The black pit of CasaNegra

The Man and the Monster and The Living Coffin

Impressionable TV junkies of a certain vintage should remember a slew of Mexican horror films from the ’50s and ’60s that once permeated Gringolandia’s airwaves. Despite their meager budgets and sub-Ed Wood spook-show trappings, these movies—typically broadcast at ungodly hours from threadbare, diced-and-dubbed prints—were inventively conceived, unexpectedly sumptuous works of pulp art that hinted at untapped cinephiliac bliss.

Thanks to CasaNegra Entertainment, an offshoot of Chicago-based Asian sex/horror DVD distributor Panik House, the gleeful scrutiny now can begin. Last year, the label began releasing many of these south-of-the-border treasures uncut and remastered, with brand-new subtitles and heaps of extra features.

The bulk of CasaNegra’s releases thus far come from light-comedy actor Abel Salazar’s production unit, Cinematografica ABSA, known for mashing Universal and Hammer horror-flick tropes with stunning mise-en-scenes reminiscent of highbrow Mexicophile Sergei Eisenstein, whose visual imprint trickled down to the lowest levels of the country’s cinema. The best entries are helmed by a pair of directors: Rafael Baledón, who exhibits an intriguing preoccupation with putrescence in such films as The Curse of the Crying Woman (1961); and Fernando Méndez, whose previously un-subtitled The Black Pit of Dr. M (1958) is a bona fide gothic-horror classic. Other releases, including the absurdly outré Brainiac (1962), star Salazar himself.

After a mercifully brief detour through the ’70s films of insipid kiddie comic Javier “Chabelo” López, CasaNegra returns to Mexi-horror next week with two 1958 offerings. Baledón’s The Man and the Monster is a characteristically atmospheric mix of Faust and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, enlivened by a belligerent sheepdog-pussed man-beast, while The Living Coffin is a Poe-like tale of family madness and illicit exhumation featuring popular cowboy star and erstwhile bullfighter Gastón Santos. Naturally, it’s a Western.