In 1948, legendary Mexican filmmaker Ismael Rodriguez directed the poverty melodrama “Nosotros Los Pobres”. In Pobres, we are told a sappy story of the struggles of working-class people in Mexico. They struggle so much in the movie but in the end it all works out for everyone. A big fucking happy ending for all. Fast forward to 1987 and Ismael Rodriguez’s son of the same name also directs a poverty melodrama of sorts, but this was far different than the epic 1940’s movie. Olor De Muerte ("Smell Of Death") is the title of the movie and it truly lives up to its name since the movie reeks of death from beginning to end. No mercy for anyone here—even when we feel the characters have suffered enough. This was the reality of poverty & the system failing these people. Particulary the young people whom end up in street gangs.
Olor A Muerte opens up with 3 charred-up bodies lined up in a morgue and the the story that lead to their untimely demises is told to the press by a young doctor and a social worker whom knew the 3 young deceased.
The first cadaver introduced is a young boy named “Nacho” whom has trouble learning in school and rather than getting him proper tutoring—his parents scold him to learn and bluntly think he’s “retarded”. Nacho overhears his parents saying they want to put him in a mental facility and right away Nacho runs away to live amongst the street gang “Los Chemos”. Los Chemos are a street gang that sniff glue, partake in petty crimes & narcotic sales and are truly making a name for themselves and so much that it pisses off their rivals “Los Pachecos”; a far more sinister & serious street gang lead by “El Roger” (Arturo Vazquez). Los Chemos immediately take in Nacho since they’re already acquainted with him and know of his intellectual struggles thus dubbing him “Mensito” (little dummy). Later on in the movie, Mensito has his eye poked out by El Roger. A brutal warning sign to Los Chemos.
The 2nd cadaver in the morgue is identified as “Margarita”—a teenage girl who is assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend and rather than dumping the man; Margarita’s mother throws her own daughter out of the house. Margarita then meets up with Nacho and he introduces her to Los Chemos’ leader “Victor” whom comes from a very broken home and is the 3rd body in the morgue. Victor has Margarita prostitute herself as a way provide extra income for the gang since according to Los Chemos; all she can offer to anyone is her own body. A young medical doctor named Salvador and a social worker named Piedad try to help out Los Chemos since they understand their struggles & the systems around are failing them—but Los Chemos of course dismiss them and continue to cause trouble all around. On a gloomy evening, Los Chemos rob a dance school for girls and proceed to assault some of the students there as well. They leave writings on the walls claiming to be Los Pachecos and this of course causes much annoyance to the Pachecos and declare war on Los Chemos for framing them for the robbery & assaults.
Olor A Muerte is a movie with no mercy since everyone in this movie suffers and never stops suffering to the point where they either die or face hard consequences. The characters here are either victims of a system failing them, victims of drug & alcohol abuse and victims of sexual assaults. It’s all fucked up sounding–but it is the kind of world we live in where such atrocities do happen and this movie portrays it all. It’s an “eye-opener” as they say.
But aside from the movie being so depressing, ugly & mean—Olor A Muerte is a very entertaining movie since it’s chuck-full of street gang violence & brutality and the final fight scenes between Los Chemos & Los Pachecos are truly amazing since there's so much hand to hand combat & even some explosions. And of course a great cast makes the movie even more great and we are treated with the talents of Fernando Manzano, Gilberto Trujillo, Alma Delfina, Arturo Vazquez and María José Garrido. The late Carmen Salinas also appears in the movie in a minor role, but it’s a very memorable one since her character is a promiscuous pot dealer in the neighborhood. Valentin Trujillo also appears in the movie in a very minor role, but like Salinas it’s a memorable one too since he plays an angered father who’s daughter was assaulted by Los Chemos and wants to kill them all.
Olor A Muerte takes its inspirations of gangs & poor people from the Mexico City area “Tacubaya” during the 1980’s. While I can’t say it’s a fairly well portrayal—it does however seem to have approval of people familiar with what was going over there in those days and many people from all around Mexico & the United States adore this movie. People still talk about Olor A Muerte and enjoy it so much. It’s clearly the best movie Ismael Rodriguez Jr ever made and it’s not to say he didn’t make other amazing movies because he really did—but Olor A Muerte really stuck to people and it deserves all the hype it got back then and the hype it continues to get to this very day.