Edwin Pagan is the man behind the Latin horror revolution
If you are into horror flicks, "The HORRORphiles," featuring the work of emerging Latino directors working within the genre is playing a series of horror movies tonight in New York City.
Latin Horror, in association with Anthology Film Archives, presents a special edition of the NewLatino Filmmakers Screening Series - "The HORRORphiles." NewLatino Filmmakers is billed as the best and only independent Latino “cinematheque” showcase in New York City -- now in its 7th year. "The HORRORphiles" will run from 7-9:30 p.m. tonight at Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue at Second Street in the Lower East Side. The price is $6 at the box office.
Tonight's "Horrorphiles" will feature "Monster Job Hunter" by writer/director Yehudi Mercado, "Sandman's Box," by writer/director Gilberto Flores, and "Repentance" by writer/director Julio Antonio Toro, all shorts.
HORRORphiles will also showcase "Tales from the Dead," a digital feature by writer/director Jason Cuadrado, which is described as a "terrifying Japanese-language anthology of four ghost stories as told by Tamika, a strange young girl with the ability to communicate with the dead."
There will also be a trailer spotlight of new works in development by Latino filmmakers: "Dark Tales of Tortured Souls" by Pepper Negron and "subHysteria" by Leonard Zelig.
Tonight's horror lineup will include a Q&A with filmmakers in attendance. To read more about the films playing, go to www.latinhorror.com, the official publication of anyone interested in the genre. Latin Horror is one of the first English publications dedicated to the emerging genre of Latin horror.
Puerto Rico Sun speaks to series director/curator Edwin Pagan about his own love of horror movies, the Latin horror movement and about tonight's "HORRORphiles."
The Interview: Edwin Pagan
1. Please tell me a little about you.
I was born on the Lower East Side of Puerto Rican parents, and raised in the South Bronx. I'm 45-years old. I became involved in the arts via the Boys & Girls Club of America where I was first introduced to photography and film. I currently live in the Lower East. I'm a cinematographer and producer; principal in the film production company Pagan Images, Inc.; founder-in-chief, Latin Horror; and a horror fan.
2. What about the horror genre you love to so much? What fascinates or moves you about this genre?
I love horror's ability to make people feel unsafe, like when you were a child and afraid of the darkness. It offers the opportunity to always be able to re-discover new ways to be afraid of what's just inside the darkness. Fear is a primal emotion and one most people spend a great deal of effort trying to avoid. It's a quick shot of adrenaline and I embrace it.
3. What was the first horror movie you watched? And, what is your favorite horror flick now and why?
The first horror film that completed captivated me -- terrorized me -- was the "The Exorcist," in 1973. I was 10. I saw it in the Bronx at the then Whitestone drive-in before it was torn down and became a mall-style multiplex. The movie scared the hell out of me. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards. I still can't watch "The Exorcist" without feeling my hairs stand on end. It has stood the test of time, and it's still one of my favorites movies, ever!
But that film also stayed with me in another way: I began to read everything I could get my hands on related to horror: comics, graphic novels, paperback. I remember I had all these gargoyle posters in my bedroom and my friends would only call me out to play through the window - once they had visited my room, they would never come back a second time. [laughs] I also went to see a great deal of horror films as a teenager: "Phantasm," "Friday the 13th," "Jacob's Ladder," "Seven," are some of the others that have stayed with me, right up to the present.
4. I remember a teacher once telling us in a production class that horror is actually the most morally-based genre because it is about good and evil. For instance, teens doing bad things get killed...Could you elaborate on this?
Yeah, that's a great point, and one that is very true. "Promiscuous" teenagers get chopped to pieces in log cabins by a masked stranger; spirits haunt new home owners to enlist their help in exacting justice on the previous murderous tenants; hell is so full of sinners that the dead must rise and walk among the living, aliens in flying saucers invade earth during the cold war, etc. Horror films, or its related literature, have always been a great way to ascertain the relevant fears of society at any given time in history. I'm not quite sure what the current trend of shake-and-bake horror cinema in the U.S. says about us as a modern society, but I'm certain it would make a great psychology thesis. Don't get me wrong, I love horror in all its forms and see and enjoy them all (well, almost). I'm just Jonesing for something to come along and also engage my mind, give me an engaging story line and not just gag over plot.
