Horror anthology films are, at their best, thrilling cornucopias of opportunity. Beyond the simple joy of offering fans multiple horror stories at once, they offer filmmakers from varied backgrounds a chance to tell a story as part of a larger, more widely seen package, as well as a chance to tell different kinds of horror stories within a single format. Not every horror anthology embraces this chance at versatility, but when a film does, you can feel the ambition and potential in every frame. Satanic Hispanics, a horror anthology from a quintet of Latino filmmakers and an energetic ensemble cast of actors, embraces the versatility and sense of diversity that can work so well in this format.
As the title suggests, Satanic Hispanics is a showcase for Hispanic talent, as well as folklore from throughout Central and South America, giving it a very broad canvas upon which to paint its bloody picture. It’s an attractive prospect and, while Satanic Hispanics doesn’t always fill that canvas in the most interesting way, it does emerge as a thoroughly entertaining, pleasantly creepy ride that, at its core, is deeply interested in the flexibility and freedom offered by the anthology format.
Satanic Hispanics frames its explorations of Latin culture and folklore through “The Traveler,” a story directed by Mike Mendez in which the lone survivor of a mass murder (Efren Ramirez) talks two detectives (Greg Grunberg and Sonya Eddy) through his mysterious, shockingly long life. Why is he the only survivor of this bizarre shootout? What makes him qualified to explain it? Well, to get to the bottom of that, he has to tell them a few stories.
Over the course of the next 90 minutes, The Traveler tells the detectives about a man who believes he can reveal a ghost in his home with the right combination of light and movement (“Tambien Lo Vi,” directed by Demián Rugna), a vampire who has a very unlucky Halloween (“El Vampiro,” directed by Eduardo Sánchez), a man who dared trifle with ancient Mesoamerican magic (“Nahuales,” directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero), and a search for an unusual artifact with the power to kill demons (“The Hammer of Zanzibar,” directed by Alejandro Brugués).
A mysterious man in an interrogation room spinning what might be tall tales or might be true stories is, as any seasoned anthology viewer will know, a wonderful framing device to keep the action moving, but Satanic Hispanics pushes The Traveler’s narrative further than something that’s merely structural. Each of these stories, as relayed by Ramirez’s character, is a piece of a larger puzzle, and as the film goes on you can feel those pieces starting to snap together, forming a bigger, more frightening picture. It’s a propulsive device that’s both effective and clever, particularly when many anthologies don’t bother.
And this use of the frame narrative to propel and broaden the scope of the movie is made all the more impressive when you consider how different the stories are. The ghost story weirdness of “Tambien Lo Vi” delivers one of the most genuinely unsettling scares I’ve seen in a movie this year, while “El Vampiro” offers bittersweet laughs, “Nahuales” brings primal folk horror and “The Hammer of Zanzibar” plays like a Robert Rodriguez joint from his early, seat-of-your-pants indie days. The stories are as different as they can be while still holding together, and it’s remarkable how well the connective tissue keeps them all linked, all tuned into the same thematic vibes even as they explore the dark corners of their own individual narratives to great effect. The stories aren’t all perfect, and some of them feel almost incomplete when compared to others: “Tambien Lo Vi” ends rather abruptly, for example, and “Nahuales” is so textured and layered with meaning that you’re almost frustrated when it ends in favor of other stories. Despite these drawbacks, the way these stories all blend into one darkly hilarious, deliciously violent stew is almost hypnotic.
It all culminates in a concluding sequence that’s easily one of the most memorable things you’ll see in a horror film this year, and by the time it’s all over, Satanic Hispanics has emerged as one of the best horror anthologies in recent memory. It’s a film that’s eager to play with the conventions of the format, to tell new stories and to explore the depth and breadth of Latin folklore in a world where these ideas and traditions are increasingly pushed down by homogeneity. It’s also, in the end, an absolute blast of gore, laughter and surprising emotional heft.
Director: Mike Mendez, Demián Rugna, Eduardo Sánchez, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Alejandro Brugués
Writer: Alejandro Mendez, Demián Rugna, Pete Barnstrom, Lino K. Villa, Shadan Saul, Raynor Shima
Starring: Efren Ramirez, Greg Grunberg, Hemky Madera, Jonah Ray Rodrigues, Patricia Velásquez, Jacob Vargas, Ari Gallegos, Demian Salomon, Christian Rodrigo, Michael C. Williams
Release Date: September 14, 2023
Matthew Jackson is a pop culture writer and nerd-for-hire who’s been writing about entertainment for more than a decade. His writing about movies, TV, comics, and more regularly appears at SYFY WIRE, Looper, Mental Floss, Decider, BookPage, and other outlets. He lives in Austin, Texas, and when he’s not writing he’s usually counting the days until Christmas.