For decades, Latin American narcos have captured the imagination of filmmakers the world over. From sensationalist documentaries to fictionalized festival faves like Heli or Miss Bala, and more recently to Netflix series like Narcos, the violence, excess, and romanticism of narco lifestyle never cease to captivate audiences. But for thousands of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, narco entertainment often comes in the form of no-budget, direct-to-video schlock-fests known in Spanish as “videohomes” (yes, we know that’s technically English.)
The digital video offspring of Mexico’s post-Golden Age lowbrow ficheras cinema, these narco b-movies employ simple plot lines free of nuance or subtext, orgies of gun violence, deep sexual undertones, and lavish criminal lifestyles to satisfy working-class audiences who often don’t have the economic means to enjoy a night out at the cinema. This cheap exploitation fare is usually produced on a budget of less than $10,000 and churned out like industrial sausage for a modest but guaranteed profit, while the stories tend to paint murderous traficantes as Robin Hood-like figures living a life of glory, danger, and material wealth.
Of course you’re thinking that these films are obviously funded by the narcos, but naturally no one has established a clear link between the two. In fact, impresarios like Juan Manuel Romero of the Orange-county based production house JC Films insist that the money comes out of their own pocket, and that the sensationalist narratives of narco-heroes are innocently based off of narcocorridos by conjuntos like Los Tucanes de Tijuana and Los Tigres del Norte. On the other hand, canonical videohome actors like Mario Almada and Jorge Reynoso have spoken in no uncertain terms about the inevitable connections between organized crime and this multimillion dollar industry.
These modest films are actually so popular that they can be purchased at borderland Walmart stores and even seen on Spanish-language television stations like Los Angeles’ channel 62. In fact, back in 2010 the Mexican newspaper El Universal actually declared that narco videohomes were more profitable than Mexico’s national film industry.
But just in case you’ve never had the pleasure of catching one of these Tarantino-worthy monuments to rampant delinquency, we’ve put together a little starter guide for you whet your palette. Check ’em out.