The Toilet Zone: Mexico’s “Hora Marcada”
Even though the invention of color televisión has been credited to a Mexican (Guillermo González Camarena), the use of the medium itself in Mexico hasn’t been recognized as revolutionary. Although there are some well-known comedians and journalists who have created transcendental work that has become recognized internationally, most of what Mexican network television offers is telenovelas, talk shows, variety shows, comedy shows, foreign TV and remakes. Very little in the way of quality narrative programming.
However, every now and then a new show appears to stir things up a little, something that perhaps cannot compete with the best American television has to offer but that can leave a mark of its own. One such show was La Hora Marcada. A sci-fi and horror show with an anthological focus (think Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt) it told a variety of stories and became home and sort of a training ground for some of the filmmakers that would go on to become internationally acclaimed and renowned: Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, Emmanuel Lubezki among others.
In terms of budget and technical aspects, Hora Marcada isn’t that different from the telenovelas that were being made at the time and that are still being made (although that has slightly changed); it was shot on hazy-looking video with little to no special effects. But this show itself is a testament to how even low budget productions with all the technical limitations possible can still be something memorable and interesting.
In Cuarón’s episode No Retornable, one can see his early style starting to develop through the use of greens and warm cinematography for which he’d be recognized in Sólo con tu Pareja, A Little Princess and Great Expectations. Cuarón’s direction stands out through the video format, using very creative camera techniques such as tracking shots, dolly-ins and a sense of composition, light and color that not even modern Mexican shows shot on High Definition have managed to match. In terms of the stories, all of these could be different or even adapted. In an interview with Charlie Rose made in 2006, Del Toro told a story about how when he first met Cuarón in the show’s office he told him that his story for A Veces Regresan was stolen from Stephen King, to which Cuarón replied without any remorse: “Yes.”
The 20-minute episode heavily condenses King’s tale, zeroing in its focus on a man trying to protect his daughter from the murderers of his childhood best friend who’ve now come back as ghosts. No Retonable, another episode helmed by Cuarón tells a horror body switch story of a young man who due to an accident ends up switching his body with that of a serial killer, just in the evening where he has a date with his girlfriend. Del Toro’s Hamburguesas tells of a future where a burger franchise may have dark intentions for both its customers and employees. Basically, this was a show that as long as it was scary, mysterious or even funny, anything went with the legendary Lady in Black serving as the link between all common stories. She was a mysterious figure who could just show up in the background of the story for a few seconds, signifying death as an always present element through time and space.
The many episodes I have watched are enormously entertaining, imaginative and even actually scary. They are not exactly flawless, despite the roster of talented filmmakers involved, many of these used the show as a training ground to go on and do better and bigger things. The lack of budget does show sometimes, the acting can sometimes be painful to watch, and the dialogue isn’t exactly Shakespeare either. In an interview for the Sólo con tu Pareja Criterion DVD, Cuarón joked that him and his filmmaker friends used to call it “The Toilet Zone” due to the low budget and overall quality of the program. But while so many telenovelas or shows would fall apart from these flaws, in this case, they bring a certain charm that adds to the endearing quality of Hora Marcada. Since then, some shows like Trece Miedos and others have been shown but have failed to capture even just the pure entertainment value of Hora Marcada despite the higher budget and the technological advancements in TV-making that have appeared since.
Unfortunately, the show has fallen victim of the mediocre and careless model of distribution for movies and shows in Mexico; just one box set was released containing a small quantity of episodes, not including many of the episodes that Cuarón, Del Toro or the also renowned Luis Estrada directed. However, many can be found on YouTube in very poor but watchable quality. Here’s hoping that Televisa or whoever holds the rights can release a proper DVD set so new generations can discover and enjoy the show, and for those who are fans of Cuarón, Estrada, Del Toro or the many artists who got their start working their show can learn, be inspired and have a fun night binge-watching through this cult-favorite show.