One of the many reasons that Mondo Macabro is so revered among cult film freaks around the world is their dedication to digging up the best stuff from corners of the world usually ignored by the masses. In this case, I specifically asked Pete Tombs about his forays into the murky world of Latin American exploitation and horror. This is a subject that, while dear to my heart as a proud Mexican-American, is also an area about which I know shamefully little beyond what Mondo Macabro has taught me.
When I sent off my query about Mondo Macabro's impressive collection of Latin American horror, his response was so detailed and such a pleasure to read that I thought it would be a pity for me to hack it to bits. I've edited only the slightest bit to help the flow, but the vast majority of his response is below. Ladies and gentlemen, bienvenidos a Mondo Macabro Latino!
In my now long gone youth, I remember picking up zines like Castle of Frankenstein and Famous Monsters of Filmland. In the UK you couldn't get these in the large newsagents (or not where I lived at the time, anyway), but in stores in the seedier parts of town. This may well be where I got my first inkling that the most interesting stuff was to be found lurking around the corner in the streets we were warned never to venture down.
I don't think the mag was actually published in the UK, so these would have been US copies shipped over on the cheap. As we never had the same monster movie TV packages that you guys did in the US, a lot of what was in these pages was very exotic to us. I remember poring over the black and white pics and the (as I recall) jokey and rather "fact poor" text and trying to build up a picture of what was actually going on here. I do recall that films like Plan 9 From Outer Space featured quite a lot - years before most of us were able to see it - and lots and lots of Mexican horror movies. These titles fascinated me. They appeared to have been made only ten years or so earlier, but looked like they could have been from the 1930s. They seemed full of a dusty, cobwebbed Gothic atmosphere and stars we'd never heard of (including voluptuous women with large chests). So I was well primed to like these films long before I ever got a chance to see any of them. My first actual sighting was The Brainiac and, thankfully, it more than lived up to expectations. When we started the Mondo label, these Mexican horrors definitely topped the list in terms of the kinds of films we wanted to work with. Unfortunately, at the time, they were also the most widely available on the "grey" market due to their frequent airings on US cable TV. Consequently the first movie with Mexican connections that we released in the US was in fact Alucarda, which is of course a very different beast indeed. In fact, it plays very much like a Euro production. I don't think the film's writer-director, Juan Lopez Moctezuma, was very enamoured of the indigenous horrors, Santo films etc. My impression is that they were largely aimed at a juvenile audience and he had more serious and transgressive aims in mind than scaring pre-teens. I'd read about Alucarda via its connections with the Panic Theatre movement and Jodorowsky in particular. I also recall reading reviews of the film and an interview with its director when it played a festival in Paris (alongside Suspiria!). It was another of those titles that I was nervous about actually watching, in case it didn't live up to my expectations. Of course, it exceeded them. I spent a long time trying to track down the rights. And I recall, back in the early days of the internet, sending out an email to everyone who had the name "Moctezuma" asking if they were related to Juan Lopez! Amazingly, I got a reply from his daughter Alessandra and she helped me track down the rights and the materials, which fortunately included the original negative.
For me Alucarda is one of the titles that define what the Mondo label is all about. It's not a well known film and has been unfairly overlooked in histories of the genre. But it's a film that anyone interested in alternative or "fantastic" areas of cinema should at least see. There's so much magic and mystery in the film, from the very opening scene right through to the fiery conclusion, that it seems epic, even though its running time is relatively short. When one reads of the trials and tribulations that Lopez Moctezuma went through to get the film made and of his subsequent personal and financial problems, his bravery as a film maker and his enormous love and understanding of the genre shine through. For me he is unquestionably one of the great unsung heroes of fantastic cinema and it's hugely sad that he never had the chance to make the films he wanted to after this.
Following that, Blood of the Virgins may seem like a bit of a step down, but, as with a number of the films we've released, the context and back story add a lot to the appeal. Although Argentinean cinema was widely distributed back in its heyday, few outside the country (and few inside it) had heard much about Emilio Vieyra, the film's writer and director. I met him under the aegis of Diego Curubeto, indefatigable crate digger of Argentine pop culture. We spent a crazy week with Diego in Buenos Aires filming a show for UK TV and got to meet both Vieyra and local cinematic legend, La Coca Sarli. Both were larger than life and fascinating characters and it was a pleasure to be able to tell something of their separate (but connected) stories in the extras to the Blood of the Virgins DVD release. I really like this film; it's short and to the point but is packed with spooky atmosphere and an unexpected kind of melancholia. And, if that isn't enough, in the gorgeous Susana Beltran, the film has surely one of the sexiest female bloodsuckers ever to bare fangs. And other things...
