Horror director Gigi Saul Guerrero strives to make movies that can follow you home

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON OCT. 26, 2021

By Steve Newton

Gigi Saul Guerrero remembers well the day she truly embraced her love of horror. She grew up in Mexico City in a very religious family, and was never allowed to watch scary movies—her strict Catholic mom banned them from the house. But during one particular trip to Blockbuster when she was eight years old Guerrero stole a VHS copy of Child’s Play 2, and things were never the same after that.

“I loved walking down the horror aisles of Blockbuster,” recalls Guerrero from her Vancouver home. “It was my most favourite thing to do, because I would imagine what the movies were about just because of the covers. But it was definitely that one cover, for Child’s Play 2, which was to me at that age the scariest cover—a doll with big scissors cutting another doll’s head. I thought, ‘There’s something really wrong with this one,’ so I took it, and that was the first thing I ever saw that was scary. I think I only watched maybe 40 minutes of the movie because I got too scared.

“But when I watched Child’s Play 2, I couldn’t understand this sensation that the movie somehow felt present in the room, with me. I was convinced that Chucky was in the closet. And that inspired in me a love of how films in general—and especially horror movies—can follow you home. As a filmmaker I always love sharing that, because if you can make someone watch your film and it follows them home—whether it’s through conversation or because there’s a scare or something so funny that they continue to laugh—you’ve done your job.”

Guerrero’s mother made her return the lifted videotape to Blockbuster, but five or six years later, when the family moved to Vancouver, the youngster brought her obsession with scary movies with her. She embarked on a career in horror filmmaking that has led to her directing feature-length works such as the new Amazon Prime offering Bingo Hell and 2019’s Culture Shock, part of the Hulu series Into the Dark, which has garnered a %100 Fresh rating after 16 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

Before that she made numerous short films, including “Mistress of Bones”, which will be shown as part of the Vancouver Horror Show Film Festival tonight (October 26) at the Scotiabank Theatre, and then again online on October 30.

While Guerrero’s migration to Vancouver did not involve any illicit crossing of the U.S./Mexico border, that topic has provided fodder for three of her horror projects so far. Her very first short film, Dead Crossing—which she made when she was just 19—was about zombie border guards eating Mexicans crossing into the States.

I noticed just from that very first short film how very intense subject matters can really be told through the lens of horror,” she says, “how you can give people that entertainment value and that escapism from the real horrors of the world by having fun with a film. I think what we see in the news is already so tragic that I wouldn’t want people to suffer the same during my stories, but it’s such a universal subject, border crossing, that it just continues to be talked about. I think it’s something that hasn’t gone away, and it’s only gotten, unfortunately, worse. So I made a second short film called El Gigante, ‘The Giant’, that also involved border crossing, and that exploded internationally and got me my first job in Hollywood for Culture Shock, my feature debut.

“And making Culture Shock, again about the border crisis, I felt–not just as a filmmaker, but I felt as a Latina, Mexican storyteller—this was my opportunity to be able to talk about it with an audience, to bring awareness to what was happening in 2019—and still is, today. I feel that that was really a responsibility to take, and not be afraid to really go for it, and Culture Shock still today is really praised for its honesty, for being able to express such an important social commentary. So I think with horror you can talk about anything, and still make it so fun to watch.”

Guerrero says that, with Culture Shock, she was trying to create “the Mexican Get Outor the Latino Twilight Zone“. The film was made under the banner of Luchagore Productions, the company she cofounded in 2013 with her former classmate at Capilano University’s Motion Picture Arts program, cinematographer Luke Bramley, and producer Raynor Shima, who attended Vancouver Film School.

“What’s exciting about Luchagore is we were the students of two rival film schools,” says Guerrero, “so were officially the first team to really be of the two schools combined. So to us that’s pretty exciting, because being in film school you make fun of the other school all the time, and it was really fun to break that stereotype and build this very well-established brand, now.

“So I’m very proud of it,” she adds, “because it just comes to show that right after film school, if you don’t have the connections or the budget or resources, it really can come together as a team and create things with what you have. And that’s exactly what we did, to the point where I think we have about 18 short films. And we’ve made commercials, we’ve made now our first feature for Amazon Prime, Bingo Hell, and this was a lotta hustle. So it’s exciting. Hey, why not be the crazy horror team in Vancouver?”

Guerrero’s rise to horror greatness in Vancouver—which included eight years working on the PNE’s Fright Nights attraction—hasn’t been without the odd disappointment. Back in January of 2020 it was announced that she was hired by Orion Pictures to direct the horror-thriller 10-31, with Eli Roth as producer, but the project was shelved soon after.

Roth had blasted onto the horror scene himself with the controversial 2005 film Hostel, which raised (lowered?) the bar for so-called “torture porn”. So what does Guerrero think of the gruesome horror sub-genre that gave us the sadistic Saw franchise?

“Oh man,” she replies. “I mean, I’m a fan of gore, definitely. People know through my work that I do have a very dark side, and I’m very mysterious like that. I will wear the prettiest floral dress, but I will definitely watch the goriest things at night. Hostel shocked me when I first saw it—I didn’t even know filmmakers could do that—and it introduced me to that world. But to me there’s such a fine balance with extreme horror and torture porn. I think when it just falls on the gratuitous side it starts losing its fun, and there’s no point to it.

“However, what I think Eli does right—or even filmmakers like Rob Zombie and Robert Rodriguez or Tarantino, who have so much blood, so much gore—is they put the fun value up. They put the fun and the actual rich characters that you can’t help but laugh with, scream with, to want to be a part of their journey. That’s what’s important to me. If you have those elements and the fun factor, you’re doin’ it right. So throw all the gore at me, please.”

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