on a motorcycle, the motorcycle is really Freddy in disguise. The motorcycle takes over Dan, painfully stabbing itself into his limbs, face, and hands, absorbing his blood, and making him a part of the motorcycle. A kill so gruesome, it was heavily edited by the MPAA (Motion Picture of America Association) in the original film debut. However, this controversial kill can now be seen, unedited, in all its horrific glory.
Phil: The Puppet
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Taking advantage of Phil’s love of marinate puppets and his sleepwalking habits, Freddy rips veins out of Phil’s limbs, and controls him like a puppet. Seeing the veins close up, makes your skin crawl. Phil tries to resist, but is overpowered and taken to a high window. Freddy cuts the veins like strings, and Phil falls to his death, making it appear that he’s going to commit suicide. What makes this scene far more gut-wrenching is how helpless and unable the Dream Warriors are to stop Phil’s death.
Freddy: Escaping Souls
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Without a doubt the most visually complex and dramatic display of Freddy death. It’s a superb kill, combining the use of different effects, including live actors and radio-controlled limbs. With Alice’s help, the souls of Freddy’s victim destroy him from the inside out, breaking his jaw wide open, allowing their souls to escape. As gory as it can seem, it’s also a scene of triumph for the victims, as they are no longer under Freddy’s control. And, hearing the voices of the child victims, some laughing, while others cry for their mom, as they float away, also makes the defeat that much more rewarding and eye-watering.
Ron: Door Stabbing
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
While sleeping in Ron’s room, Jesse suddenly wakes in unbearable pain. As Ron is unsure of how to react to Jesse, as Freddy slowly rips out of Jesse’s chest and kills Ron, by stabbing him through his bedroom door. It’s a stomach-turning Freddy entrance, with the lead up to Ron’s kill being far more terrifying than the kill itself. The terror is increased when it’s revealed that Freddy possessed Jesse to kill Ron and is covered in his blood. Freddy’s reflection can be seen in the wall mirror taunting and laughing at Jesse, making the kill that much more disturbing.
Debbie: Roach Motel
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Considered by many as the grossest kill of the Nightmare series, there are visual similarities between this scene and other iconic horror scenes. For instance, Debbie’s slow and painful transformation into a cockroach, resembles the werewolf transformation in An American Werewolf in London. Audiences cannot help but to feel Debbie’s pain and cringe, as her arms fall off, unveiling cockroach legs. Also, like The Fly, viewers see and hear an insects-human hybrid’s spine-chilling call for help, knowing that they cannot be saved. After seeing Freddy squish Debbie to death in a roach motel, you will not be able to look at bug traps the same away again.
Tina: Ceiling Death
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Both the first kill for the Nightmare series and the most infamous. Tina is stabbed by Freddy in her nightmare. He drags Tina on her bedroom’s ceiling, before dropping her lifeless body on her bed. This iconic kill scene was filmed in a rotating set, without CGI, mystifying viewers. Fun fact, this scene was inspired by the classic Hollywood musical star Fred Astaire’s ceiling dance from Royal Wedding. It’s also listed by New York Magazine’s entertainment site Vulture as one of “The 100 Scares That Shaped Horror”.