Latin American Studies Horror in Literature and Film in Latin America
by
Alfredo Luiz Suppia
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0124

Introduction

Latin American horror literature and film is manifold, a heterogeneous landscape with perhaps more differences and peculiarities from country to country than a non–Latin American observer might perceive at first glance. Very often, Latin American horror resides on the borderlines between different genres, permeating a number of nonnaturalistic types of narrative—such as science fiction, fantasy, or crime thriller—and a great deal of horror literature and film embraces parody by means of comedy or experimental works. So, in order to identify and draw a line delineating the so-called Latin American horror genre in both literature and film, one should be significantly open-minded to concepts such as hybridity, multiculturalism, transculturalism, syncretism, non-Western narrative strategies and approaches, and so forth. If the ideal of a pure genre has rarely or perhaps never truly been identified in classical contexts, Latin American horror demonstrates that impurity might be one—that is, if there even is one—distinctive trait of the production of this genre on the Latin American continent. In fact, there is still no crystalized “genre culture” in Latin American literature and film. To attain full-fledged commercial and critical success, a Latin American writer/filmmaker must write/direct mainstream fiction, and this means “realist” fiction in most cases. The reasons for this phenomenon are varied. The infrastructural context (i.e., editorial market, editorial policies, audience, and reader demands) may partially contribute to the situation. Critical and academic orientations, which involve the valorization of the realist novel and authorship (auterism) to the detriment of “industrial” or “escapist” genres, can also be included in this context.

General Overviews

In most Latin American countries—with the exception of Argentina, perhaps—speculative fiction, both in literature and cinema, tends to be underrated, neglected, or simply overlooked by literary/film critics and scholars. In Latin America, the horror genre—and consequently all speculative fiction—suffers from historical prejudices held by the academic milieu, editorial markets, and audiovisual industries. For instance, Mary Elizabeth Ginway suggests that the invisibility of Brazilian science fiction could be ascribed to the overestimation of the realist novel in Brazil. According to the author, Brazilian literary science fiction suffers from elitist cultural attitudes that prevail in Brazil and the idea that a Third World country could not genuinely produce such a genre (Ginway 2004). However, vampires, ghosts, and zombies have appeared in Latin American and Caribbean literature since the 19th century (see Pulido 2004), mythic or fictional characters that syncretize European aesthetics and leitmotifs, colonial and tropical contexts. The history of the horror genre in Latin American literature and film is yet to be written, as suggested in Bravo Rozas 1994. Unlike in Europe, the United States, and Japan, there is no consolidated academic bibliography on the subject. There are no “Latin American Horror Film” and “Latin American Horror Literature” books available. Today, researchers must connect the dots themselves, investigating the scattered academic articles available, usually focused on specific topics, authors/filmmakers, periods, and nationalities. In this panorama, Bravo Rozas 1994 offers a useful introductory analysis of the death motif in Hispanoamerican literature. In terms of film studies, the horror genre in Latin America very often appears interwoven with fantasy and science fiction. For this reason, Clarens 1997, Ginway 2004, and Paz 2008 (cited under Mexican Film) provide useful frameworks for the first contacts with Latin American horror film, in spite of their focus on the science fiction genre. The legacy of 19th- and 20th-century fantastic literature in Latin America has been rescued by several anthologies edited by literary scholars such as Hahn 1990, López Martín 2010, and Roas 2003 (cited under Mexican Literature). Further research on Latin American horror literature and film must regard the work that has been done by academic groups such as Grupo de Estudios sobre lo Fantástico (GEF), based out of the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain. In the early 21st century, the Hispanet Journal, from Florida Memorial University, has been releasing a series of special issues dedicated to Latin American literature and film in which one can find useful studies on horror literature and film.

  • Bravo Rozas, Cristina. “El cuento de terror em España e Hispanoamérica: Un mundo por descubrir.” In Actas del XXIX Congreso del Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana, Barcelona 15–19 de junio de 1992. Vol. 3. Edited by Joaquín Marco, 119–132. Barcelona: Promociones y Publicaciones Universitarias, 1994.

