All of the segments in the "Latino AF" horror anthology Satanic Hispanics go to various extremes, but the most outrageous entry is easily Alejandro Brugués' "The Hammer of Zanzibar." Indeed, the details of what goes on in it won't even be hinted at here, though we did get words with Brugués about the movie, on which he also served as a producer alongside fellow director Mike Mendez, Patrick Ewald, and Katie Page.
In Satanic Hispanics, now in theaters from Epic's Dread label and Iconic Events, "The Hammer of Zanzibar" is the final tale told by "The Traveler" (Efren Ramirez), the sole survivor of a massacre who is brought to a police station for questioning. Mendez did this wraparound story, with the other tales helmed by Demián Rugna (Terrified), Gigi Saul Guerrero (Culture Shock), and Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project). This is Brugués and Mendez's second outing as part of an anthology ensemble after 2018's Nightmare Cinema, and for Brugués, it's a reunion with actor Jonah Ray Rodrigues after guiding him through Hulu/Blumhouse's Into the Dark: Pooka Lives!
Tell us about assembling the other filmmakers for Satanic Hispanics.
Mike and I started putting together a list of friends, and literally in the middle of our conversation, we said, "Ed Sanchez!" I texted Ed, saying, "We're making an anthology called Satanic Hispanics and you're in it," and he replied, "Hell yeah!" Then Mike talked to Gigi, and she was also in from the start. We also wanted someone who lived in Latin America because the idea was to have Latinos from all over the spectrum—immigrants like me, Ed, and Gigi, first-generation like Mike, and someone who still lived there. We obviously loved Terrified, and in those days, I did a virtual Comic-Con panel with Demián, so I got his number, called him out of nowhere while I was in quarantine at Vancouver International Airport, and talked him into joining us. Demián was a challenge because he was super-busy and threatened to drop out all the time, and I had long talks with him, like a therapist, convincing him to do it. He was shooting his movie [When Evil Lurks] and wanted to take time off, and I was like, "Fuck time off, shoot for another week!" And he did. I'm glad I bugged him like that. His segment might be one of my favorites in any anthology.
Then it was about putting together a complicated shoot and post, with everyone shooting all over the place. They had complete freedom to tell their stories. I've seen people commenting on the movie's different tones, but that's a plus for me. It shows how we Latinos are. We are not a monolithic block, and each segment reflects our colors and backgrounds. Cubans tend to mock everything; it's our defense after all the years of living under a dictatorship. Gigi's segment has a violence inherent to her Mexican background. Mike was trying to connect with his roots. Argentinians [like Rugna] are very cerebral. It's a nice portrait of how diverse we truly are, and I couldn't be more proud of it.
What's "Hammer" screenwriter Lino K. Villa's background?
Lino is a spy. Yeah, you heard that right. Or he was, anyway. He's not with us anymore. Or maybe he is. I like to think he is. So his background isn't in writing, or film, although he was a film buff. But he was one of the funniest people I've ever met. He was a Cuban spy—actually, the first one Cuba sent out after the Revolution to figure out the spy thing. But not in a 007 kind of way; he was more like Mr. Bean. For some reason, all his stories from Europe and Latin America were hilarious. He got some shit done, though. And he was pretty much like me—an older, cooler version, of course. I'd always laugh hearing his stories. I swear I'm not making this up. Lino isn't his real name; that was his war name. His real name was Gustavo. Or Angel. Or Francisco. He had been in jail when he was 22 years old. Tried to escape and failed gloriously. He also had a racehorse for some time. He was a diplomat for many years. And a father, a good one—so much that I keep his picture on my desk. And Villa isn't his real last name, either. That's a joke he used to tell, but I'll keep that for myself. His real last name was…well, I'm not gonna say it. You've probably figured it out by now. But I can tell you I miss him every day.
Did you know from the beginning that yours would be Satanic Hispanics' last segment, and if so, did you feel any pressure to end the movie with a bang?
We didn't know it from the beginning. Here's how it worked: At first, Mike wasn't thinking of doing the framing sequence, but when he told me the story of "The Traveler," I said to him, "That's it, that's your story. You're doing the wraparound." Then we had to figure out the order. When we had all the scripts, we saw some sort of evolution; we went from more serious and grounded, like Demián's, to completely wacky, which was mine. So we knew those two would be at the beginning and end. Gigi's and Ed's were originally in different places. We switched them after we watched the first assembly and realized the first half of the movie was very serious and in Spanish, and the second half was funny and in English. So we decided to mix things up.
