Mexican auteur Carlos Enrique Taboada has been cited in appreciation by the likes of filmmaker fanboys Guillermo del Toro and Quentin Tarantino, but his work is sorely underappreciated outside of his home country. Specializing in Gothic dramas with a fantastical realist bent, Taboada was prolific in both television and cinema, with an impressive list of filmed chillers to his name; in a way he had to adapt to these genre pictures, which were salacious enough to hold their own in international markets, especially true after the slow and painful collapse of the Mexican Golden Age of cinema. Par the course, Taboada often suffered bouts of depression that saw him retreat from the medium. Yet he always returned, like a ghost from one of his own pictures, to scare us again.
Even in work that was flawed, there was an honesty present to Taboada’s interpretation of character that provided universal appeal on the often cliche and arbitrary tales of ghouls and ghosts. This is especially true in perhaps his most famous picture, Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo (aka Even the Wind is Afraid) – a film that focuses on generational distance, young women navigating ownership over their bodies and sexualities, but above all, guilt. Perhaps it is the overwhelming presence of that guilt – one that, once discovered, cannot be exorcised from any of the film’s situations or frames – that gives Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo its continued attraction. This narrative focus on guilt no doubt justified Taboada’s final, visual personification of the film’s apparition. It seems strange for an avowed atheist and anticleric to show the supernatural in such a direct and objective way, unless it is human guilt – not religion – that manifests this evil.
Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo begins with a young woman writhing in a nightmare, only to awaken to an image of a human figure, hung by the neck, above her bed. As she screams, the camera pans to the trees, the manor, the grounds of the estate, giving us our bearings while also insinuating that this particular vision has its origin outside the girl. This is a boarding house – more of an exclusive school to teach welltodo women the household arts – run by the stern Bernarda (Marga López), who in mannerism and austerity directly resembles the Evil Stepmother from Walt Disney’s Cinderella. Both characters serve the same purpose – keep the young women subservient, repress their budding sexuality, and restrict their movements. On the other side of the gardens, there is a Tower that is Forbidden – but several of the young girls, including the lead Claudia, discover the lock left open, and their curiosity gets the better of them. When they explore the upper rooms, Claudia exclaims this is exactly the same place in her nightmares – where the image of the hanged woman is.
This spooks them enough to leave, but they are also discovered on the way out. As punishment, Bernarda forces them to stay at the school over Spring Break (cue horror music!). This encourages the squabbling and infighting among the girls as for whose fault it is, but also helps the ghost choose its victims more readily. As the girls help each other learn how to striptease and play the piano and pass the time, Claudia’s nightmares get worse. Her sleepwalking starts to spook the other girls – some start to imagination a voice on the wind (or do they?). And someone keeps unlocking the door to the Tower…
The legacy of Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo is definitely felt in del Toro’s early works, particularly The Devil’s Backbone, which follows the same trajectory of ghostly retribution that haunts the forgotten youth (it’s practically a remake in spirit of this film, even sharing its political subtexts). Both really have their sights set on the adults, who are truly culpable in the evil. The ghost is a strong memory, repressed but never forgotten, seeking release by personifying its evil onto unsuspecting victims, and the girls just happen to be there to get the brunt of it. There is a justifiable subtext to be made of the sins of the fathers (mothers) coming to host the sons (daughters) – and I cannot help but see it as a commentary on Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’ PRI party. After all, the Tlatelolco demonstrations and massacre took place the same year of Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo’s release.
At times the pacing in Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo seems to embrace its sidebars too long – in the middle, for example, the girls learn to dance and striptease from one of their more seasoned members. While I’m sure this helped in advertising, it somehow also demonstrates a certain care toward the characters. Each of their personalities shines forth, which helps us care once the ghost tightens its grip on the young women, especially the naive, pure-of-heart Claudia.
The film is shot in a direct, no-nonsense manner, in medium shots with plenty of primary colors. In horror films one gets used to the dutch angles and wide-angle lenses and visual panache – so its lack, here, is disarming. What adds to the spook factor is the score; it’s that bombastic old-fashioned type that comes in horns blazing and strings screeching. It fills a dark room – and by the end, the film is enveloped in darkness. Taboada embraces black voids in the frame for his introduction of the ghost, a young dead girl by the name of Andrea. This again furthers the idea of cross-generational guilt – Andrea to Bernarda to Claudia, or the ABC’s. But it ends there. Once Andrea and Claudia meet to serve their purpose to Bernarda, the cycle of evil is broken. That alone may be Taboada’s political statement – a call to action. The cycle of violence ends, here.