★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Panama’s first horror film offers a fun, gruesome introduction to the country’s darker side of traditional folklore.
Directed by Sol Moreno and J. Oskura Nájera
Fans of folk horror, fright fare from countries not known for their cinematic output in that department, and envelope-pushing set pieces take note: Panama’s first horror film, Diablo Rojo PTY, features witches local to that country who aren’t above eating a baby. The film is a giddy, gory romp that is wholly entertaining throughout.
The titular vehicle is a passenger bus that ran its course in America before making its way to Panama, where it has been decorated to the nines. These types of buses are a vanishing part of Panamanian culture, known for being dangerous modes of public transportation. It’s a normal day for bus driver Miguel (Carlos Carrasco) and his younger sidekick Junito (Julian Urriola) until Miguel experiences some paranormal heavy petting during a rest stop. He speeds away to escape the area, which gets a pair of policemen on their tail.
After frightening face-offs with a coven of revenge-bent witches, the fear-filled foursome find take refuge in a church presided over by Padre Andres (Leo Wiznitzer), and the men discover that they are victims of lost time and frozen time, and Miguel’s past comes back to haunt — or make that hunt — him.
Certainly, there are familiar scare-fare cinema elements in Diablo Rojo PTY, but the film is an overall breath of fresh air thanks to introducing the outside world to some aspects of terrifying Panamanian folklore, including La Tulivieja, reputed to be a woman who abandoned her child in a river. She paid for this by being turned into a batlike creature, and yes, the film gives us a super practical effects rendition of this beast.
Codirectors Sol Moreno and J. Oskura Nájera, working from a screenplay written by Nájera and Adair Dominguez, have crafted a film with an eerie atmosphere and truly macabre goings-on. Many of the shots are reminiscent of panels from EC Comics’ horror titles set in exotic locales, and the cinematography from Sebastian Touma gorgeously captures the dark, creepy, unsettling atmosphere of the rural night and the bold, vivid colors of the Diablo rojo bus. The practical gore effects along with the makeup of the witches — as well as another nasty bunch of villains, whose identity I won’t spoil — are startlingly grisly and satisfyingly hideous. The cast members’ performances are a blast.
Diablo Rojo PTY is more focused on entertaining horror buffs than providing a detailed serious education about La Tulivieja and her ilk, but the filmmakers provide enough of an introduction to show what makes these Panamanian supernatural entities tick. The film is an unexpected shot of fright fare that offers a good deal of smiles and chuckles with its jaw-dropping terror sequences. I highly recommend it.
From The Horror Collective, Diablo Rojo PTY is available now, exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.