Thursday, August 30, 2007

CasaNegra--The Comeback?

As reported by David Wilt on the Latarnia forums, CasaNegra appears to still be in business and hopeful of releasing new titles in the near future!

Wilt posted an e-mail received by Darryl Mayeski of Screem magazine from Michael Liuzza that stated:

"Thanks very much for your interest. PLEASE spread the word, CasaNegra is still around and we are hoping the future looks bright. We just need a bit more time to work out some details. If your fans are wondering... please tell them to hang tight a little while longer. We are hoping to be back with new releases very soon."

So spread the good word!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mexican Horror and the Latin Market

In an informative and thorough old interview on, Michael Liuzza, one of the persons behind CasaNegra, responded to the question of how many Spanish speaking households have acquired CasaNegra's DVDs.

"We have not been able to fully assess that yet mainly because we have not yet fully targeted the Latin and or Mexican American consumer directly. You really have to know what you are doing with that. Marketing to that demographic is a bit different then marketing to the other consumers. While the Latin consumer in America is slowly getting in the with the rest of the mix they still shop at their own stores and stick closely to their own culture so a grass roots effort is extremely important here. We do have plans to market directly but it takes some time to put together the right plan for the right venues and since we are not Latin ourselves it's a bit of a learning process for us. But again, we are confident there is a substantial number of Latin consumers who will appreciate what we are doing."

According to a USA Today online article:

• The U.S. Hispanic market, some 50 million people, is the second-largest in the world, trailing only Mexico.

• Hispanic consumers have one of the largest disposable incomes of any minority group, and the U.S. Census Bureau predicts 29% growth in the Hispanic population in the next eight years, vs. 9% generally.

The tapping of the Hispanic market may be crucial to the success of Mexican horror on DVD. It's clear from the Liuzza interview that CasaNegra did not actively go after this market. Would it have mattered in the final tally?

Difficult to say, because I'm convinced that most of the U.S. Hispanic market is not that interested in old horror films from Mexico, but (depending on how much was spent beforehand) it only takes about 5000 DVD units sold to make a DVD successful. Of course, budget dollars would be necessary to invest in advertising to the Hispanic market, and the advertising would have to catchy and have the power to create a healthy consumer base. In all likelihood someone with a thorough knowledge of the Hispanic market would have to be hired to craft such an advertising campaign. As stated on

With Hispanics rapidly becoming the largest minority group in this country and increasingly wielding buying clout, everyone from Fortune 500 corporations to television stations to sports stadiums are waking up to this growing consumer market. But business owners whose roots are in places like Mexico or Latin America or Puerto Rico are discovering a new-found advantage: With deep knowledge of Latin culture and united by the Spanish language, they inherently know best how to reach Hispanic customers.

Whenever I go to a NYC DVD store that has a substantial Latin section for Spanish customers, I see tons of cartel, ranchero and India Maria films. Is there no room for Mexican horror films? With English subtitles, please.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Dynamics of the CasaNegra Failure

The failure of CasaNegra to succeed in a line of classic Mexican horror films gives rise to speculation about what, if anything, the company did wrong, but chiefly (in my mind) about the viability of Mexican horror in the American and even international market.

Regarding CasaNegra itself, the company did get the attention of many horror fans and nutured a positive and in many cases enthusiastic response to its releases, consistently receiving high marks for the quality and presentation of its films. The company even won a Rondo Award for best DVD company of 2006. While I can complain about the commentaries that were included on its initial releases (needless commentaries because of the lack of familiarity and knowledge of Mexican horror and its filmmakers) and that one awful cover for The Man and the Monster (a cover that in itself pointed to a desperate, last ditch attempt to gain a greater consumer response), I can't point to any one thing that CasaNegra did wrong that would have effected its releases negatively in the marketplace.

Which leads to the critical issue: Is Mexican horror sellable here in the United States?

I believe that it's not. At least not sellable enough to justify significant expenditure on the acquisition of prime prints and the production of sterling Criterion-like releases. At it's not just CasaNegra that has met a depressing fate when releasing Mexican films to the American market. A few years ago Kit Parker tried to establish a DVD line of Mexican classics for VCI, including a series of Santo films, that petered out after a couple of releases. More recently BCI tried to interest consumers with an Aztec Mummy box set and several Mexican horrors, an endeavor that also didn't produce notable financial results.

