Although Mexican cinema has a long history more than 5,000 sound feature films have been produced by the industry since 1930 it remains largely unknown outside the Spanish-speaking world. A few classics of the Golden Age, Luis Buñuels Mexican efforts, and the (very) occasional popular or art-house success such as Like Water for Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate) have received international attention; but these are virtually all the world knows about movies made in Mexico.
With one exception: Fantasy, horror and science fiction films have been more widely distributed than any other type of movie made in Mexico. The masked wrestling hero Santo, for example, has been dubbed into English, French, and German, and even appeared as a character in a Turkish film. Part of the explanation for this popularity lies in the almost universal commercial viability of horror movies, but the special attributes of Mexican fantasy cinema also deserve some of the credit.
Since the early sound period, many Mexican films have contained fantasy elements, reflecting the cultural attitudes of Mexican society about life, death, mysticism and the supernatural. In Mexico, the fantastic is just one more aspect of daily life. And so it is in Mexican cinema as well: fantasy and reality intermingle, the supernatural and the mundane coexist. Masked wrestlers battle vampires and Martians; poor peasants make deals with Death; Dracula is befriended by a band of winos; Aztec mummies fight robots, and so forth. Mexican fantasy films are popular because they are rarely dull, often veering from moody, atmospheric scenes to colorful, comic-book style action in a single film. Outrageous themes and wild plots abound, lending the films a unique vitality and naïve charm.
The recently released Mexican Horror Cinema, edited by Rogelio Agrasánchez, Jr. whose father directed numerous Mexican fantasy films reproduces key art from seminal horror films produced south of the border. The book also includes informative essays by Brian Moran (on collecting Mexican movie posters and lobby cards), Freddy Peralta (on "Santo: The Silver-Masked Man of Mexican Cinema"), and David Wilt (from whose essay on the history of Mexican fantasy films the above text is excerpted), along with an introduction by Agrasánchez, Jr., and a chronological index of Mexican horror and fantasy films produced between 1919 and 1979.
Mexican Horror Cinema, Agrasánchez Film Archive; $35 (includes shipping); 134 pages.
Available from www.agrasfilms.com