By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Tomorrow, Orrin Grey is starting a three-part review of the Aztec Mummy series in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, which, despite what you’ve heard, does not celebrate Mexico’s independence. It commemorates the Battle of Puebla against French forces.
Anyway, Cinco de Mayo offers an excellent excuse to talk about Mexican cinema, something I’ve done before. This time, however, I’d like to focus on one movie director and his output: Carlos Enrique Taboada.
As you will discover when you read Orrin’s encounter with the mummy, Mexican horror suffered from low budgets and a tendency to duplicate American horror films in an effort to cash in on famous themes and actors. Originality went out the window and in came the most trivial – and eventually exploitation – scripts.
One exception to this rule was Carlos Enrique Taboada, a screenwriter for several low-budget flicks-turned-director. Taboada understood the inherent budget limitations a horror film would face and rolled with the punches. The result was a tale of a group of schoorgirls who think they are haunted by the ghost of a dead classmate in Hasta el viento tiene miedo (Even the Wind is Afraid, 1968), the first of several Gothic films which relied a lot on psychological horror and very little on special effects. Instead of rubber masks, Taboada used atmosphere. Instead of fake thrills, he asked for decent performances.
He developed a knack for this type of small, subtle horror film and shot El Libro de Piedra (The Stone Book, 1968), which plays like a Mexican version of The Turn of the Screw, and Más Negro Que la Noche (Blacker than Night, 1974), about a woman who inherits an old, creepy house from her aunt and moves in to discover the former owner may linger between its walls.
Taboada’s films had their faults – budget constraints were the most glaring issue – but he was able to work around them and continued to produce better work as he gained more experience in the genre, so that by the time he released Veneno para las Hadas (Poison for Fairies, 1982) he won an Ariel (the equivalent of an Oscar) for best picture. This is an excellent movie about childhood and imagination, the cruelty of kids, manipulation, and the dangers of slipping into a world of make believe which culminates in murder. Because believing in fairies and witches is not as innocent as it may seem. This is the most obscure and the best of Taboada’s films, and you can clearly see how Pan’s Labyrinth takes a cue from it.
Nevertheless, and despite an extensive filmography outside the horror genre, Taboada never achieved much recognition. He was a serviceable director but with little panache. His films – except for his horror films – were regarded as forgettable. And if the horror films were memorable, this did not add any lustre to his star, for horror was simply an oddity, the absurd realm of cheap flicks and cheap effects. Taboada was lumped with films of much lesser category and left to languish there.
Disillusioned with his film directorial efforts, Taboada left moviemaking for good and worked on writing scripts. He penned several episodes of the anthology series La telaraña (1986-1988), which focused on strange occurrences in the different apartments of a large building complex. This, by the way, was an excellent TV series, which scared the hell out of me more than one time.
To be fair, Taboada was a director of varying quality, who could produce decent films or horrid results. Still, he had a knack for suspense and the horror movies he unleashed made a deep impact in a whole generation of movie watchers. Two of them have been remade in recent years and, if you watch the original Hasta el viento tiene miedo and its remake, you will immediately appreciate what difference Taboada made to a seemingly by-the-numbers ghost story.
Even though the Aztec Mummy films or the campy Santo films are what passes as Mexican horror cinema in international circles, there are other, lesser-known films which popped to life. Some of these obscure movies are in fact much superior to the more famous exploitation films that were churned out with out any care or sensibility. And among these dark, secret nuggets of gold you can find Taboada, the man who would one day inspire Guillermo del Toro, of Pan’s Labyrinth fame.