Miedo a la muerte (1989)

It’s a dark and stormy night. It’s a night just like tonight—that is, if it’s dark and stormy where you are. Two lovers hunker down in a dark, abandoned house. It’s very, very dark. So dark, in fact, you wonder if your TV is even on. The lovers fumble hungrily for each other in the pitch black, but something isn’t right. Something goes bump in the night, and it’s not the lovers. A hairy beast attacks and the boyfriend dies. At least you think it’s a hairy beast. You can only catch glimpses of matted hair and a snout. Now the girlfriend has disappeared and the Secret Service suspects her of murder. Her father, a martial arts instructor, is on a dangerous mission to find her. Luckily he has the help of his most skilled students. But before they do that, we must watch a few shirtless karate matches, complete with flying kicks and lightning fast punches.

Meanwhile, a creepy old man talks to his wife’s corpse. He yearns to be with her again; he’s trapped in “an eternal nightmare” without her. He wails, cries, yells at the heavens, and collapses in her dead bosom. He is going for full ham-fisted acting, chewing up the scenery and outshining everyone else in the scene, which in this case is a dead woman. This is telenovela levels of melodrama and I’m here for it. Plus, if you squint, he looks like a Spanish-language version of Vincent Price. How dashing!

Shot-on-video with little lighting, the plot of Miedo a la muerte is a bit convoluted, but just know that there’s a man with a dead wife and a kid who gets kidnapped because his babysitters were too busy making out in the forest. There’s also a monster, which is absolutely not a man in a bear suit that looks like it was made out of an actual bear. Unfortunately it does not get as much screen time as a man in a real bear suit demands and deserves. But there are other gems in this film, including a band of savage men in rags who have a penchant for assault and corrupt politicians who happen to be American. I love it when America plays the bad guy. We cause so many problems in the world, but our movies suggest that Tom Cruise is always saving it. So it’s refreshing when a man in front of the stars and stripes tries to cover up a possible murder. 

All of this sounds exciting—and sometimes it is—but Miedo a la muerte lags. It gets bogged down with dialogue and the action takes forever to gain momentum, and when it does, it gets stalled by more dialogue. Still, there’s a lot of ambition and flying kicks. The real winner is the creepy old man and his dead lover. It’s a page from the old Weekend at Bernie’s playbook, where each scene the corpse gets, well, corpsier. 

Mexico has gifted so much to the world, everything from avocados and chocolate to Al filo del terror and Vacaciones de terror 2. While Miedo a la muerte doesn’t live up to its brothers and sisters, it still shows the ambition and drive that will always be loads better than the forty-eighth Mission: Impossible sequel.

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