As a horror movie enthusiast, scary movies have been the least scary thing about Halloween season 2020. It’s the most terrifying year most of us have seen in our lifetime. What better way to forget about the very real horrors we face than by watching other people endure their own?
This year we’re taking a look at Latina characters in American horror movies. First thing’s first, let’s get the obvious out of the way; the pickings are very slim. The scariest part of this article is how few Latinas are cast in American horror films, followed only by the actual quality of those few films and characters. Despite the fact that Latinx audiences make up 24% of box office sales for the horror genre, there’s little representation of us on screen.
In the sea of Sydney’s, Carrie’s, and Regan’s, there is a group of unsung heroes: Latina side characters, best friends, and, rarely, leading ladies. Instead of focusing on the terrible job Hollywood has done to diversify film, we’re going to focus on giving the proper shout out to the Latina Scream Queens who have managed to actually make it to our screens. These ladies have managed to shine in the face of mediocre scripts, box office bombs, and tired stereotypes. While this isn’t a complete list (Sorry Jessica Alba, shout out to you, but I’m not watching “The Eye”) here are some of the performances that stand out among the rest. Some spoilers ahead!
Salma Hayek as Santanico Pandemonium in “From Dusk Till Dawn”
Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve probably heard of Salma’s snake dance. Santanico is the badass, dancing vampire that tells George Clooney’s Seth Gecko that he’ll be her “foot stool” and her “new dog named Spot,” all with her foot pressed menacingly on his chest. I want to be annoyed that she’s used so obviously as the sex appeal in this movie, with most of her screen time dedicated to a bikini belly dance, but she’s also the most genuine and memorable character of the whole film. Her time onscreen is cut short by a falling chandelier and you’re sad to see her go because, in a film full of machismo-dribbling outlaw dudes, she’s by far the most compelling.
Camilla Belle and Tessa Thompson as Jill and Scarlet in “When A Stranger Calls”
It’s a tale as old as time; the teen babysitter is trying to enjoy her quiet night in when the phone rings and a cold, menacing voice on the other end let’s her know she’s not exactly alone. Camilla plays the leading lady here and does her very best to keep us interested, as she fields phone call after phone call from a threatening creeper while babysitting. Tessa is her loyal best friend who tries to help her sort out her messy, high school love life. To her credit, Camilla does one thing I certainly would never do; search the house for the killer, bravely, fireplace poker in hand.
Penelope Cruz as Chloe Sava in “Gothika”
Penelope steals the show in this movie as a mental ward patient opposite Halle Berry’s structured, psychiatrist character, Miranda. Shout out to Chloe because while Miranda spends the whole film frantically trying to convince people she’s not crazy, Chloe is the only person who believes her story. Miranda doesn’t settle into mental ward life very well, but Chloe has that life down pat and, in contrast, handles her similar experience with more grace than Miranda ever manages to. In the end, both Chloe and Miranda escape the mental ward, but it’s clear that neither would have made it out alive without each other’s help.
Zoe Saldana as Rosemary in “Rosemary’s Baby”
A remake of one of the greatest horror films of all time is already a bold project to undertake. Tackling the iconic role of Rosemary, mother to Satan’s child and first played by Mia Farrow, seems unimaginable. Despite a script that struggles to build the sense of paranoia and dread that the original film executes perfectly, Zoe does her best to breathe life into this remake. Like Mia before her, she’s the heartbeat of this story. We feel her panic, heart break, and want to root for her while she carries a demon baby in her belly.
Rosario Dawson as Abernathy in “Death Proof”
Rosario is one of several kickass, takes-no-BS women in this homage to exploitation and slasher films of the 70s. Abernathy is the spunky hair and makeup artist friend we’d all want by our side while there’s a murderous stalker around. She’s also the second lady on this list that’s been subject to Quentin Tarantino’s infamous foot fetish scenes (Salma being the first). There’s no shortage of violence and girl power in this film, and Rosario’s presence rounds out the cast of women perfectly. It’s also just plain fun to watch her help beat the living hell out of, and eventually kill, Kurt Russell’s creep of a character.
Morena Baccarin as Michelle in “The Twilight Zone” episode “Downtime”
While Jordan Peele’s reboot of the popular sci-fi and horror show is a hit-and-miss experience overall, “Downtime” is a stand out episode for Morena’s performance alone. Michelle has finally earned the dream job promotion she’s been working towards when a mysterious orb appears in the sky, halting everyone around her and bringing with it the news that her entire life is someone else’s technology-driven, curated simulation. While the rest of the world has stopped moving during “downtime,” she struggles to accept the disillusion of both her own made-up life and the life of the person who created her to escape their own reality.