Ancient myths, religious otherworldliness, and culturally tailored re-imaginings of classic tropes or creatures populate the landscape of Latino horror. Although genre films have been present in Latin American cinema since the 1930s, over the last two decades — with the advent of digital filmmaking and increased government investment in the art form — they have exponentially flourished in the region.
Meanwhile, in the United States, Latinx audiences are known to be enthusiastic (and paying) fans of all things horror, even if Hollywood projects rarely include Latinos on screen. There are still few genre features by or about American Latinos out there, but up-and-coming storytellers are striving to change that. As streamers and studios vow to support emerging voices in entertainment, this is a space ripe for growth.
A thematically compelling quality in many of the most prominent Latino horror films is that genre often serves as a vehicle to create discourse around current socio-political topics or to reckon with a country’s troubled past. Through this compelling lens, filmmakers create fascinating examinations of the things that frighten us —whether there are supernatural, real, or somewhere in between.
The list below features recent U.S. Latino and Latin American titles, all of which are available to watch online now.
“Culture Shock” (2019)
Released as part of Hulu’s “Into the Dark” anthology, this stylistically ambitious and topical feature addresses the immigration issue with a firm stance against U.S. hypocrisy. Mexican actress Martha Higareda stars as Marisol, a pregnant, undocumented woman who finds herself in a candy-colored and hyper-American realm after crossing the border under mysterious circumstances. As she slowly peels off the layers of her seemingly dreamlike new reality, a harrowing hell emerges. Part “The Stepford Wives,” part “Get Out,” the film demonstrates why director and co-writer Gigi Saul Guerrero is one of the most audacious voices working in genre today.
“Good Manners” (2017)
A radically original and genre-defying work, this Brazilian werewolf saga begins with a friendship between Ana (Marjorie Estiano), a well-off pregnant woman, and Clara (Isabél Zuaa), the working-class nanny she hires before her son is even born. Soon their connection turns from platonic to romantic, until the plot takes a sharp turn into the supernatural. After a tragic event, Clara becomes the boy’s adoptive mother. Not only is she responsible for raising him in human form, but for containing the beast inside him every full moon night. Co-directors Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra deliver an entrancing movie with rich visuals and incisive ideas.
AMC/courtesy Everett Collection
“La Llorona” (2019)
Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante repurposes the ancient legend of a ghostly weeping woman popular across Latin America to speak about the genocide committed against indigenous people in his Central American homeland. Working in horror for the first time, the auteur centers the politically charged story on the ruthless dictator responsible for the atrocities in the aftermath of a trial that failed to convict him. As the female apparition haunts him and his family, history reveals itself to be more frightening than fiction. Actresses María Mercedes Coroy and María Telón, who had their breakout roles in Bustamante’s acclaimed debut “Ixcanul,” return in key parts here.
Director Aaron Burns invokes “Rosemary’s Baby” with this disturbing look at motherhood. Diana (a superb Daniela Ramírez) is a pregnant woman unable to help her autistic son Martín (Matías Bassi). At the end of her rope, and with her husband constantly traveling, she hires Luz (Aida Jabolin), a Filipino caregiver that immediately connects with the young boy bringing much-needed calmness to the household. However, as Luz takes on a more important role than her in the kid’s life, Diana begins to mistrust her intentions and gives in to paranoia. Body horror and dread galore propel this Chilean nightmare.
Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection
“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” (2014)
For its fifth installment, the found-footage franchise took its tried formula to the Latino community of Oxnard, California. There, teenage best friends Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) have just learned one of their neighbors was killed in her apartment and decide to investigate the incident. Inside her place, the boys find black magic paraphernalia, a creepy collection of VHS tapes, and, most alarmingly, a photo of Jesse. Unexplainable, and increasingly terrifying occurrences start to happen around Jesse until he is no longer himself and his loved ones try fighting back with Catholic practices. This cultural specific makeover on the property results in a legitimately scary ordeal.
Set in Buenos Aires, Demián Rugna’s shockingly bold vision deals with multiple spectral sightings taking place across different homes in the same neighborhood. Paranormal investigator Jano (Norberto Gonzalo) arrives on the scene to tend to a mother whose dead son has physically returned from the afterlife. Eventually two other experts in otherworldly matters, each in charge of a different case in the area, join forces with Jano. Underseen outside of Argentina, this purposefully grotesque and consistently surprising gem will satisfy the cravings of horror fans looking for a refreshing take on a familiar concept. Guillermo del Toro is producing an English-language remake, with Rugna directing.
Shudder / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Tigers Are Not Afraid” (2017)
In Issa López’s unforgettable dark fairytale, young Estrella (Paola Lara) joins a gang of orphan children to survive in a hostile and desolate city after her mother disappears. She soon begins to communicate with the spirits of men and women who’ve died at the hands of the evil men in power. They seek revenge from beyond the grave. Exquisitely executed with potent imagery and impressive VFX, López’s poignant film was born out of her desire to talk about the violence that’s swept Mexico over the last two decades. Guillermo del Toro, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman are some of the movie’s biggest fans.
“The Untamed” (2016)
When an extraterrestrial being finds a home in a rural Mexican town, the married couple hosting this mysterious visitor tasks Verónica (Simone Bucio), an alluring young woman, with finding it new “lovers.” The creature can provide unimaginable pleasure, but sometimes that comes at a dangerous price. Amat Escalante’s brilliantly bizarre and profound effort confronts its characters with their unspoken desires through a Cthulhu-like entity that’s both repulsive and entrancing. The effective genre elements enable the director to find a new entryway into the social realist dramas he excels at, in this case tackling homophobia and domestic abuse.
©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection
“Vampires vs. the Bronx” (2020)
This delightful horror comedy from Dominican filmmaker Oz Rodriguez, who made his name working on Saturday Night Live, follows a diverse trio of Bronx kids fighting a pack of undead bloodsuckers trying to take over their lively borough. An allegory for the horrors of gentrification and displacement in communities of color, the movie also pays homage to 80s classics like “The Lost Boys.” Rodriguez and co-writer Blaise Hemingway put their own spin on vampire conventions, including Latino-inspired ways to kill them, for a hilarious and slightly spooky ride. In addition to its bright young cast, Zoe Saldana graces the screen in a small but memorable part.
“The Wolf House” (2018)
Stop motion animation has seldom been as unsettling as seen in Joaquin Cociña and Cristóbal León’s surreal tale of psychological manipulation. Borrowing aspects from well-known fables and turning them on their head, the artists set their sights on Colonia Dignidad, a real-life German cult settled in southern Chile. Maria (Amalia Kassai), a member of this group, has just escaped and found shelter in a new place. But the presence of the “Wolf” (voiced by Rainer Krause), an ominous manifestation of the fear they have instilled in her, follows wherever she goes. Pushing the medium in breathtaking ways, the paint and materials that form the characters and spaces shape-shift in front of our eyes.