[Panic Fest 2023 Review] 'Satanic Hispanics' is a Wild Anthology Horror Film that Struggles with Consistency
“You have no idea what’s coming.”
But what I can tell you is that Satanic Hispanics, a horror anthology featuring segments from five visionary Latino directors, collects tales ranging from scary to utterly absurd for a bonkers, bloody good time.
The anthology centers around a man who calls himself the Traveler (Efren Ramirez), apprehended at the scene of a mysterious mass murder. Interrogated by Detective Arden (Greg Grunberg) and Detective Gibbons (Sonya Eddy), he tells four gruesome tales of his travels while warning the pair that everyone at the station is going to die if they don’t let him go immediately.
Shocker, the cops don’t listen.
Directed by Mike Mendez (have you seen his film The Convent? You should really see The Convent), “The Traveler” wraparound opens the film on a building full of bodies. Dark. Blood splattered everywhere. A sinister vibe digs its way in like a needle inserted under a nail…until a group of cops send a barrage of bullets into a flinching corpse, not once, not twice, but three times. This is more or less what to expect from Satanic Hispanics; An anthology filled with eerie moments interrupted by comical bouts of gore and tongue all the way through cheek humor that’s largely hit or miss.
In a rare case of saving the best for first, director Demian Rugna’s “Tambien Lo Vi” is Satanic Hispanics at its finest. A spooky tale in which a man is trying to convince others his house is haunted, fans of the director’s feature film, Terrified, will be reminded of why it was considered to be one of the scariest horror flicks of 2018. Perhaps the most well-shot of the bunch, Rugna’s displays a masterful use of lighting and framing to get the viewer to search the screen to a point where you might believe you’re seeing things…or was that thing you saw actually there? Frightening. Tense. Gruesome. “Tambien Lo Vi” sets a high bar for the other segments which is never quite reached again.
One of the most difficult tasks for an anthology to achieve—and why some of the best, i.e. Creepshow, only feature one director—is consistency. These things are always a handful of tricks and treats, but especially so when collecting the talents of multiple filmmakers. The segments in Satanic Hispanics struggle mightily in staying in tune with each other, evidenced by the second tale, director Eduardo Sanchez’s “El Vampiro”. One of the filmmakers behind The Blair Witch Project, this story about a geriatric vampire trying to make it home before sunrise is an odd step into camp for the director and the tonal opposite of the previous story. Sanchez sinks his teeth deep into bloody cheese here, reminiscent of something like Dracula: Dead and Loving It, but gorier. Whether or not it works for you depends on your affinity for vampiric dad jokes.
Satanic Hispanics lack of consistency tosses the viewer around with a furious, tonal whiplash. The one and only constant is the extreme gore and practical creature effects, which are put on full display in Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “Nahaules”. A shocking tale involving witchcraft, “Nahaules” dives into ritualistic horror that goes for the jugular and tears it open in a geyser of red. Surprising no one familiar with the co-founder of Luchagore Productions, Guerrero makes the screen bleed with squishy violence and torturous terror. Convoluted and utterly deranged, the story is difficult to follow yet Guerrero does what she does best, which is make the audience squirm.
Throughout all of this, the wraparound begins to grow a bit stale, especially once The Traveler starts pulling out random items as reason to continue his stories. One of those leads to what is easily the most fun of the bunch, Juan of the Dead director Alejandro Brugues’ “The Hammer of Zanzibar.” An Evil Dead-esque action-adventure in which a man is hunting down a demon that’s killing his friends, this wild tale is full of surprises, laughs and a demon-killing weapon you won’t soon forget. Not all of the jokes are effective—and some are hammered in your face a little too hard—but the silliness manages to overcome most of the shortcomings.
As much of a mixed bag as horror anthologies come, Satanic Hispanics features stories which all offer different, specific flavors, meaning your filmic taste buds are in for overload with this sometimes scary, sometimes corny, always intent on having a good time film. Everything from the look, the tone, even the sound mixing in some cases, varies from tale to tale, with the wraparound offering the stories a loose connection at best. The wide gap in-between the peaks and valleys of what works keeps Satanic Hispanics from reaching the heights its capable of, but there’s plenty of fun to be had in this feast of gruesome tales from some of the most talented Latino directors working in horror today.
By Matt Konopka