I’m a huge fan of just about any horror anthology. From Tales from the Darkside to VHS, Creepshow or All Hallows Eve, I absolutely love them. They offer a viewer the opportunity to see some amazing short films by talented directors, actors, and writers that might otherwise go unnoticed in the mainstream. Mexico Barbaro not only adds to that rich tradition of short scares but goes well beyond bringing eight unnervingly brutal, horrific vignettes to the screen laced with social commentary and the creepy cultural heritage of Mexico. Titled for the 1908 essay by John Kenneth Turner, Barbarous Mexico as it translates to English lives up to its name with one gore saturated, horrific scene after another. Let’s take a look at some of the gruesome highlights, shall we?
Tzompantli opens the door for us with an author recounting his dealings with the narcos and their brutal Aztec/Mayan ancestor worship as they prepare for a drug war with rival cartels. His informant explains to him how he had played his part in kidnapping the teenage children of the rival gang and how they had each been sacrificed one by one to give them strength and wisdom in the coming battle. As if this wasn’t enough, our narrator is led to a storage unit where the Tzompantli is kept, the heads of their enemies impaled row over row like a grotesque abacas.
Jaral de Berrios is your classic ghost story. Set in the lawless times of the late 1800’s/early 1900’s along the Mexican border, bank robbers Jose and Martin come across an abandoned mansion in the middle of the desert and take refuge for the night. Martin is wounded and rests in an alcove just inside the home while Jose explores and comes across a mural of a hauntingly beautiful young woman painted on a wall. Meanwhile, this same woman has come to life and found Martin dying near the door and, with a kiss, hastens his demise. Jose tries to sleep, to recover from the loss and plan his next move but strange dreams wake him. He finds the woman waiting for him, beckoning as he tries to flee in the night. She seduces him into a sexual frenzy until her body begins to bleed from every pore. As he tries to escape, the screaming witch that haunts the mansion captures him, drives him into insanity. In the final scene we see Jose swinging by the neck from a tree outside the mansion, his stolen gold at his feet.
Siete veces Siete is a tale of rage and revenge transcending death. Rabbit, his face burned and disfigured robs a hospital morgue of one body in particular. Taking the corpse into the deep desert, into a barren stretch of hills surrounding a still pond, he performs an ancient ritual designed to raise the dead. For seven days he maintains the now reanimated and almost comically stupid corpse as visions of his dead wife and child as well as a flaming, skeletal caballero haunt his mind. On the final day, the dead man regains some semblance of humanity and begs for water and mercy. He has no recollection of Rabbit, his brother, and the terrible crimes he has committed against his own flesh and blood. Rabbit crushes his skull with a cattle skull and begins the ritual once more.
Dia de los Muertos is the final installment of the eight part anthology and opens up with a Madame preparing her girls for the night of work they have ahead of them. What starts out looking like a story about human trafficking and rape quickly becomes a story of the dead and the damned getting justice in the best way imaginable. The women assembled have painted their faces as sugar skulls as they dance and seduce the lecherous, vile men gathered around the strip club. They have no idea that every woman there is a ghost from their past, a body left for dead after being used up and tossed aside. In a Day of the Dead display of gore and violence that would make Eli Roth proud the girls bite, hack, bash, stab, and shoot every last one of their former abusers to death while their satisfied patron looks on from her throne and smiles at a job well done.
The anthology dives into topics and taboos that make most Americans squeamish. Necrophilia, child murder, rape, human trafficking are just some of the prevalent themes that the men and monsters –or maybe they’re one in the same- of Mexico Barbaro bring to life. The movie is subtitled in English so most fair weather horror fans are going to have to really buckle down to watch this. For true lovers of the genre, though, it is a masterpiece blending of guts, gore, girls and a cultural history we don’t often see and appreciate. It’s certainly not a film for the timid so if you’re feeling brave and want to be unnerved in all the best ways possible, pull it up on Netflix or your favorite streaming service. You’ll be frightened, uncomfortable, and maybe even a bit queasy, but you won’t be disappointed.