For director Ryan Zaragoza’s debut feature “Madres” the El Paso native tackled a social issue that affected Mexican-American women during the 70s. The storyline sounds like warped science fiction but the intertitle at the end of the supernatural thriller indicates it was based on actual events. Cowritten by San Antonio native Marcella Ochoa, who was inspired by her grandparents’ experience as migrant farmworkers, the film plays more like an investigative drama than flat-out horror.

Another tie to the Lone Star State is lead actor Ariana Guerra who grew up in a border town near McAllen before attending the University of Texas. She plays Diana, a Mexican-American writer, pregnant with her first child, whose immigrant husband Beto (Tenoch Huerta from “The Forever Purge”) just landed a job in Golden Valley, California as a supervisor overseeing migrant workers on a farm.

Considering that Beto has only been in the U.S. for five years, it’s an offer he couldn’t pass up plus it comes with free room and board for his family in the form of a two-story home. Sure, it’s old and creepy with peeling wallpaper (the perfect haunted house setting) but as he explains to Diana, “Don’t look a free horse in the mouth.” She corrects him, “gift horse.” English is Beto’s second language unlike Diana, who was born in the states and speaks little Spanish.

The couple’s cultural difference plays a significant role in the film. Diana is treated differently by the other Latinas because she isn’t fluent in their language, and she doesn’t believe in traditional Mexican folklore which includes help from a local curandera named Anita played by Elpidia Carrillo. FYI, Carrillo played young guerilla fighter Anna in 1987’s “Predator” who warns Arnold Schwarzenegger and his men about their adversary, “It changed colors, like the chameleon, it uses the jungle.” There’s also a scene in the film where Beto performs a traditional egg healing on Diana. Anyone who’s Hispanic and grew up in South Texas is probably familiar with the technique. My grandmother performed it on me several times during my adolescence.

The supernatural element in “Madres” plays a small part in Zaragoza’s debut. The atmosphere is imbued with the usual horror tropes and there is a La Llorona vibe, however, the focus of the film revolves around Diana’s investigation into whether the pesticide used in the fields is affecting the migrant women who are having problems with pregnancy. Think Todd Haynes’ “Dark Waters” to get a good idea of where we’re going.

“Madres” is one of four films featured in the new “Welcome to the Blumhouse” anthology now streaming on Amazon Prime. The diverse horror collection from up-and-coming filmmakers includes the Latinx “Bingo Hell” from director Gigi Saul Guerrero, the vampire flick “Black as Night,” and the nursing home thriller “The Manor” starring Barbara Hershey.

Recently I spoke with anthology producer and horror staple Jason Blum who speculated on the possibility of a new anthology series each year.

Do you plan on doing a new series each year and are you going to stay on track with new and emerging filmmakers? I love that aspect of the series.

Jason Blum: I’m really glad to hear that. I’m very proud of that. I like that too and it makes for stories we wouldn’t have expected. The last four movies are about people who are marginalized in some way or another and I don’t think that would have happened if it hadn’t been for working with unrepresented filmmakers. To answer the first part of your question, there are no official plans to expand the series, although I can’t see why we wouldn’t. It’s worked out great for Blumhouse and I hope to make it an October tradition.

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Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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