The real bang at the end comes with Mike's, but "Hammer" is a nice lead-in to that. And I didn't feel any pressure at all. It was the opposite of Nightmare Cinema. With that one, I knew I was opening but had no clue what the others were up to, so I tried to do my best, knowing there were some great horror names involved. But in this case, I was more relaxed. I had just come from a hard shoot and post-process on my previous movie, and I just wanted to do something that was pure me. I needed to feel like myself again, like in the days when I was making Juan of the Dead. So I just tried to have fun and, do my best, and cleanse my soul in the process.
Tell us about the conception and creation of the demon makeup in "Hammer of Zanzibar."
There isn't a big backstory to that, and I have to be careful to avoid spoilers. But essentially, it had to be gradual. We had to reveal it in stages, and the end demon had to be special. Lisette Santana, our makeup artist, did a fantastic job, especially considering the limitations. I believe we looked into real African demons and tried to explore that direction, but in the end, she had freedom and came back with something I loved.
The Hammer itself was designed by Norman Cabrera, who's one of the best. Again, I don't want to get into spoilers, but creating the Hammer was a very long process. From the very beginning, I was sending pictures to Mike about what I wanted, and he hates me for it. Originally, it was going to be much more…human; when you see the movie, remember that and try to imagine the kind of pictures I sent to Mike, and you'll understand. But Norman did his thing, even adding some real African religious symbols. We had a lot of discussions, and I can honestly tell you it's the kind of thing that makes me love this profession. And it might have been one of the weirdest weeks in Norman's career.
How was it working with Jonah Ray Rodrigues?
Who the fuck is Jonah? I'm joking, obviously. I've always loved him, and I had a blast working with him–though I'm afraid he won't say the same about me. I give him a ton of shit, make fun of him all the time, and make him do his own stunts. But I also think I see something in him that not everyone sees, and it's that beneath the funny guy, there's such a strong dramatic actor. I realized that while doing Pooka; there was a moment when I was looking through the camera and saw his face, and suddenly I was like, who's that guy? I want to work with him. And one day, not long after I finished Pooka, I had a dream and called him and said, "I just dreamed you were fighting a demon with [redacted] as a weapon, and I'm gonna make that movie."
I'm afraid Jonah's sort of my muse. I know—what can you expect from me with a muse like that? But we always talk about the next thing, and I want to make ten more movies with Jonah. I actually have a pretty good idea for one. Or two. But there's one I keep coming back to, a horror/comedy, that I'm making notes on all the time and laughing while I drive, just thinking about putting Jonah in a certain scene. It has the most gorgeously idiotic title ever, and I'm sure no one will want to pay for that. And there are other projects that might happen. I keep having stupid dreams of Jonah in different movies. I think too much about that guy. I just wish there was someone out there with a big wallet to let us indulge in all our mayhem.
What do you feel Satanic Hispanics contributes to both the horror genre and Latinx cinema?
It's the first full Latino horror anthology, with all the directors from Latin America and a largely Latin American cast. In that sense, I hope it opens a door and does well enough that there are more. The talent is certainly out there. But the whole point while we talked about it was this: Latinos have been missing from horror since forever. None of the horror movies I grew up with had Latino characters. If you come up with one in the whole Friday the 13th franchise—and I believe there's one—it's still not enough. Look at all the movies from that time, and tell me, where are we? Yet we're one of the biggest audiences for horror. There have been a bunch of horror movies about Latin America…mostly from the perspective of white people. So we thought it was about time we took back our narrative and started telling our stories. It's time we grab a knife and carve the place in horror that we deserve. If the movie contributes at least one bit to that, then our job is done.
What's the status of The Inheritance, which you directed for Netflix?
I wish I had a good answer, but I don't. It's not coming out on Netflix anymore, but they're allowing us to sell it somewhere else, so we're working on that. I hope it finds a good home.
Read more with Satanic Hispanics producer and director Mike Mendez, and we've also got an exclusive interview with the creature behind the Hammer. Satanic Hispanics is now in theaters, and in FANGORIA #20.