When I was a little girl, I used to play a darker version of hide and seek with my older cousins in Ecuador. In our little game, whomever was the seeker would role play as La Llorona, and do the trademark wail of the mythical Weeping Woman: "Donde estan mis hijos?" ("Where are my children?").
It was all innocent fun, but now that I think about it, it's a creepy concept, and not something I'll be passing onto my own children one day.
My experience growing up with this mythical figure as part of my consciousness was not uncommon. In homes all across Mexico, the southwestern U.S., certain parts of the Caribbean, and most countries in Latin America, La Llorona is collectively known and feared.
Though there are several versions of the legend, La Llorona originates in Mexican folklore as a woman who drowns her own children in a river in order to be with the man she loves, only to be rejected by him and, after killing herself, is not allowed through the gates of heaven. Instead, she is condemned for all eternity to roam the earth looking for her children. In Mexico's oral and written tradition, La Llorona sightings – typically she's dressed in white and near a body of water – abound.
Some versions make a connection between La Llorona and the more ancient Malinche, an Aztec woman believed to be Hernan Cortés' mistress. By many accounts, La Malinche gives birth to two boys by Cortés, and betrays her own people by helping the Spaniards conquer Mexico. Legend has it that she also murdered her own children after Cortés decides to leave her for a Spanish woman.
There are parallels between the legend of La Llorona and certain characters in ancient Greek mythology, like Medea, who murders her own children as an act of revenge over Jason The Argonaut.
Countless filmmakers have attempted to bring La Llorona's story to life on the big screen, even as far as the 1933, when actress Adriana Lamar portrays a black-and-white hybrid of La Llorona and La Malinche. Sadly, no one has made a definitive film that really does her justice. Maybe Tom Harper can take this on after he's wrapped the Woman in Black sequel.
She may not have her own epic movie yet, but over the past few weeks, La Llorona has gotten some major play in other areas of pop culture. At Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights, she's getting her very own maze, a section called "La Llorona: Hunter of Children," where she appears in a white dress, drenched in blood and holding a child in her arms. Wilmer Valderrama is one of the celebs tapped to share their childhood Llorona stories. In this fun video, he talks about how his parents used her as a disciplinary tool, warning that if he stayed out too late or wandered far from home, she'd get to him.
This past Friday, the show Grimm dedicated a whole episode to the Weeping Woman, and even injected some Spanish into the storyline – with mixed results.
La Llorona is especially haunting because the legend deals with a mother's love for her children – something that's supposed to be pure, sacred, and unconditional, across all cultures.
The mythical character becomes even more terrifying when real life events mirror the tragedy of La Llorona's tale. In 2005, Susan Smith of South Carolina strapped her own children to a car and rolled it into a river. She was sentenced to life in prison after she confessed to killing them. Since then, there have been other cases resembling each other.
And yet, there is something that has compelled us as a culture to keep the terrifying memory of La Llorona alive for over 500 years, the same thing that keeps us coming back for more spine-tingling experiences – whether it's at a theme park or the newest horror movie.
Christopher Chacon, an authority on the scientific exploration of paranormal, supernatural and anomalous phenomena who regularly appears on national television, offers some clues as to why Latinos are so drawn to the supernatural. "As Latinos, we have a great ancestry of indigenous cultures that had an awareness or sensitivity to the supernatural," he says. "We supposedly only have five senses, but the ancient cultures believed that we have more than that. The question is, if we want to use them."
"From a metaphysical standpoint, there is this belief that if it's in your blood, then you're always going to have that proclivity to visualize that there's something there," Chacon adds. "So it's part of you and who you are. And I have friends who are very hardcore Catholic, and want nothing to do with that stuff, but the fact that they don't want anything to do with it implies that they believe it's there. In some ways, fear drives our existence."
Chacon believes that when the Catholic Church laid over its beliefs over the other, more ancient existing ones, this only served to accentuate our complicated relationship with the supernatural. "The Church labeled these other, secular beliefs as dark and evil and dangerous, putting a new label on beliefs that had been practiced for hundreds of years. They put a tone on those things, said you need to be afraid of them."
With holidays like Dia De Los Muertos, when we believe the spirits are among us again, it's clear that Latinos don't see death in the same black and white way that other cultures do.There's something beyond life than its obvious physical aspect (See also: The Ultimate Day of the Dead Guide).
Psychic medium A.J. Barrera, who has had his own show on mun2 called From Beyond, says once you understand the other world – and accept that it exists - there's nothing to be afraid of.
But still, you should know the difference between a ghost and a spirit, because apparently they behave differently, according to Barrera: "A ghost actually died tragically or doesn't know they've passed on, so they need the help of someone, either a medium, or someone who is sensitive to those things, to help them transition to the other side," he says. "They can come across as very mischievous, you can see them rocking a chair, making effects of shadows, things to get your attention. But we have to understand that we have to co-exist with them. As for spirits, those are our loved ones, they have that opportunity to come and go as they want, meaning they're not here all of the time, but they're going to give us guidance when it's needed. They're going to give us more positive messages or signs, like your mother's favorite perfume – rather than a ghost, who's trying to get your attention any way they can."
Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, of 28 Days Later fame, recently made a bilingual film called Intruders as a way to deal with some of his own childhood fears and brushes with the supernatural. In the movie, released earlier this year and starring Clive Owen, a faceless creature named Hollowface haunts two separate families in the U.K. and Spain. Though no one can see him, Hollowface lurks in the corners, desperately desiring love but only knowing how to spread fear and hate.
"When I lived in my house [in the Canary Islands] with my parents, I always felt there was something strange, something hidden that was affecting us, but my parents never spoke to me about it," the director told me back in March. "They never shared some family secrets that may have served as clues. That's dangerous because as kids our imagination can run wild and create something infinitely scarier than the actual reality. This monster without a face represents those mysteries, that which is unknown."
Here in the U.S., Latinos consistently over-index as a movie-going audience for these types of scary movies and studios are finding new ways to cash in. In the case of the enormously successful Paranormal Activity franchise, Latinos make up 30 percent of its audience, more than the usual 20 – 25 percent for other films of the same genre. The latest and fourth installment has already made $69 million worldwide – not bad for a movie that cost $5 million to make.
So it's no surprise that Paramount, the studio behind the Paranormal movies, has announced plans for a Latino spin-off, from the same team that brought you all four PA movies - and who will bring you the forthcoming fifth one. "This will be an off-shoot aimed at the groups who have been the biggest supporters of the property — Latinos and folks in Latin America — Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina," a Paramount insider told Deadline Hollywood.
Paranormal Activity producer Jason Blum's office told me he'd rather not comment as it's still too early in the process, but what we do know is that it will star mostly Latino actors and film partly in Spanish.
Chacon believes the new Latino spin-off of Paranormal Activity will be a huge hit. "It's a no-brainer," he says. "There's a lot that can be explored there. From a cinematic standpoint, the way it's filmed gets a certain reaction, that mockumentary style creates this pseudo reality, and when you watch this film, it has a way of sneaking into your belief system a little easier, for a moment or two, your brain is thinking this is real, and it's significantly more terrifying."
So if they one day make a mockumentary style film of La Llorona, I know I won't be the only one watching – even if it means never sleeping ever again.
Happy Halloween and Dia De Los Muertos! Mwuahahahahhahahaha…