I think it's only a matter of time before we return to an intelligent horror film formula with actual suspense as a basis for the fear, not just gross gore. It's why American audiences made "Pan's Labyrinth" such a successful hit, even when it was in another language [Spanish] during a time of extreme xenophobia. Latin horror innately brings that and Hollywood is watching. The discovering and re-making of a slew of Japanese horror films is starting to turn an eye at what Latin traditions an storytellers are brewing. Already Universal Pictures has slated Juan Felipe Oro's "Al Final del Espectro" for production, set to star megastar Nicole Kidman. And we have ample local grown talent also creating new Latin horror stories, which is promising. Our March 2009 edition of Latin Horror profiles some of this new crop.
5. Could you tell me a little about your own projects in this genre and what are your influences? Does being Latino have any influence on your work in this genre?
I have worked primarily as a cinematographer, producer, and more recently as an emerging writer/director.
Over the years I have been fortunate to work as a cinematographer with very exciting, talented directors: Derek Velez Partridge, Pepper Negron, and Julio Antonio Toro, just to mention a few. The latter two work primarily in horror and this has allowed me to fine-tune my cinematic eye within the genre of horror in terms of lighting, composition and use of color, and I think together we have made some interesting work. I am currently in production on a short film I wrote called "Anima Sola," a Latin horror project, a ghost story of sorts. It's an English film but very grounded in Latin cultural traditions and beliefs. Google the name and you'll recognize the iconic image that comes up on which my story is based. My decision to write and direct Anima was grounded in wanting to put my own thumbprint on film in a larger way and get closer in context and subject matter to material grounded in Latin horror. As you might have guessed, Del Toro has been an inspiration. He's a master storyteller with a solid grasp of visual imagery and that is the kind of sensibility I hope to bring in my own work.
Being Latino, definitely has had a marked impact on how I see the world around me and thus my personal work in film. Being born in New York City to immigrant parents who brought their own stories that were extremely exotic from what I was exposed to via American culture, is also an influence. Stories of creatures and Boogiemen that would come out the forest for "bad" children like "El Cuco." Or watching my mother cleanse the house each spring or with incense on Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead, All Souls Day, All Saints Day - November 2nd) and watching her have heated conversations with dead relatives whom I'd never met, or had, which was even spookier. It was never questioned. No more than one questioned the air we breathed or water that came out of the tap. It just was and so that became instilled in me and comes across in my current work.
6. Why Latin horror? How is it different or unique from let' say mainstream horror movies? Is there a difference between the English and the Spanish horror movies? How about between movies based in the United States from those that are based out of Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico or Spain?
Horror as a device in Latin culture, as a story convention has always been deep rooted. It's books, oral histories and art are full of these examples of ghosts and other-world creatures lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce at a moment's notice. It was inevitable that the expression of fear would carry over to film. This transference is only as prolific directly in proportion to the regional film industry. While Latin horror is not a widely-known commodity in the U.S., it is a genre that has begun to grow in popularity and become more recognized, especially since the release of Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," and Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Orphanage," both of which were productions out of Mexico and Spain.
The base difference between American horror and Latin horror is quite profound. In U.S.-based horror, the primary convention is to seek out and destroy the physical human being. So much so that the term "slasher film" has become a common moniker of the genre. You could literally sit in the theater with a hand tally counter and click off the body count. It didn't start out that way but that's where it currently stands as a genre. Latin horror, on the other hand, is more concerned with destroying and torturing the soul and mind, and the characters and story are paramount. You might end up with a bloody body or two but how they get that way is at different ends of the horror spectrum. In that respect, aside from the language, Latin horror is a close sister to Japanese horror (J-horror) in that we both culturally believe in the spiritual world, and that the dead walk among us or are within reach and contact. Again, "Día De Los Muertos" is in our culture.
The primary reason for starting the Latin Horror publication was to consolidate the genre as a validated and recognized entity and to provide a focal point for its fans worldwide. The website is just one way to do this. We have to also be more proactive by spreading the word at the usual horror watering holes like film festivals, comic conventions, and collaborating with established publications that focus on horror and starting a dialogue with them that begins to spread beyond the printed page. The material being created by Latin horrorphiles in all forms is out there. We just have to put the spotlight on it - that's our mission.
7. I know you have a website dedicated to Latino horror at www.latinhorror.com. What are your short- and long-term goals with your upcoming "The HORRORphiles"? What can people expect? Is this for hardcore horror fans or for anyone?
