in development: Where is Juan Moctezuma?
A dramatic mockumentary that investigates the life of legendary 70s Mexican horror film auteur, Juan F. Moctezuma II, who fought to establish himself and Mexico in the world of film to ultimately win the heart of his one true love. However, at the precipice of finishing his masterpiece film that would be his grand romantic gesture, he mysteriously disappeared. By the end, we learn the tragic outcome of a man who would not face reality, but instead lived in a doomed fantasy of his own creation.
This “documentary” looks at the Mexican horror genre and specifically the films of director Juan F. Moctezuma II. The 60s – 80s were a low point in quality and quantity for Mexican cinema, except for one unknown Mexican horror director with a short-lived career who paved the way for Guillermo del Toro, Cuarón, Iñárritu, and others. Juan Francisco Moctezuma II was poised to be the auteur director that Mexico yearned for in the 70s. Instead, he disappeared, midway through filming his last known film, “1000 Paths of Death” (1978). Moctezuma and the film were championed by producer Roger Corman, known for launching the careers of great filmmakers and actors like Coppola, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, and Jack Nicholson.
Reels and story boards from this legendary missing film, “1000 Paths of Death” have recently emerged. For Alaric (a character version of myself), the horror film aficionado and documentarian, already in the process of restoring Moctezuma’s other films, this reel is a huge missing piece to the puzzle of where and why he disappeared all those years ago and turns his investigation into a documentary.
Through interviews with Mexican and horror film directors, film scholars, and people who knew Moctezuma we learn that Moctezuma’s muse and ultimately his downfall was his childhood sweetheart, Lisandra Tena, who starred in his second film, “Una mujer sin precio/A Priceless Woman” (1961). Lisandra wanted desperately to be a movie star, and Moctezuma wanted nothing more than to be making movies with and for Lisandra. Moctezuma loved Lisandra deeply and wanted to deliver her dream so that he could achieve his dream to live happily ever after with Lisandra as husband and wife, and creative collaborators. However, on the set of “A Priceless Woman” Lisandra flirted with her co-star, a Mexican Luchador (masked wrestler), El Escorpión. In the 60s and 70s a Mexican film was a guaranteed successes with a Luchador in the movie. Moctezuma begrudgingly agreed to cast El Escorpión in the movie but when he saw the Luchadore flirting with his love he took revenge by cutting him out of most of the movie. This was a pivotal and detrimental move by Moctezuam. When he betrayed El Escorpión, he wronged the entire Luchador community. Since luchadores and Mexican film were synonymous and the Mexican government controlled the film unions, they had the power to bar Moctezuma from even stepping on a set, let alone directing a film. For the next 17 years Moctezuma clawed his way back into the film world and to Lisandra’s heart to make “1000 Paths of Death” in 1978 constantly under-minded by Lisandra’s now husband, El Escorpión.
Moctezuma returned to Mexico after filming most of “1000 Paths of Death” to entice Lisandra to be in the film. To do so, he would have to wrestle her husband, El Escorpión in a Lucha match! During the match Moctezuma found a moment to reveal himself to Lisandra and offer her the roll in his movie, but she refused. Moctezuma took out his rage on El Escorpión, accidentally knocking him into Lisandra, sending her to the hospital. While in reality it was only a minor bump, El Escorpión used this moment as a publicity stunt and told newspapers that she had died. Privately Lisandra’s life goals had shifted from acting to producing TV and she agreed this stunt would allow her to leave the limelight and start her Azteca TV company.
In his documentary research, Alaric has notices Moctezuma’s last two films, “Demonoid” and, what there is of “1000 Paths of Death” are strongly based on Aztec mythology. Alaric takes a deep dive into the topic, reading as much as possible and visiting the many museums, great and small in Mexico City focused on Aztec lore. It is at one of these small museums, there is an amazing discovery. A prop from one of Moctezuma’s films, “Demonoid” is on display at the museum. Not only that, but the museum attendant directs us to the top of the hill in the park where MOCTEZUMA himself is leading a tour, and sharing his knowledge of the ceremony with tourists! Alaric is ecstatic, practically knocking over the tourists to introduce himself. Moctezuma agrees to meet up after his tour and tell us what really happened all those years ago.
