The history of cinema has been mapped and pinned for decades, but there are corners that remain a little less known and all the more fascinating for it. Two new releases let us glimpse the dawn of Mexican screen horror.
Recently restored from the last surviving print and soundtrack, La Llorona ( ) is a tale of cursed bloodlines and spectral revenge, riffing on the enduring folk legend of the Weeping Woman. It’s an odd, occasionally stodgy collision of genres – contemporary murder mystery, opulent historical, period swashbuckler – but its primal special effects, conjuring phantoms from double-exposure and gauzy fabric, still have an ectoplasmic shudder, all the more eerie for their distance in time.
The Phantom Of The Monastery ( ) is altogether pulpier, its trio of lost travellers stumbling into a labyrinth of shadows and cloisters inhabited by a strange brotherhood of monks. Brought to the screen with some surprisingly fluid camerawork, it’s a Satanically-tinged morality tale, notable for femme fatale Marta Roel, who simmers with sin.
Extras La Llorona ( ) has an audio commentary by film writers Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. Mexican horror expert Abraham Castillo Flores provides an insightful piece on both the myth and the movie (18 minutes), while Viviana García Besné, great granddaughter of the film’s producer, presents a moving personal history (17 minutes), electric in its connections to the distant past of cinema. A brief compilation of end-of-reel cue marks from the movie (one minute) is niche, but cherishable.
The Phantom Of The Monastery ( ) has a matching Jones and Newman commentary – they’re endearingly thrilled by the fact it’s essentially a brand new movie to them – and another featurette fronted by Abraham Castillo Flores (18 minutes), equally rich in detail. Plus: booklets containing new writing on the films.
The Phantom Of The Monastery has a claim to be the first entry in Mexico’s grand tradition of mummy movies.