Satanic Hispanics Review: More Horror Anthologies Should Be This Steady And Fun [Fantastic Fest]

Future horror anthology producers and filmmakers can learn from the smooth-as-silk collection "Satanic Hispanics." Most importantly? Don't undervalue your wraparound that binds segments together like storytelling glue. Anthologies are, by definition, multiple shorts assembled to feature length via chapters, but what separates a "Deathcember" that's too oddly randomized from something like "Satanic Hispanics" is wraparound consistency. Everyone involved harmoniously feeds off the prompt's cultural emphasis instead of ping-ponging viewers around some production company's amalgamation of dusty shorts with the intent to cash in on anthology redistribution. "Satanic Hispanics" isn't just another assortment of kill sequences with an overall thematic impact — it's a model to follow and a path toward horror anthology success.

What proceeds is an ode to horrific Hispanic heritage from indie horror directors who allow their traditions, nightmares, and ancestors to haunt universal audiences. You've seen their works from "Juan of the Dead" to "Culture Shock," "Big Ass Spider" to "The Blair Witch Project," which is a pedigree that carries into the accomplished tales that don't succumb to any avoid-at-all-cost faceplants. As directors assert their unique Latinx visions, writers Alejandro Mendez, Demián Rugna, Adam Cesare, and Lino K. Villa lay down narratives about everything from demonic dong staffs to transformative blood rituals. Everyone's strumming in unison like a finely-tuned musical quartet, avoiding the pitfalls of stories butting into one another like brick walls — there's a flow and functionality about "Satanic Hispanics" that strikes horror anthology gold.

Mike Mendez oversees the experience's wraparound as the sole survivor of a border-crossing massacre — "The Traveler" (Efren Ramirez) — regales detectives Gibbons (Sonya Eddy) and Arden (Greg Grunberg) with his many supernatural encounters. Mr. Traveler begs Gibbons and Arden to heed his immortal claims, using each story as an explanation for another vile of blood or fingerless ring in his possession. Efren Ramirez is a charismatic ferryman in and out of each new bite-sized screamer, playing off Sonya Eddy's bulging eyes in disbelief and Greg Grunberg's sterner caucasian doubt. Ramirez's weary 500-year-old traveler speaks of Santa Muerte being not far behind, which Mendez uses like a countdown into the film's final segment — a shootout between El Paso law enforcement and a wonderfully costumed Saint Death. Ramirez keeps the wraparound zippy and banters well against unimaginative interrogators while in handcuffs, an essential quality that refuses to let interludes become momentum-killing lulls.

Demián Rugna impresses with "Tambien Lo Vi," a follow-up to his freakout-filled Shudder stunner "Terrified." A Rubik's Cube wizard (Gustavo, played by Demián Salomón) thinks he's cracked an algorithm or sequence that unlocks a portal in his upstairs hallway, and the rest is grotesque history. It's contained within a suburban rental, where Rugna retains the sense of not-so-subtle scares that put "Terrified" on every horror fan's radar. Standout practical effects explode bloody guts-and-bones messes while confounding story elements become the norm and gnarly body-horror fiends appear with edge-of-your-seat jolts. "También Lo Vi" is one of the more straightforward horror segments and damn well ensures audiences get an adrenaline shot to the heart, doubling down on Rugna's promise as one of the genre's more frighteningly inclined contemporary filmmakers.

One fully-loaded blast of an indie horror anthology

Eduardo Sánchez offers comedic levity next in "El Vampiro," about a vampire lord who goes bloodsucking in Old Town but forgets it's Daylight Savings. Hemky Madera stars in this more slapstick vampiric jokeshow as he mind controls policemen like a "What We Do In The Shadows" gag or foolishly reminds his frustrated lover that he's her master, which ends with a slammed phone and backpedaled apologies. It's another emphatically gory display, but more in a midnighter classification where egg-tossing Halloween pests get their arms, heads, and hearts ripped apart — which we see happen in shadow silhouettes. Sánchez is having a grand ol' time tossing prosthetic limbs around while soaking his vampire's white shirt blood red, while Madera excels as an eternal husband who keeps eating his foot like a sitcom stooge.

Gigi Saul Guerrero brings nature-based cultural significance to "Nahuales," a sacrificial kidnapping that pits De la Cruz (Ari Gallegos) against humans who possess the power to transform spiritually or physically into an animal form. There's early paranoia as De la Cruz skittishly reaches a safehouse, pointing his shotgun at a doorway, which devolves into a torture scenario after being captured as witchy Madre Tierra (Gabriela Ruíz) informs De la Cruz that he hecked up real bad. Guerrero brings her ensemble into the woods, spills bowls full of blood that gets slathered on bodies, and allows Madre Tierra to become her animalistic self. After the morbid merriment of "El Vampiro?" "Nahuales" drags us kicking and screaming into Mexican folklore, like an offering of sticky-slimy violence to the horror gods that highlights Guerrero's dirtier and more punishing practical effects.

Finally, we have Alejandro Brugués' "The Hammer of Zanzibar," another funnybone entry, with respects paid to "Evil Dead." Malcolm (Jonah Ray Rodrigues) reunites with an ex at the restaurant where she broke things off because it's not really his former lover — it's King Zombie (Morgana Ignis). Brugués' blending of horror and comedy goes a long way as Malcolm refuses to give King Zombie the cursed recording in his possession, now with his original "I'm Gonna Kill You" bonus song. Jonah Ray's reactions are hilarious, whether hearing about the repeated sexual encounters The Mystic Museum's owner had with a Zanzibarian deity or bashing King Zombie with the phallic Hammer of Zanzibar. "Evil Dead" comparisons are in milky Deadite peepers and Bruce Campbell performance nods, although never as badass — which Ray doesn't try to assert. Fans of "Juan of the Dead" will seek the same pleasures in "The Hammer of Zanzibar," as Malcolm is hurled around like a rag doll until leveling the odds.

"Satanic Hispanics" isn't impenetrable — one or two segments could use shortening, its lower budget shows, and comedy routines don't exclusively land — but it is one fully-loaded blast of an indie horror anthology. At the intersection of representation and international storytelling exists bounties like this filled with cackling creature transformations, mystical reaper-killer weaponry, and originality that's nothing but retold bedtime stories from other countries. When firing on all cylinders, viewers might presume that everyone behind "Satanic Hispanics" shares the same brain. There's a fluidity that strikes multiple horror nerves while offering varied experiences from gut-clenching laughs to squirm-in-discomfort scariness. Horror anthologies nor the horror genre benefit from segregation — "Satanic Hispanics" is just another recommendable step in the correctly inclusive direction.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10