The bottom line is that the general horror audience in America, let alone the American public, is not really that interested in Mexican horror films, old or new, in black-and-white or in color, unless a Mexican horror film makes it big in theaters, such as some of the films coming from Guillermo del Toro. The sadder fact is that even in Mexico, Mexican horror films are not hot or lukewarm items. As in the United States, they tend to be ignored by the masses, as they are ignored in the rest of the world. (A DVD company in France, Bach Films, introduced a line of Mexican horror classics, almost the same one released by CasaNegra here in the States, to disappointing results.)

Despite our affection for these films, we must realize that they are niche product at this time, far distant from the days (in many cases almost fifty years ago!) when they were popular, either in theaters or on TV. Time moves forward, and the attention of newer generations is focused on so many other things and not, obviously, on Mexican horror films.

What is to be done to rectify this situation? And are we, the fans of these films, doomed to view Mexican horror films through murky bootlegs that lack the English subtitles so many of us desperately need?

Regarding the first question, the most that can be done is to continue what we've been doing--watching these films, talking about them, spreading the good word and supporting endeavors that further promote Mexican horror.

Regarding authorized releases of Mexican horror in the United States, with English subtitles, it still is possible for some company to take an admitted risk to acquire rights to release Mexican horror films, but such a company can't give in to exorbitant demands on the part of the Mexican rights owners, nor should they be too concerned about making sure that the elements are in sterling condition. Cutting unnecessary financial costs would be crucial. A US DVD company could also make attempts to work with Mexican DVD companies, so that both can produce and market DVDs that do have a passionate, albeit small audience. Mexican DVD companies that do on occasion release a Mexican horror film (usually with lucha libre legends) could be solicited to make sure those releases have optional English subtitles, and then those releases could be exported to the United States.

Something may just click, and Mexican horror could become reasonably popular, enough so as to justify the expenditure and time spent on producing such DVDs. Perhaps a patron or patrons can be found--a person or persons with ready capital, for whom being in the red on such releases wouldn't matter much, and who could get satisfaction at the promotion and archiving of an important and fascinating catalog of films, films that we'll never see the likes of again and which addressed a country's entertainment and spiritual needs, as well as our own.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The End of CasaNegra

The first word came on the DVD Maniacs message board on August 12. Poster Thomas Hart informed the board that he heard from Synapse honcho Don May Jr at the Horrorfind Convention that Panik House and its sub-label CasaNegra Entertainment were out of business. News spread quickly to other message boards, and the news was confirmed on the Classic Horror Film Board, where Monsters From the Vault publisher Jim Clatterbaugh, who is preparing a special Mexican horror-themed issue of his magazine, admitted that he knew about CasaNegra's troubles for a while, but needed to keep silent.

I saw this coming for several months--first when I saw this in a NY Times article on niche DVD companies:

As independent retailers dwindle, larger chains focused more on mainstream titles seem to “control and set the arbitrary taste for the entire market,” said Matt Kennedy, former president of Panik House Entertainment, which specializes in international genre movies like “The Curse of the Crying Woman” and “The Pinky Violence Collection. Not getting a title into one of these stores can be the death of a small label, but so can getting one in. If you get an order for 40,000 titles and only sell 4,000 because it was left boxed in the back, misfiled by category or never entered into inventory, it can mean bankruptcy.”

Aside from the despairing information, I noted that Matt Kennedy was now the "former president" of Panik House. Something clearly was up.

Then, the remaining head of the company, Michael Liuzza, posted a message on the Latarnia boards stating that CasaNegra should not be thought of as just a company releasing Mexican horror films, that it's aims were wider, and hinting that future product would reflect this.

I knew what that signified: Despite all the acclaim, CasaNegra's Mexican horror releases had not been as successful in the marketplace as hoped. They were, in fact, money losers when taking into account how much they cost to acquire from their rights owner, Alameda Films. Michael's statement about the label expanding had a feeling of a prospectus to me, and I easily pictured such a thing being planned out to save a small DVD company in trouble.

I have heard recently that Michael was indeed trying to find investors to breathe life back into CasaNegra. It seems that effort has failed.

This leaves two films waiting in the wings--The World of the Vampires and The Living Head. While one shouldn't cry about not seeing the latter film actualized as a definitive DVD, the former is one of the wildest and most entertaining rides in the Mexican horror filmography.

I think there is still a possibility, however slim, that CasaNegra may rise again. One shouldn't give up hope. And, unless CasaNegra never acquired the elements for Vampires and Living Head, it still could be possible for the company to sell the films to another company (taking a loss, of course), who could then issue them on DVD.

Various questions arise out of the failure of CasaNegra. I'll try to address these in my next post.