Apparently the first horror film from Panama, this ramshackle gore movie – which joins Jeepers Creepers II in the exclusive category of bus horror films – features some local lore (the llorona variant la Tulivera), some riffs on exploitation horror classics (cannibals out of an Italian movie c 1980), a lot of local colour (the ‘diablo rojo’ of the title is a disreputable, gaudily-decorated private bus of a type once popular in Panama – making this sort of a crossbreed of The Titfield Thunderbolt and The Devil’s Rain), and telenovela-like soap operatics that often have characters take a breather between scenes in which they are menaced or mauled by monsters, witches or cannibal tribesmen to recite their interlocking backstories or dredge up legends told by their old grandmothers.
Miguel Moreno (Miguel Carrasco), a veteran bus driver who has a dope-smoking punk sidekick apprentice (Julian Urriola) aboard his diablo rojo and an idealised portrait of his old girlfriend Josefina painted on the side. One night ride out of the city into the backwoods, which drags along a couple of disposable cops (Renan Fernandez, Blas Valois) and a priest (Leo Wiznitzer), finds Miguel re-encountering Josefina (Alejandra Arauz), a suicide transformed into the monstrous (and impressively bizarre-looking) la Tulivieja because she abandoned her newborn baby to the river then regretted it and is cursed to haunt rivers searching for the kid … who, as it happens, has been rescued by a coven of man-hating witches who have raised Melida (Natalia Beluche) to seek revenge on her father for ditching her mother when he went off to the city to make his fortune as a bus driver and never came back. In an interesting twist, the two women in Miguel’s life who have transformed into vengeance-seeking monsters aren’t entirely acting together – and have different agendas, which leads to a gruesome encounter in the climax. In an inventive stroke, the coven stride into a river to claim a victim only for the priest to bless the waters and bring about a mass meltdown – all gloop and eyeballs scratched off skulls amid much wailing and tearing of hair.
Directed by J. Oskura Najera (who co-wrote with Adair Dominguez) and Sol Moreno, this has the sort of crudeness which is to be expected from a nascent horror territory – it evokes some of the loopiness of Filipino horror in the 1960s or Bollywood horror anytime – and some lapses in plot and character, plus an unwillingness to mute with the misogyny evident in the premise of unrestrained man-hating nightmare harridans, but its flaws are part and parcel of the energy that makes it a more powerful, interesting effort than many a sleeker, more thought-through, straight-ahead zombie or torture picture.