    E-mail Citation »

    This work presents an overview of the horror genre in Spanish and Hispanoamerican literature tracing the origins of Hispanic horror fiction, the development of this literary genre, and its relations with Gothic fiction and other manifestations of horror in other national literatures.

  • Clarens, Carlos. An Illustrated History of Horror and Science-Fiction Films: The Classic Era, 1895–1967. New York: Da Capo, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    Carlos Clarens provides one of the most comprehensive critical overviews of horror and science fiction cinema dating from 1895 to 1967. In spite of the predominance of American and European productions, Clarens comments on some Latin American films in the horror/science fiction genre, such as Fernando Méndez’s El vampiro (Mexico, 1959). This work provides a useful basis for any further investigation of horror film in Latin America.

  • Ginway, M. Elizabeth. Brazilian Science Fiction: Cultural Myths and Nationhood in the Land of the Future. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    While this book does not directly approach the horror genre in Brazilian literature, some science fiction works cited by Ginway do have a hybrid character. Ginway’s work casts light on the peculiar relationship between Brazilian culture and history and speculative fiction. This book was translated into Portuguese by Roberto de Sousa Causo as Ficção Científica Brasileira: Mitos Culturais e Nacionalidade no País do Futuro (São Paulo, Brazil: Devir, 2005).

  • Goodwin, Matthew David, ed. Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction and Fantasy. San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2017.

    E-mail Citation »

    This volume brings together science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism written by twenty-two Latinos/Latinas from the United States and from eight different national traditions, like Kathleen Alcalá, Pablo Brescia, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Ana Castillo, Junot Díaz, Richie Narvaez, Giannina Braschi, ADÁL, Daniel José Older, and others, along with a new generation of authors. A comprehensive sample of contemporary Latino fantasy and science fiction.

  • Hahn, Óscar, ed. Antología del cuento fantástico hispanoamericano: Siglo XX. Santiago, Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1990.

    E-mail Citation »

    This anthology of short stories is edited, prefaced, and annotated by the Chilean poet and essayist Óscar Hahn. The book presents twenty-nine short stories of the 20th century, among them Alejo Carpentier’s “Viaje a la semilla” and Augusto Monterroso’s “El dinosaurio.”

  • López Martín, Lola. “Formación y desarrollo del cuento fantástico hispanoamericano en el siglo XIX.” PhD diss., Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    This doctoral dissertation is a fundamental work for any research on Latin American fantastic literature. Martín investigates the impact of independence and modernizing processes in Hispanoamerica and closely examines the poetics of the fantastic short story in 19th-century Hispanoamerica, choosing one author’s work as a case study in particular: the Argentinean Eduardo L. Holmberg.

  • López Martín, Lola, comp. RIP: Antología del cuento latinoamericano de terror del siglo XIX. Madrid: Editorial Edelvives, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    This collection of fundamental short stories provides a basic survey of 19th-century and early-20th-century Latin American horror fiction. The book includes an introduction by Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga, followed by Leopoldo Lugones’s “El escuerzo” (1906) and Clemente Palma’s “La granja blanca” (1900), among other stories.

  • Pellicer, Rosa. “Notas sobre literatura fantástica rioplatense: De terror a lo extraño.” Cuadernos de Investigación Filológica 11 (1985): 31–58.

    DOI: 10.18172/cif.2115E-mail Citation »

    In this paper, Pellicer proceeds with an examination of the psychology of characters and the narrative strategies that underpin the horror effect in the fantastic literature of the Río de la Plata region. In conclusion, Pellicer proposes a formal analysis in order to discover an aesthetic unity among rioplatense writers of fantasy/horror fiction.

  • Pulido, José Antonio. “El horror: Un motivo literario en el cuento latinoamericano y del Caribe.” Segunda Etapa 8.10 (2004): 229–249.

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    This article provides an overview of Latin American horror literature, but with a focus on the forefathers of the genre, particularly Venezuelan authors. Pulido’s most valuable contribution consists of comments on the works of Juan Montalvo, Julio Calcaño, Luis Lopez Méndez, José Assunción Silva, and Innés Wallace. The author focuses on the first appearances of vampires, ghosts, and zombies in Venezuelan literature.

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