Yes, the Latin Horror website was a way for me to consolidate my three favorite passions into one dream: my love of horror, my passion for film and art, and my appreciation of all things Latin.
In short order, task one is letting Latin horror fans know we exist. We are constantly expanding our knowledge database of prospective people to profile going forward and our fans are already submitting the favorites they'd like to see featured on the website. In the long term, we plan to incrementally roll out more features - a blog is in the works called Blog Of Pheare; and even an online store where Latin horror fans can purchase their favorites movies, books, songs, posters, comics, etc. Latin Horror is a grassroots effort so it's slow-going but growing process, and that's a good thing because we can grow something together with our fan base that we can both be proud. We also plan to carry a line of Latin Horror swag that includes T-shirts and other related items. We've already printed a small run, which we have distributed among our collaborators. The shirts were custom printed by longtime friend Luis Cordero.
8. "The HORRORphiles" is a way of showcasing emerging Latino directors working within the genre of horror. Generally speaking, is there a trend for Latino directors to do these kind of movies or is there a need for more Latino directors to get in this genre? Why do you see it is important to have Latino directors working in this genre?
"The HORRORphiles" is about film. But it is also about all the other "dark creative expressionists" we plan to cover over the coming years: writers, illustrators, painters, poets, and bands.
Latin filmmakers as a whole are not innately drawn to making horror films. Since we are culturally enticed by the genre, it's becoming a point-of-departure for many Latino filmmakers to cut their teeth in movie making. These kinds of films can be made on very low budgets and still keep within the conventions of the genre. Fake blood is easy to make, screams are free, and anyone can convince their uncle to allow them to shoot in the garage. Films actually being made by Latino filmmakers is steadily growing, both in the indie and commercial worlds. But there is a distinction to be made about Latinos mimicking slasher-inspired films and those working to develop Latin horror, which is more about a story and less about gags and thus a more disciplined craft.
It's funny but the master of the zombie genre, the one who put it on the map in the 1960s, George Romero, is actually a Cuban-American. So aside to creating our own distinct genre - Latin horror, our contributions are also ingrained in the DNA of U.S.-based horror, whether people know it or not. Given the opportunity to interview Romero (Yes, he's at the top of our knowledge database), one base question I would have to pose would be if the Latin tradition of "Día De Los Muertos" played a role in his creation of his first zombie films. Hmmm?
9. What are some of the biggest challenges for a Latino director to get into this genre? Is it the same as any other genre or different?
Film as an industry is about the bottom line: MONEY. As more Latin-themed horror-based films hit the market and make favorable inroads at the bottom line of the box office - PROFITS - the more we'll see Latino filmmakers, and other artists get more work, green-lit, published, signed and endorsed. But that's a tough nut to crack because we're in the very early stages of the growth of the Latin horror in the U.S. market place. I think we as Latinos have to validate the genre. Horror as a whole is a sub-niche market and Latin horror-themed projects even a smaller fraction of the overall economy of horror as a business. But the same was the case when Rock en Espanol started popping up on the music landscape. Today no one questions it as a category of music and it has its own distinct fan base in all parts of the world. It's a matter of creating the groundwork for a movement and bringing together people that are like-minded to create the critical mass to make it viable. And horror fans are loyal and not just to English, Italian, or Japanese horror. Horror fans move across cultural and language borders to whatever they feel is legit. That's why the Norwegian vampire film, "Let the Right One In" was such a tremendous hit. It was fresh, a new take on the theme and true to the genre and horror fans from across the spectrum responded in-kind. Me too. I couldn't tell my friends enough about it. Latin-based horror is so true to the genre and has the potential to become a worldwide phenomenon given the right stories.
10. Please tell me anything else that you'd like to share with our readers.
Halloween is my favorite day of the year.
Latin Horror was officially launched on Halloween 2008.
Latin Horror will be taking its show on the road in 2009. We'll be hosting panels at film festivals to discuss and promote the genre of Latin horror, as well as participating in comic book and horror conventions to promote and meet, attract new fans to the revolution. We are already registered to attend the New York Comicon at Jacob Javits (February 6th-8th), and Comicon International in San Diego (July 23rd-26th). Look for us there.
For more information on "The HORRORphiles" or Latin Horror, visit www.latinhorror.com.
-- Clarisel Gonzalez
(Photos courtesy of Edwin Pagan)