Numbers > Number 19 > Between grieving monsters and macabre scientists: Mexican horror films in the 50s and 60s
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Between grieving monsters and macabre scientists: Mexican horror films in the 50s and 60s

17 de febrero de 2022
25 de febrero de 2022

Abstract

This article will analyze a series of Mexican films from the horror genre, launched between the 50s and 60s, that exploded the popularity these kinds of productions were accessing by that time, as industrial cinema in that country was experiencing the cease of its massification in the Latin America region. We will start from a comparative study of the characters’ structure of El hombre que logró ser invisible (Alfredo B. Crevenna, 1958), La horripilante bestia humana (René Cardona, 1969) and La señora Muerte (Jaime Salvador, 1969), the first two produced by Cinematográfica Calderón, and the third by Fílmica Vergara. Through them, we will delineate the interest in manifesting blurred boundaries between the monstrous and the human, by means of the representation of the prototype of the «mad» scientist, and his macabre plans of domination.

1. Introduction

Cinema, as a narrative art, has shown from its beginnings the willingness to implement structures and rules for the development of numerous genres, which served to organize its aesthetics and encourage commercialization. Among them, terror has been one of the most productive, exploited since early times, starting with George Méliès’s short Le manoir du diable (1896), agreed upon as the first horror film in history. In it, supernatural entities appear and disappear as if by magic, involved in a fight between man and Mephistopheles.

Very soon, Hollywood studios, with their excellent infrastructure capacity to install sets, develop innovative make-up systems and hire specialized stars, would embark on a path that enabled the exponential growth of the genre, highlighting the company Universal Studios, which gave birth to early horror classics. From there would emanate the well-known stories of Frankenstein and Count Dracula, who occupy the podium in the personification of monstrous figures in the cinema, even when both came from literature.1 The year 1931 was vital in this sense, installing a legacy with Dracula (Tod Browning) and Frankenstein (James Whale), who generated a large number of descendants in different latitudes and times.

But not only the monsters of these two narratives, today even transmedia, populated the universe of horror in the cinema. We also find early werewolves —Werewolf of London (Stuart Walker, 1935)—, invisible men —The invisible man (James Whale, 1933)—, mummies —The mummy (Karl Freund, 1932)—, beasts —Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (John S. Robertson, 1920)—, specters —The phantom of the opera (Rupert Julian, 1925)—, zombies —White zombie (Victor Halperin, 1932)—, as well as other creatures as mysterious as they are horrifying; namely giant insects2 —Tarantula! (Jack Arnold, 1955)—, monstruos marinos —Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold,1954)— and beings from another planet (although the latter usually make their appearance mostly in films from a neighboring genre, science fiction).

In the tour of horror movies, we can also refer to films outside the Hollywood neighborhood, such as in Scandinavia, with the Swedish classic The Ghost Wagon (Körkalen, Victor Sjöstrom, 1920), which challenges the collective unconscious with the threat of death from a ghostly figure driving the title float. German cinema has also left its mark through expressionist aesthetics, reinforcing the tone of sorrow that terror offers its narrative content.

In this sense, the dominated sleepwalker from The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1919), the Nosferatu vampire in Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Graunes (Friedrich Wilheim Murnau, 1921), and the murderer stand out. of children of M, the vampire (M, Fritz Lang, 1931), also marked by social roots that have drawn analogies on the environment of the Weimar Republic and the first postwar period.

Latin America was not exempt from this monstrous universe, bringing a wealth of titles from the beginning of its industrialization,3 reaching a greater impact from the 50s and 60s, which coincided with a reappearance of the genre in American cinema and English, to cite the main examples.4 At the same time, terror was intermingled with other generic instances such as comedy or suspense,5 and in the case of Mexico, even with wrestling films, which took advantage of the pregnancy of these athletes – artists,6 seeking to reach new formulas that would lift the depressed box office, given the changes incorporated by new media in competition with cinema, such as television.

Through this article, we will analyze a series of Mexican films from the horror genre, released between the 50s and 60s, which exploited the popularity that these kinds of productions were gaining at that time, in both the industrial cinema of said country experienced the cessation of its massification in Latin America. We will start with The Man Who Managed to Be Invisible (Alfredo B. Crevenna, 1958), The Horrifying Human Beast (René Cardona, 1969) and La Señora Muerte (Jaime Salvador, 1969), the first two produced by Cinematográfica Calderón, and the third by Vergara film. We will outline, with them, the interest in manifesting the diffuse limits between the monstrous and the human, through the representation of the prototype of the «mad» scientist, and his macabre plans for domination.

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