Obscure Horror Cinema: Panico

by William Burns

The world of Mexican horror films really needs a critical reevaluation. Often ridiculed and seen as amateurish when compared to the masterpieces of horror world cinema, this stereotype is largely the result of the spotty exporting of Mexican films to the rest of the world. Even when these films can be found, they are poorly dubbed, haphazardly re-edited, or viewed through the Mystery Science Theater 3000 phenomenon. When most horror fans think of Mexican horror they only know Santo, Aztec mummies, and maybe the Spanish version of Dracula. It wasn’t until the now defunct label Casa Negra released several of the best of Mexican horror in beautiful transfers, in their original language, with copious extras that a larger American audience could see how wonderful Mexican horror movies could be.  Mexico has a long history of folklore and supernaturalism that inform many of these films. The combination of indigenous beliefs and Catholic ideology produced a culture that fervently believes in both good and evil, keeping an open mind to more things that are dreamt of in anyone’s philosophy. These strong beliefs in spirituality and the paranormal find their artistic outlet in Mexico’s infatuation with fantastique cinema. There are so many great Mexican horror films that are waiting to be discovered, one of which is 1970’s Panico. Panico was directed by Julián Soler, an unsung hero of Mexican cinema. Soler directed quite a few horror and fantasy films including Satanás de Todos los Horrores (1974), The Man and the Beast (1973), Santo vs. Blue Demon in Atlantis (1970), Locura de Terror (1961), El Castillo de los Monstruos (1958), and Aladdin and the Marvelous Lamp (1958). Panico is an anthology film containing three stories. The first is perhaps the most interesting. A young woman is chased through the forest by an old woman brandishing a knife. As she tries to keep away from the woman, three men keep appearing to her as a harbinger of her fate. This segment is extremely atmospheric and is told largely through visuals with very little dialogue. The second story is “”Soledad,” focusing on two men who have had to bury a victim of a plague. They take to the river in order to escape becoming plague casualties themselves, but the strain of trying to stay alive starts to wear on the mind of one of the men, as the boundaries between life and death start to blur. The final segment is ” Angustia,” a black comedy influenced by Edgar Allan Poe. A scientist invents a powerful anaesthetic and through a mishap with his cat (really) ends up ingesting his own medicine, giving him the appearance of death. Will he regain his motor functions before he’s buried alive? Panico reflects many of the traits that make Mexican horror so entertaining: melodrama, death obsession, folk beliefs, fear of science, and sardonic humor. Here’s hoping that more classic Mexican horror films are made readily available in the near future. Maybe Mexico’s greatest horror director Guillermo Del Toro could use some of that Hollywood money and start a boutique video label specializing in Mexican horror? Until then, us Mexican horror fanatics will be scouring the internet for gems like Panico.


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