This anthology of films from five Latino filmmakers sadly doesn’t live up to the promise of devilish short-form horror that its title foreshadows.
The best of the bunch is “The Hammer of Zanzibar,” a dark comedy from Alejandro Brugues (“Juan of the Dead”) about a man (Jonah Ray Rodrigues) who uses an oversized phallus to battle an evil entity who’s killing off his friends. Written by Lino K. Villa, it’s an enjoyably sophomoric romp that’s also playfully queer, thanks to a nutty detour involving a character named Popo.
I enjoyed the exploitation sensibilities behind Gigi Saul Guerrero’s gruesome folk fairy tale “Nahuales,” cinematically the anthology’s most daring film. And the framing story, Mike Mendez’s “The Traveler,” gets a boost from Efren Ramirez’s ice-cold performance as the title spirit. But the slapstick comedy in “El Vampiro,” from Eduardo Sanchez, the co-director of “The Blair Witch Project,” is bloodless.
The problem is that the films, which are in Spanish and English, rely on typical horror movie stuff — a haunted house, angry ghosts, shape shifters, tableaus of corpses — to lift scripts that are across the board mediocre. The result is eye-popping but half-formed, more sketches than fully considered short takes. It’s a surprise considering that the filmmakers mined Latin folkloric traditions from Argentina, Cuba and Mexico for material. More Latino horror is welcome, but better if it pushes boundaries, not walks them.
In the words of my Colombian grandmother, who introduced me to Universal’s horror movie monsters when I was a kid: Qué lástima.
Rated R for buckets of blood and miles of manslaughter. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. In theaters.