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‘Trash-Mex’ Is a Film Festival Highlighting Mexico’s Horror Films With Cult Followings

Tales of terror and witchcraft, sensational heroics versus evil monsters, and true-to-life grit and drama with unchecked machismo and explosive action. If you are a horror movie fanatic, there is a new film festival in town to check out. It includes some rare films that never even had a proper theatrical run until now.

11:43 AM PDT on May 12, 2023

”I always dream about it. Like in my head, it's “Ratas De La Ciudad” at The Million Dollar Theater…” 

Armando Hernandez, one of the owners of Trash-Mex, is detailing his dream movie screening and location would be, citing Sid Gramuan’s deeply mourned, 106-year-old defunct movie palace in Downtown Los Angeles.

Hernandez and business partner Michael Aguirre are genre film fanatics and the co-creators of the upcoming “Festival De Trash-Mex,” a celebration of Mexican and Spanish language films which haven’t been screened in theaters for over 30 years. The festival kicks off next Friday at Santa Ana’s Frida Cinema.

In some cases, a few of these films have never even had a proper theatrical run until now.

“[Ratas De La Ciudad] is super trashy,” Hernandez says. “It's Mexican, obviously, but it's also really good. That's the thing. It's not even just like this crazy movie. It's actually like really fucking dramatic… and then it has Valentin Trujillo. He directed it. He produced it, he starred in it, his son's in it.” '

The Frida Theater in Santa Ana. Photo by Noe Adame for L.A. TACO.
Michael Aguirre and Armando Hernandez of Trash-Mex. Photo by Noe Adame for L.A. TACO.

“It's a very historic movie,” he continues. “And the cast, you look at the cast. It's like, ‘Holy shit, big fucking names in this movie.’ So I think that's a cool movie to show to either new audiences or old audiences. That's a movie I want people to see, for sure, you know? So that's a dream for me, to show it.” 

While Hernandez dreams of showing that film someday, he and Aguirre are excited about the six films they will be showing to crowds next weekend in Orange County. When the two met at a screening of an ’80s restored French slasher movie, Armando knew immediately that they had to work together.

“People always say, ‘we should do stuff, we should do stuff….’ not a lot of people follow through with shit,” Aguirre says.”For me, to meet someone that will meet me with the same amount of energy… .I tend to gravitate towards those types.”

After Armando successfully screened two Mexican horror movies at The Frida Cinema in Santa Ana, owner Logan Crow invited him to program more. What Crow didn’t mention was that he’d also applied for a California Humanities Quick Grant, which is awarded to 20 recipients to support community, history, and storytelling.

With Armando's deep knowledge of Mexican genre films and Michael's technical expertise in film screenings and programming, the duo began to plot their new collaboration, the results of which will be seen next weekend.

The duo still can’t believe that they were selected to be part of the grant. 

“They give grants to museums, researchers… stuff like that, and then us… just these film guys,” Armando says. “But the thing about it is they saw the historical value to it, too.”

He’s excited for people to see what they’ve cooked up.

“Six films, we got DJs coming out, poster work, trailers… just a whole weekend celebrating genre cinema,” Aguirre notes. 

Six films that encompass wild and tumultuous times from the ‘70s to the late ‘80s. Tales of terror and witchcraft, sensational heroics versus evil monsters, and true-to-life grit and drama with unchecked machismo and action. 

While these films are not for everybody, many fans view them with a nostalgic lens and fascination for the crazy, exploitative sensibilities of the time, when everything had to be shocking, exciting, and explosive. Truly the time of “Saca la Bolsita” in the Mexican film world where anything went and oftentimes films would best their U.S. counterparts when it came to ‘Ay Jijo!’ moments.

The duo acquired five of these movies, which have been recently restored on actual film stock. The only holdout is the secret Mario Almada film showing on Sunday night, which will come from Armando's collection. This will be the first time these restorations will be projected onto a big screen, making the event special.

“When it came to the actual programming of the days, we originally were saying… we'll start off with, like, an easily digestible one in the night. Like, we're gonna show “Don't Panic! (Dimensiones Ocultas)”  at 8 P.M. and then at 10 P.M., we'll show something grittier like, “Infernal Rapist,” or something like that.”

On Saturday, the film festival will feature luchador-inspired horror films based on actor-wrestler El Santo. 

“Those, I feel, will be a little bit more… um, tailored towards all ages,” Aguirre says. “We got stuff like Sunday, where I wouldn't recommend anyone under 21.”

Hernandez quickly chimes in:

“Sunday's gonna be more for the adults… solo para adultos, or no apto para menores… Sunday, just bring like your wife or your girlfriend or your lover.” 

They both laugh.

For one entire weekend, the duo plans to take their audience to a bygone era when Spanish-language theaters were present throughout Southern California. These movie theaters became a hub for the city's Spanish-speaking communities, providing them with a place to socialize and connect with their culture. 

By the early to mid-20th century, there were several Spanish-language movie theaters in Los Angeles catering to the city's Latino community, including the Tower Theatre in DTLA, Teatro Azteca in San Fernando, El Tívoli in Sawtelle, and one of the most famous, the Million Dollar Theater, which was opened in 1918 and was one of the first movie palaces in the city, amongst others.

Mexican alfajor candy, candied sweet potato (camote), and mazapánes were just some of the delicious offerings served at the time at the concession stands.

By the early to mid-20th century, there were several Spanish-language movie theaters in Los Angeles catering to the city's Latino community, including the Tower Theatre in DTLA, Teatro Azteca in San Fernando, El Tívoli in Sawtelle, and one of the most famous, the Million Dollar Theater, which was opened in 1918 and was one of the first movie palaces in the city, amongst others.

Some of these buildings, like The Tower Theatre, which is now an Apple store, still stand today; relics of the city’s golden years, which took their last gasp as theaters in the mid to late 90s.

The duo teases about continuing the collaboration with future screenings or festivals, with both ultimately landing on the The Million Dollar Theater as their golden nugget goal.

“We have one that we're planning for August that we're hoping to program,” says Aguirre. “If we can work with the actor to get him in person, and it would be a night of films dedicated to this actor, and we talked about a double or triple feature. Even doing one of his Italian movies that he was in. In addition to his Mexican films, says Aguirre.”

Armando interjects, “Because the marquee is still the same from back in the day. That's another thing.”

Trash-Mex is one step closer to making their “Ratas de La Ciudad” dream screening come true.

Festival de Trash-Mex was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Festival de Trash-Mex”  will run from Friday, May 19th to the 21st. Individual tickets can be purchased for $15 on the Frida Cinema website.

“Festival de Trash-Mex”  will run from Friday, May 19th to the 21st. Individual tickets can be purchased for $15 on the Frida Cinema website.

Address: The Frida Cinema, 305 East 4th Street, Suite 100, Santa Ana, CA 92701

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