Horror anthology films, at their peak, are exhilarating treasure troves of opportunity. Beyond the sheer delight of offering fans multiple horror tales in a single package, they grant filmmakers from diverse backgrounds the chance to contribute to a broader, more widely-viewed narrative, as well as the opportunity to explore various facets of horror within a unified format. Not every horror anthology fully embraces this potential for versatility, but when one does, you can sense the ambition and promise in every scene. “Satanic Hispanics,” a horror anthology helmed by a quintet of Latino directors and featuring a spirited ensemble cast, wholeheartedly embraces the flexibility and diversity inherent in this format.
As the title suggests, “Satanic Hispanics” serves as a showcase for Hispanic talent and the rich folklore hailing from Central and South America, affording it a broad canvas upon which to paint its macabre tableau. While “Satanic Hispanics” doesn’t consistently exploit this canvas in the most riveting manner, it nonetheless emerges as an immensely enjoyable and pleasantly eerie journey that fundamentally cherishes the freedom and adaptability inherent in the anthology format.
“Satanic Hispanics” frames its exploration of Latin culture and folklore through the lens of “The Traveler,” a tale directed by Mike Mendez in which the sole survivor of a mass murder (portrayed by Efren Ramirez) recounts his enigmatic, remarkably protracted life to two detectives (played by Greg Grunberg and Sonya Eddy). Why is he the lone survivor of this peculiar shootout? What qualifies him to elucidate it? To unveil these mysteries, he must recount a series of stories.
Over the ensuing 90 minutes, The Traveler regales the detectives with accounts of a man who believes he can unveil a ghost in his home using the precise combination of light and motion (“Tambien Lo Vi,” directed by Demián Rugna), a vampire who encounters an exceedingly unfortunate Halloween (“El Vampiro,” directed by Eduardo Sánchez), an individual who dares to tamper with ancient Mesoamerican magic (“Nahuales,” directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero), and a quest for a peculiar artifact imbued with the power to vanquish demons (“The Hammer of Zanzibar,” directed by Alejandro Brugués).
The enigmatic figure in an interrogation room weaving tales that may be tall stories or authentic accounts is a captivating framing device, familiar to seasoned anthology viewers, which effectively propels the narrative. “Satanic Hispanics” elevates The Traveler’s narrative beyond a mere structural device. Each of his recounted stories is a piece of a larger puzzle, and as the film progresses, you can sense these pieces gradually interlocking, forming a more expansive and chilling tableau. It’s a propulsive device that proves both efficacious and ingenious, especially when compared to the lackluster efforts of many anthologies.
The film’s utilization of the frame narrative to advance and broaden the scope of the movie is all the more remarkable considering the remarkable diversity of the individual stories. The eerie ghostly intrigue of “Tambien Lo Vi” delivers one of the most genuinely unsettling scares seen in a film this year, while “El Vampiro” offers bittersweet humor, “Nahuales” delves into primal folk horror, and “The Hammer of Zanzibar” evokes the spirit of Robert Rodriguez’s early, seat-of-your-pants indie films. These stories are as distinct as they come while remaining thematically connected, harmonizing seamlessly even as they delve into the depths of their unique narratives with great impact. Though not all the stories are flawless, and some may feel slightly incomplete when compared to others (e.g., the abrupt conclusion of “Tambien Lo Vi” or the intricate layers of “Nahuales” cut short), the way they coalesce into a darkly hilarious and deliciously violent brew is nearly hypnotic.
The culmination arrives in a concluding sequence that stands as one of the most unforgettable moments in contemporary horror cinema. By the time “Satanic Hispanics” draws to a close, it firmly establishes itself as one of the finest horror anthologies in recent memory. It’s a film eager to challenge the conventions of the format, to share fresh narratives, and to explore the breadth and depth of Latin folklore in a world where these ideas and traditions are increasingly overshadowed by uniformity. Ultimately, it’s a thrilling amalgamation of gore, laughter, and unexpected emotional depth.