As a little girl growing up in Taos, New Mexico, Monica Cogan sat on her Catholic grandmother’s lap and listened to stories of Spanish folklore. “They usually had lessons attached,” she explained. 

One of the stories was The Curse of La Llorona—the Weeping Woman—about a woman trapped between heaven and hell by her misdeeds. After catching her husband with another woman, in a jealous rage, she drowned their two children. Realizing the horror of what she had just done, she hurled herself after them. Now, it is told, she roams the earth trying to replace her lost children by kidnapping others. 

“My grandmother was a spiritual leader in the family and made sure everything led back to the Church,” Cogan said. “She would point out the back story—they were not following the Church and ended up doing bad things.” Cogan now lives in Minnesota with her husband and their children, a daughter 21 and son 17. “My white friends never heard of La Llorona but everyone in the Hispanic community knows this story,” she said. “I honestly thought it was real when I was a girl. Children were told stories so we would follow the rules.” By college, she and her friends would joke with one another, “Be careful, I hear La Llorona is out there.”

 

Modern Version

Warner Brothers has updated this legend in a horror movie, The Curse of La Llorona. The Weeping Woman comes back in 1973 in Los Angeles and into the life of social worker, Anna Tate-Garcia, a widowed mother of two young children. When making a social work visit to the home of Patricia Velasquez, she mistakenly thinks that finding her two young sons in a closet is abusive. As a result, Anna has the boys taken into protective custody. Patricia was actually protecting them from La Llorona, who was then able to get them. And now, Anna’s own children are marked. As things become desperate, she begs for help from a former priest, Rafael Olvera, who agrees to join forces with her against evil. 

Will Cogan go to see the movie? Probably not. She told me she doesn’t like scary movies. I also usually avoid them although I’ve made a few exceptions for movie reviews and to accompany my teenage children once. I have not seen this movie one and am not planning on it. However, I used to think horror movies were a bad idea for everyone. I learned from interviewing exorcists that if good is portrayed as good and evil as evil, that is better than watching movies portraying immoral behavior as good. Also, in horror movies, forces of good work together to defeat evil and Catholic priests are usually depicted as heroes. 

 

Msgr. Rossetti Comments 

In an interview with Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti, author, expert on priestly spirituality and wellness issues, and research associate professor at the Catholic University, he warned that Hollywood typically presents misleading ideas. Although he personally does not like horror movies, Msgr. Rossetti said people should realize that they are meant for entertainment and they should not assume Hollywood accurately represents the supernatural or Catholicism. 

“Often Satan is portrayed as being as powerful as God or more so, and thus people are terrified, thinking we should be afraid of Satan,” he explained. “Yes, the Lord has allowed the devil some limited power on this earth for a short period of time, but God is all powerful.”

According to Msgr. Rossetti, the devil tempts us, but in most cases, people are not physically hurt except in extraordinary circumstances, usually for suffering souls who accept it. “People should not be terrified of Satan; he is a creature of God,” he said. “Fear comes from an overemphasis on his power.”

Msgr. Rossetti said that the idea in the legend of La Llorona — that a spirit could take away children — is nonsense. “The Church has not formally taught about ghosts and a lot of people believe in them,” he explained. But, according to him, if souls are trapped here, then they would need prayers to move on. “The ghost described in La Llorona,” he said, “is acting like a demon with a violent hatred for humans and with power to steal children. We do not believe in such things.” 

La Llorona opens in theaters April 19. It is rated R for “terror and violence,” so it is not suitable for children.