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Spirits, Spooks and Scares are Afoot in Mexico with Vacation of Terror I and II

Feature Presentations: Episode 90

Welcome to this column dedicated to my appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Vacation of Terror I & II from Vinegar Syndrome.

The Blu-ray cover for Vacation of Terror I and II

I’ve spent multiple articles diving into the eclectic mix of cinematic excursions that Vinegar Syndrome offers. It could be a straight-to-video Scanners sequel to little-seen head-banging zombies and even an unfinished ninja film from the mid-80s. Vinegar Syndrome knows no bounds with what they put to disc. And for me, unfamiliar with much of their output, discovering movies I’ve never heard of elicits emotions from me two-fold: the excitement of something new and the trepidation of Vinegar Syndrome’s questionable choices. And this leads me to Vacation of Terror I and II.

When I heard that Vinegar Syndrome was releasing a one-two punch of Mexican horror, I went in with an eyebrow raised and a glimmer of hope in my heart. Venturing into such an unknown Vinegar Syndrome release, my blood pressure rose slightly, unsure of what awaited. Thankfully, after burning through both movies in one evening, I’m happy to report that Vacation of Terror I and II exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations.

The first entry tells the tale of a man who inherits a vacation house in the country. He, his family, and his daughter’s boyfriend, Julio (knowledgeable in occultism), head up to spend the weekend, even though they never went before to verify there was power or water, whatever, it’s all semantics. Throughout the film’s runtime, the family suffers low-budget hauntings, visions, and possessions. While far from scary, and the script feels more like a sketched-out idea than a fully fleshed-out script, there’s an undeniable charm and likeability with Vacation of Terror I.

The second entry, Vacation of Terror II, strives to go bigger but loses a bit of the charm of the first movie. Julio returns, looking to stop a demonic force unleashed during a child’s birthday party. Vacation of Terror II is grander with the movie’s locations and adds additional makeup effects to top the first film. There are still some qualities here and there, but the sequel’s attempts to go bigger lose some of the enjoyment I felt with Vacation of Terror I.

Mayra stands in a makeshift cemetery looking up.

Similar to the Hot Snake / Guns and Guts double-feature Vinegar Syndrome released in 2022, Vacation of Terror I and II comes packaged on a one-disc set. The release features a slipcover featuring newly-commissioned designs for both films—same goes for the art wrap.

The first feature on the disc is an interview with actors Gianella Hassel and Gabriella Hassel. The two sisters recount their time on set filming Vacation of Terror I and their thoughts all these years later. Both speak fondly of the production, being young, and the joyful exuberance each experienced as a youth. Gianella, the younger sister, discusses how director René Cardona III brought her on board while Gabriella chats positively about her character arc. Both women are grateful for their part in the film’s production and have nothing but positivity to speak about.

Composer Eugenio Castillo sits down to discuss his work on Vacation of Terror I. This short and sweet interview traces Castillo’s work before this film, how a meeting with a producer sparked interest in the project, and his work post-Vacation of Terror I. Castillo discusses how he composed the score for a film with “wall-to-wall” music and the tight deadline he needed to meet. As with the prior discussion, Castillo speaks highly of the finished product and the film’s longevity.

“Backlot Rats” is an interview with Vacation of Terror I actors Carlos East Jr. and Ernesto East. The two brothers discuss working on the Vacation of Terror I set and offer their thoughts with a slightly different perspective. René Cardona III and Carlos and Ernesto’s father were close, and they consider the director part of their family. Their father worked in the film industry, translating to their kids’ lives. As with the other interviews, there’s a joy to their voice when discussing their work on the film. They recall filming certain scenes, the film’s premiere, and their continued work in the entertainment industry—including the movies Black Panther and Shazam! If I had a quibble: their microphones would appear to fluctuate between on and off throughout the interview. It doesn’t torpedo what Carlos and Ernesto have to say; it’s just something to be wary of.

The last interview on the disc is with Vacation of Terror I special effects artist Jorge Farfan. Early on, Farfan mentions that he does not like discussing how he produces effects, as it ruins the magic, but thankfully does give some insight into his work on the film. He discusses a handful of the film’s set pieces including the bleeding walls and a character vanishing into a mirror. Farfan also touches upon his and Cardona’s families working together throughout the years and how he approaches budgeting effects within a film.

Gaby holds a doll in her hands as she stares ahead.

And there you have it! Vacation of Terror I and II are not high-end horror masterpieces, but each film is enjoyable enough and an excellent way to make your way into Mexican horror. While Vacation of Terror II gets the short end of the straw for the bonus features on this disc, the first film features a hearty helping of interviews. This release from Vinegar Syndrome won’t set the world on fire, but if you keep your expectations in check, it’s a nice little set for those seeking a spooky trip south of the border.

Written by Robert Chipman

Robert is a lifelong cinephile and has had an admiration with film for as long as he can remember. When he's not checking out the most recent theatrical release, viewing a movie on one of a 1,000,000,000 streaming services or picking up the latest physical media disc, he's trying and failing to make it in Hollywood as a screenwriter. He also has a weird fascination with Stephen Dorff. Make of that what you will. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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