Most film historians point to a timeline between 1957 through 1967 as the Golden Age of Mexican horror cinema. This was a period that produced such iconic titles as El Vampiro (1957), The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959), The Brainiac (1962) and Dr. Satan (1966). The country’s film industry continued to make horror and fantasy films through the seventies and beyond, of course, but the majority of them tended to be cheaper productions in which masked wrestlers like Santo and Blue Demon battled a variety of monsters. A welcome exception to this popular but overworked formula are the horror films of Carlos Enrique Taboada, which were more subtle and suggestive in comparison like the atmospheric chillers Val Lewton produced for RKO Pictures in the forties. An outstanding example of Taboada’s original approach to the genre is Veneno para las hadas (English title: Poison for the Fairies, 1986), which is less of a supernatural thriller and more of an exploration of evil in the tradition of The Bad Seed (1956) and The Other (1972).
Equally unusual by genre standards is the fact that the storyline of Poison for the Fairies focuses on the relationship of two pre-teen girls who attend the same school. Flavia (Elsa Maria Gutierrez) is a newcomer who comes from a wealthy family and lives with her father and stepmom. She is quickly befriended by Veronica (Ana Patricia Rojo), who lives with her grandmother but seems isolated and lonely. She does, however, find empowerment in the eerie tales and native folklore the family nanny shares with her. In particular, Veronica is fascinated by witches and their black magic, an attraction that soon becomes an obsession.
The friendship of Veronica and Flavia moves into darker territory when Veronica convinces her friend that she is actually a witch posing as a young girl. Flavia wants proof of Veronica’s powers so they make a blood pact and cast a spell that will put an end to Flavia’s unwanted piano lessons. The next day Flavia arrives for piano practice with Madame Rickard but her instructor drops dead while making tea. Flavia is horrified and convinced her ritual with Veronica caused the tragedy, when, in reality, her piano teacher had a weak heart and had experienced near-fatal attacks before.
Taking advantage of Flavia’s guilt and naivete, Veronica uses emotional blackmail to bind her friend to her in what becomes an unhealthy master-slave relationship. Partly it is motivated by her jealousy of Flavia’s privileged lifestyle but Veronica also enjoys embracing her dark side and feeling the power of pure wickedness.
It is only a matter of time before Veronica starts demanding and receiving Flavia’s favorite things – a doll, a gold pen, her dog Hippy. She even bullies her way into a family vacation at a rural estate owned by Flavia’s father. It is there that the relationship between the two girls comes to a head over a plan to gather ingredients for a poisonous witches’ brew (hence the title).
Some viewers might not consider Poison for the Fairies a horror film at all and it must be said that the supernatural elements of the film are mostly represented by Flavia’s nightmares and fear. Except for a nightmarish opening sequence featuring a throat slashing, most of the horrific moments in the film are the result of Veronica’s aggressive behavior. Even though she is never quite as dangerous as the homicidal child in The Bad Seed, she is nevertheless a magnet for evil.
In some ways Poison for the Fairies is a perfectly acceptable movie for family viewing, especially those with pre-teen girls, since it features no explicit sex, nudity or strong language and the violence is minimal except for that opening sequence. On one level, it works as a cautionary tale about bullying long before that issue became a major concern among parents and their children at the end of the 20th century. In the final moments of the film, it also seems to confirm that familiar adage: “He who fights monsters becomes one.”
The real strength of Poison for the Fairies though resides in the suggestion that evil children are the result of dysfunctional families or those in which the parents are conspicuously absent or clueless about what is going on with their kids. This idea is reinforced by director Taboada’s decision to rarely show the faces of any adults or authority figures in close-up or full body shots. We only hear and see a limited perspective of their existence – the back of their heads, their legs, a hand, a shadow. The point of view is always through the eyes of children.
Poison for the Fairies was the last of Taboada’s unofficial horror tetralogy and the most acclaimed of the four films; it was nominated for four Ariel Awards, which is Mexico’s version of the Oscar, and won two of them – Best Picture and Best Director. The screenplay and the story (both conceived by Taboada) were also nominated.
The other three films in the tetralogy are much more overt in their presentation of the supernatural and include Even the Wind is Afraid (Hasta el viento tiene miedo, 1968), The Book of Stone (El libro de Piedra, 1969), and Darker Than Night (Mas negro que la noche, 1975). I would recommend Even the Wind is Afraid as a starting point if you want a more traditional ghost story/horror film but even it is a throwback to the classic horror films of Universal in their heyday. Poison for the Fairies is much closer to a gothic fairy tale in style and form but it has moments that cross over into horror cinema.
A nightmare sequence in which Flavia imagines Veronica’s grandmother as a threatening witch with claw hands is one obvious example. The scene in which the two girls visit an exhibit of mummies is equally creepy. And the episodic depiction of Veronica and Flavia collecting specimens for their poison brew – a spider, a snake skin, toads and dirt from a cemetery – accents the black magic aspect of the storyline. Last but not least, the final sequence where the barn is set on fire with a victim trapped inside is an unforgettable but disturbing way to end the movie.
The two child actresses in the film are quite convincing in their roles as Veronica and Flavia although Ana Patricia Rojo as the evil instigator of the duo has the juicier role and makes the most of it. She would go on to become a popular television star in numerous series and is still working today. Elsa Maria Gutierrez, however, never made another film and Poison for the Fairies remains her solo effort.
Desert Mountain Media, a distributor of Mexican cinema classics, released Poison for the Fairies on DVD with subtitle options in January 2005 as part of their Latin Cinema Classics. You might still be able to find copies of it through online sellers although Desert Mountain Media appears to be no longer in business.
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