Mexican filmmaker Gigi Saul Guerrero has frequently combined real-world sociopolitical concerns with otherworldly terror, as in Into the Dark: Culture Shock and Bingo Hell, and so it is in her “Nahuales” entry in Satanic Hispanics. It focuses on De La Cruz (Ari Gallegos), a CIA collaborator who flees to what he thinks is a safehouse in the country, but turns out to be on the turf of the witchy Madre Tierra (Gabriela Ruíz). Full of frightful folk-horror imagery and disturbing makeup FX by Juan Mendez and Juma Sfx, it’s one of the most seriously scary segments in Satanic Hispanics (now in theaters from Epic Pictures’ Dread label and Iconic Events). FANGORIA got words with Guerrero and frequent collaborator Raynor Shima, who scripted “Nahuales” with Shadan Saul; you can read more from them in FANGORIA #20, now on sale.
How did you approach the story’s balance and transition between political and folk horror?
GIGI SAUL GUERRERO: The approach didn’t require much thinking on how to infuse both themes. Our culture, history and folklore are already like that! Like many Latin countries, Mexico is incredibly rich in traditions and beliefs, and we are very spiritual people. So approaching “Nahuales” just required me to be honest and sincere in how I felt about everything that is happening in our country—and, more importantly, to give our ancestors the voice of reason in this story.
Is the witchcraft in “Nahuales” based on actual folklore?
RAYNOR SHIMA: Yes, it is! In fact, we conducted extensive research on witchcraft in Mexico. When our friends at Reserva Films mentioned that Catemaco is the Mexican capital of witchcraft, our excitement peaked. There are various forms of the practice, but during our research, we aimed to elevate it by incorporating the concept of “Nahuals.” A Nahual is a human who possesses the ability to shapeshift and establish a connection with their animal counterpart, thereby accessing spiritual insight. The powers of a Nahual can be used for either good or evil, which is intricately linked to their identity.
What’s the background of the Catemaco location?
SHIMA: Catemaco holds a rich history that traces back to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Prior to the arrival of the Mayans, the Olmecs inhabited the region, but researching them is challenging due to the scarcity of available information. Being in that place evoked a distinct sensation. It was an absolute privilege and blessing for us to have the opportunity to shoot in the jungle and on the mountains, an experience that will forever be etched in our memories. The shoot was remarkable in that we encountered some inexplicable incidents, such as our camera spontaneously cutting out, generators malfunctioning, equipment mysteriously relocating, and crew literally screaming from seeing ghosts. We can assure you, this is not an exaggeration!
How did you find the right actress for Madre Tierra?
SHIMA: While casting in Mexico City, our partners at Reserva Films enthusiastically suggested Gabriela Ruíz for the Madre Tierra role. Upon reviewing her previous work, it became abundantly clear that she was the perfect choice. Her dedication and professionalism in her craft were evident, especially when she willingly endured wearing full-face prosthetic makeup under scorching conditions of 104-degree heat without a complaint. It was an easy decision for us to wholeheartedly embrace her for the role.
What do you feel Satanic Hispanics contributes to both the horror genre and Latinx cinema?
GUERRERO: What’s cool is that we can finally show the rest of the world that not “all Latinos are Mexican”! There are different dialects, different folklore, different stories Latinos have to tell. And when it comes to Latino cinema, although we are on the right track of welcoming diversity, at some point, it shouldn’t feel like a checkmark to make diverse content, but instead, we can just tell good and original stories. The goal for this anthology was to make a movie we wanted to see ourselves in. A movie that isn’t sugar-coated and safe for all audiences to get. We have a responsibility as BIPOC filmmakers, and that is to tell honest stories that tap into our personal sensibilities. The only way to challenge audiences is by making projects like Satanic Hispanics that are bold and unapologetic.
SHIMA: The vast realm of untapped folklore offers endless possibilities, and we take great pleasure in introducing unfamiliar stories to people who may not have encountered them before.
Gigi, is it true you came up with the “Latino AF” (“Latino As Fuck”) tag used in the marketing?
GUERRERO: Of course, amigo [laughs]! I watched the teaser trailer for our film, and I felt it was missing something to really connect all the filmmakers together. I called Mike Mendez up right away and said, “Dude, don’t ask questions—but our trailer needs to say we’re Latino As Fuck! It’s the only correct label to use.” I guess it worked!
Read more with Satanic Hispanics producer and director Mike Mendez, and we've also got an exclusive interview with the creature behind the Hammer. Satanic Hispanics is now in theaters, and in FANGORIA #20.