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Festival Highlight: Horror at SDLFF

San Diego Latino Film Festival Holds First Horror Panel Friday

Aaron Poole stars as Leon, a man returning to his dead mother's home in

Credit: Someone At The Door Productions

Above: Aaron Poole stars as Leon, a man returning to his dead mother's home in "The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh."

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks at the horror programming at the San Diego Latino Film Festival.


The San Diego Latino Film Festival continues through this weekend. For the first time, it will host a horror panel.

Growing up Catholic can introduce you to horror at an early age. Just think about the images conjured up by Lazarus rising from the grave, Christ being nailed to a cross, and deaths by stoning, beheading, or being tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Add to that stories of Satan and Hell, and you can see how Catholicism could influence the horror genre especially in Latin countries.

Filmmakers like Luis Buñuel (in films like "Nazarin," "Virdiana") and Alejandro Jodorowsky (in films like "The Holy Mountain" and "Santa Sangre") provide a tradition of horror and fantasy colored by Catholic images and religious provocation, a tradition continued more recently by directors like Guillermo Del Toro ("Cronos," "Hellboy"). Tijuana filmmaker Aaron Soto has called upon this tradition in his short film “Omega Shell.” He has a passion for the horror genre in part because he feels horror is one of the most primal human emotions.

"I think it’s very important to have a connection with that emotion because horror is part of our life. And it’s a way to confront our own demons but it’s also a way to question ourselves and to try to search for answers about ourselves."

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Aaron Soto

Aaron Soto's "Omega Shell."

Soto’s passion for horror makes him the perfect choice for programming a horror showcase (the Un Mundo Extraño sidebar) and panel at this year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival says artistic director Lisa Franek.

"This is really his passion and so if we are going to have someone curate a showcase it should be someone who is passionate, it’s wonderful, Aaron's enthusiasm is actually contagious. When he talks these films I want to see them."

Soto has selected 5 films from 5 different countries to show the range of Latin horror. He takes us from Mexploitation films of the 90s to Chilean extreme to a Costa Rican comedy about the end of the world. But the film Soto is most passionate about this year is “The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh” (screening Saturday).

"It’s probably one of the very first films to tell a ghost story like you’ve never seen before. What I can say is that it is a very deep philosophical film about exploring faith and belief."

The story involves Leon (Aaron Poole), a man who returns to his estranged mother’s house after she’s died. The house is filled with religious statues that remind Leon of his mother’s strict and terrifying religious teachings. Writer-director Rodrigo Gudino explained in his online video diary that he wanted to make a supernatural horror film but one that avoided the devil.

"I wanted to go the opposite, you know, kind of return to religious horror and there’s not a lot of those movies out at least recently that don’t focus on exorcism and then again that’s the devil. This film has nothing to do with Satan. It has to do really with angels."

And a cult of angel worshippers. Gudino turns statues of angels and the Virgin Mary into the stuff of horror as he meticulously builds a sense of growing dread. Gudino’s film is fascinating for the way it goes against expectations. While so much of contemporary horror is about extreme gore and in your face filmmaking, his film is all about elegant restraint and a slow ratcheting up of tension. It also surprises us with the type of religious images -- in this case angels – that it chooses to employ. And that the way Leon chooses to fight off his fears is not through religion and faith but rather reason and science. You could call this an atheist’s take on Catholic horror.

Soto says Gudino is the perfect filmmaker to bring to San Diego and to make the central focus of the upcoming New Wave of Fear Horror Cinema Panel.

"Because he was born in San Diego and he was raised in Tijuana and this is the way for him to come back and show his art and what he has done to his roots."

Gudino, founder of the popular horror magazine Rue Morgue, brings together a perfect storm of elements. Born in the U.S., raised in Mexico, and making films in Canada, he seems influenced by all three countries but dominated by none. Perhaps that’s why his film feels like a fresh take on familiar genre elements.

Check out the full Un Mundo Extraño program here.

Here is the FaceBook event for the New Wave of Fear Horror Cinema Panel this Friday at 5:30pm at the Media Arts Center San Diego's new Digital Gym Cinema. The panel will include filmmaker Rodrigo Gudino, Horrible Imaginings (San Diego's only horror film festival) festival director Miguel Rodriguez, filmmaker Aaron Soto, and myself.

If you missed the panel, here it is at Monster Island Resort Podcast.

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