We kept trying to license the earlier Mexican black and white horrors, such as The Vampire and The Brainiac. But the films' owners, Alameda Films, were embroiled in a long and costly legal case to re-establish their copyright on these titles. Eventually we managed to strike a deal for releasing a package of five films in the UK. We were on the verge of doing a US deal when, at the 11th hour, a rival company pitched in and made an offer we couldn't match. They went out of business soon after, which probably explains a lot.
Satanico Pandemonium is maybe more famous as the (slightly misspelled) name of a character in From Dusk Till Dawn than it is as a movie. I was aware that the film existed, but had never watched it. This was in fact a recommendation from a customer of ours who had seen a gray market version and suggested we should investigate. Finding the rights holder of the film was a bit of chore, but a very worthwhile one as he turned out to be the son of the film's director, the prolific Gilberto Martínez Solares who had worked in just about all the genres of Mexican popular cinema. SP was very different for a Mexican film. Very confrontational and unexpectedly explicit. We were not surprised to learn that Martinez Solares had been a friend of Bunuel during his time living in Mexico and was influenced by his script for The Monk as much as by Alucarda or The Devils. The film is a very solid piece of work and beautifully filmed. A surprising production credit is for the Mexican Tourist Board - who must have been, to say the least, a little confused to see where their money had been invested! The film contains a fair bit of nudity for a Mexican film from this time and we were told that in the climactic orgy, the naked nuns were in fact recruited from a local bordello, which must have made a pleasant change from their usual employment...
Like most of the above films, I'd read about the films of Mojica Marins long before I got to see any of them. I'd mention them to any Brazilian visitors I happened to come across and they'd quite often take a few steps backwards before quickly changing the subject. I soon came to realise that this "Coffin Joe" was some kind of unique figure. Eventually, in the very early days of home video, I managed to track down some Brazilian releases of his films. They were not great quality, picture-wise, and were certainly not the best of his productions, but they were astonishing. Way wilder and more radical than I had dared to hope they would be. Eventually I managed to make contact, via a mutual friend, with Andre Barcinski who was working on a documentary about Mojica Marins and he set up a meet for us in Sao Paolo. I remember the night we arrived, before we had met Mojica, Andy Starke and myself went to a local bar to get something to eat. And there, covering the whole of one wall of the place, was a massive portrait of the man himself, with his top hat and claw-like, massively extended fingernails, lowering over the crowded bar. Mojica Marins was definitely one of the most interesting characters I've met and his films have never disappointed me. What does disappoint is that there seem to be so few like him out there and that too many film makers, even today, seem bent on following the latest trend rather than creating something new. I guess there's a touch of madness about the best of Mojica Marin's work and maybe that's what scares people off. After all for most film makers, movies are meal ticket, not a manifesto for living. And I suppose that's what makes "Coffin Joe" special. Long may he reign.
I cannot thank Pete enough for this fantastic look at Mondo Macabro's collection of Latin terrors. Unfortunately, as is often the case with the best things in life, many of these releases are no longer available. All of the UK releases (Coffin Joe, The Vampire
, The Brainiac
) are out of print and rather hard to find, though the more industrious fans know where to go for that sort of thing. However, all of the other releases are available at the links below, and I can guarantee you that they are worth the money. Not only are they fantastic films with great presentations, but they also include quality extras when available. For example, Alucarda
not only features a trailer, but also a documentary on Lopez Moctezuma, and an interview with Guillermo Del Toro.
At the moment some of these titles, even the in-print ones, are a bit hard to find due to the changing of distributors, but they are available, you just might have to look a little harder than usual. Trust me, it's all worth it.
I know that this column has been a long time coming and I completely take the blame for that, but I will catch up. Next time around we'll take a look at the weird and wonderful world of South and Southeast Asian exploitation. I'm excited! I'll also keep poking the guys at Mondo Macabro for some possible giveaways, you guys will love that!
See you next time at Video Home Invasion!