Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Latino love affair with scary movies

The Horror, The Horror: The Latino Love Affair with Scary Movies
Daniel Cubias, Huffington Post, July 14, 2009

Some of my posts may have given the impression that I base everything upon logic, and disdain the supernatural or unexplainable. That's not true, of course, because I love a good ghost story.

I just don't love them as much as my mom does.

For proof, I refer to the time my mother and I got into an argument at the video store. It was the mid- 1980s, and the selection was sparse in those pioneering days of the VCR. Still, it was a little odd to see me, a sullen teenager, arguing to rent "Raging Bull" while my mother insisted on getting "The Omen 3."

You see, my mother - a tough Latina and the pride of San Vicente, El Salvador - has very definite ideas about what constitutes fine cinema. By her criteria, a great film must include at least one of the following elements:

A chase scene featuring a drooling monster in hot pursuit
An unstoppable killer robot/android/cyborg
A hidden door leading to a hellish parallel dimension
A good-looking vampire
A winged demon ripping people's souls out through their chests

These are pretty great standards, of course, and I have no issue with them. But at one point, I thought they were a little too restrictive. Could a great movie also feature subtle character development, dramatic perspectives on another era, or startling insight into the human condition?

Well, my mother would point out that such factors only slow down the movie and delay getting to the really good part where that slimy alien creature devours the lead astronaut's head.

In a way, she's correct.

Horror movies have been unfairly maligned as empty, moronic time-wasters - the creepy third cousin at the cinematic family reunion. Even mainstream comedies get more respect.

But films of this genre are often the cultural barometer of where we stand. In addition, they can serve as a cathartic release for our fears and pain. This may especially be true for those of us who have witnessed violence or suffered through the abrupt departure of loved ones, like my mother has.

The history of Latin America, in truth, has been one long horror movie for some time. I don't know if we Hispanics are more likely to embrace scary movies, but I wouldn't be surprised if this were true.

For example, one of my friends, a man who is originally from my family's home country of El Salvador, has a vast treasure trove of horror movies. His wife, born and raised in America, tolerates his fascination and puts up with the overflowing boxes of tapes and discs, all of which offer some kind of gruesome imagery.

With so much real-life horror in our backgrounds, we seem well-suited to fictional depictions of terror. Perhaps this is why my mother constantly overrode my fledgling attempts at film snobbery when I was younger.

More than once, she would arrive home from a hard day of work to announce that she had stopped at the video store on the commute. Then she would enthusiastically proclaim, "I picked up the 'Seven Doors of Death'!"

But let me be clear. She actually has good taste, singling out classics like "Rosemary's Baby" and contemporary masterpieces like "The Descent" for high praise. She dismisses substandard fare with a direct "That is not scary" - the ultimate insult for a horror film.

Maybe because I grew up on them, or because I'm Latino, or because movies like "The Others" are so damn cool, I still love these kinds of films. Our joint appreciation for terrifying spectacles is one of the things my mother and I have in common.

For this reason, I have never understood my friends who say they don't know what to do for entertainment when their parents visit. When my mom drops by to see my wife and me, we can always just pop in a DVD of "The Thing."

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