Moctezuma, however, never knew the truth El Escorpión hid from him. Fraught with guilt Moctezuma created a delusion that while filming “Demonoid” with Lisandra for a guest roll, they violated the Aztec demon featured in the film, Itzpapalotl. Moctezuma believes Itzpapalotl really did possess Lisandra and even now holds her spirit captive in the afterlife. The only way Moctezuma can save her is to perform the Aztec new fire ceremony back at the filming location of “Demonoid”in the Sierra Gorda mountains when Pleiades star cluster aligns again in one month.
Moctezuma’s ceremony is lonely and anticlimactic. A few days later, Moctezuma passes.
Having finally put the pieces of Moctezuma’s life together and witnessing his death, Alaric has a complete picture of his story, both the story he lived and the story he fantasized living. Alaric is determined to finish Moctezuma’s masterpiece, “1000 Paths of Death,” as the glamorized, romantic, horror version of Moctezuma’s biography. Ironically the romanticized movie version of Moctezuma’s self-perceived life deals with the loss of Lisandra more maturely than he did in real life. The horror genre, as Moctezuma himself said, allows Moctezuma to process feelings in the fictional movie he couldn’t in real life.
A final review with the friends and fans of Moctezuma, gives a collective sense of peace to all that his legacy as a storyteller will live on, despite the tragic reality that he himself could never bear to confront. We learn the profound truth within Moctezuma’s love for the horror genre in some of his final words,“It allows us to process realities we can’t face in real life in the disguise of monsters. Monsters are the bad guys; we can put all our hate and failings into them without guilt, while in reality we are all a mix of monster and angel.”
Putting together what he has just learned, and stunned by imagination and conviction of Moctezuma’s beliefs and the tragedy of the situation, Alaric feels compelled to release Moctezuma of this delusion and tell him the truth. However, challenging Moctezuma’s delusion causes him to have a heart attack. Moctezuma’s body and soul would rather die than face the possibility that Lisandra didn’t love him.
Alaric visits Moctezuma in the hospital, wracked with guilt. Despite Moctezuma’s failing health, Alaric sees that Moctezuma is resolute, and reluctantly agrees to help him perform the Aztec ceremony. Using his knowledge of Moctezuma’s past and Aztec lore, Alaric tries to gently prepare Moctezuma for disappointment, getting him to think about his legacy, and the ending to “1000 Paths of Death.”
On the surface, Where is Juan Moctezuma? is a nostalgic homage to Mexican horror film and the cultural legacy of forgotten filmmakers — yet at the core, it is a romantic tragedy meant to remind people that no matter what you believe (the story you tell yourself), there is no escaping reality.
Where is Juan Moctezuma? is a mockumentary to captivate audiences into believing Moctezuma and his films are real. Interviewees in the fake documentary will all play character versions of themselves, but not everything in the film will be fake. The fiction is nestled in real history. Moctezuma himself is loosely baed on the real Mexican horror director, Juan Lopez Moctezuma. The Moctezuma films shown in the mockumentary were made to be historically accurate to the years they claim to be made and will provide a tour to the audience as to the history and styles of Mexican cinema before Mexican cinema was mainstream. It is truly a glimpse into an overlooked and forgotten piece of film history. We will also blend true archival footage and images into the film to tell this fantastical story.
The reason for making this as a mockumentary is to intentionally blur those lines between reality and fantasy, as we so often do in our everyday lives. Giving people a thrilling story close enough to reality that it is believable, while building enough mystery and intrigue to give people pause to think for themselves. The horror genre is the ideal place for this type of storytelling, as a genre built on creating abstract reality, based loosely on real human truths. Moctezuma’s character should make audiences truly consider whether this man is real or not and think, “how did I not know about this guy?!” The goal is for people to lean in and seek out answers for themselves, resulting in a more emotional and uniquely memorable experience.