Borderland (2007) – WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie?

WTF Really Happened looks at the true story behind the 2007 horror movie Borderland, starring Rider Strong and Sean Astin

Last Updated on April 25, 2024

We have discussed killers that received slasher movies, folklore turned cannibalism, and plenty of possession via person, home, or even object. What we haven’t done too much of is the good old-fashioned cult. While we took a deep dive into Jim Jones and the tragedy of Jonestown paired with the very well-done Sacrament, there are a ton of real-life cults and cult leaders that have been put to celluloid in an attempt to both cash in and tell a compelling story. I mean, I’m writing this right now on the couch while my wife watches a documentary about a cult on Netflix. True crime and religious cult stuff exist in popular forms like podcasts, shows, and of course movies too. Today we will look at two things that don’t get a lot of widespread attention. The 2007 horror movie Borderland (watch it HERE) and what it is loosely inspired by; Adolfo Constanzo and his very real and very shocking cult of Narcosatanists. The film is known to be only partially based on the cult but how far did they go? Check your passport and don’t separate from your friends as we find out what REALLY happened to Borderland.

Borderland was released on March 11th, 2007, at the South by Southwest film festival and was distributed by After Dark as part of their 2007 version of their 8 Films to Die For series that ran a few years in the mid 2000s. We’ve recently talked about this as the director of Best Horror Movie You Never Saw Stake Land was part of the same year’s lineup with his movie Mulberry Street. The production company, EFO, has a larger list going for it than you would expect and much like a lot of the movies I discuss on the channel, I saw this and a lot of their other movies as they showed up in my shipments of new movies while working at Blockbuster. I watched this and all the other 8 Films to Die For that came in as horror was and still is my go-to genre. I don’t have any other numbers to report for it as it only got that theatrical showing at SXSW but I know my store got about 10 copies so I’m sure it was rented a decent amount during its release. It’s budget is another thing I can’t find but it walks a nice line between looking good and being shot on a budget. Its crew both in front of and behind the camera is very interesting too.

The movie was directed by Zev Berman. If you aren’t sure who that is, don’t feel bad. He only has one short and two features to his name with today’s movie and something called Briar Patch or Plain Dirty depending on the film’s cover. That starred Henry Thomas, Dominique Swain, and Karen Allen and I have vague memories of using one of my 10 weekly rentals on it. HE does a good job with direction on this one and the only thing that is irksome are the filters used that we discussed before are just part and parcel with movies of this era. The screenwriter is Eric Poppen who has 4 total credits and one that I think Lance and I would thoroughly enjoy called Cyber Jack with Michael Dudikoff and Brion James looking particularly Gary Busey like. While neither had much to speak of before or after Borderland, it’s a decent watch and a well done movie.

In front of the camera, we have a more well-known group of folks. The main 3 friends are played by Brian Pressly, Jake Muxworthy, and Rider Strong. While Pressly and Muxworthy don’t have a lot of recognizable credits, Strong to a group at a certain age, could have been the best friend you wanted or wanted to help as Shaun from Boy Meets World. While he is a TV staple, his career has been up and down, and his other main horror entry is the better-known Cabin Fever from Eli Roth. Martha Higareda joins the group and even though I first noticed her in Netflix’s Altered Carbon, she has had a heck of a career, and I definitely noticed her in things like Smokin Aces 2. Damian Alcazar plays the haunted ex-cop and has had the longest career of anyone here while showing up in big recent movies like Blue Beetle. Finally, in a bit of “is that who I think it is” casting, Sean Astin shows up as one of the cult members. Astin has been around forever and shown up in nearly every single genre.

Borderland (2007) – WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie?

Borderland opens with two police officers searching an abandoned house only to find graphic remains of both humans and animals before being captured by cult members who warn them that jails cannot hold them and to stop trying to find them. To make their point perfectly clear they graphically cut up and murder one of the officers and leave the other one, Ulises, shocked and alive to send a message. A year later we are introduced to our three undergrad friends Ed, Henry, and Phil who are planning one more go around and head to Mexico from their hometown of Galveston Texas. When they get there, they meet a friendly bartender named Valeria who patches up Ed after he gets stabbed trying to be a nice guy. They all take mushrooms and head to a carnival to get away from it all and Phil is kidnapped by the same cult that we saw with the two police officers.

(Factometer 25%) The bulk of the movie’s story is just that, a story to move the plot along with multiple characters for us to root for. The ideas that the story are primarily based on, however, have a bit of truth to them. The film cult is based on the real-life cult of the narcosatanists or Los Narcossatanicos. That cult was led by real life serial killer, drug dealer, cult leader, and all-around bad dude Adolfo Constanzo. The other part of the story that rings very true is the kidnapping of a young man from Texas. Phil in the movie is a stand in for real life Mark Kilroy who was from Illinois but was a student out of the University of Texas at Austin. He was kidnapped in Mexico during his spring break from school. There wasn’t a police revenge story or a group of students and a bar tender finding themselves involved, however.

The rest of the group wakes up, some of them in the hotel they were staying in, but Phil wakes up tied to a wall in an undisclosed location. The other guys start their journey to look for their friend and they see Ulises from earlier looking disheveled and lost, trying to convince the other police of what he saw and what they need to do but of course they turn a blind eye. The group starts asking around and is able to find bits and pieces of information to lead them to various breadcrumbs but not much else. Phil is able to briefly escape but is captured and warned that it’s only going to get worse for him. We are also introduced to our main cult leader and drug dealer named Santillan who looks like he makes a lot of money off of the drugs.

(Factometer 50%) There was a rest of the group to speak of in terms of Mark Killroy’s friends or family being down there with him when he was taken. He was with his childhood friend Bradley Moore and later Bill Huddleston and Brent Martin. Huddleston was walking towards Kilroy who was waiting for him before he ducked down an alley to pee. When he came back out, Kilroy was gone, and the group never saw him again. The cult leader Santillian is based on the real life Constanzo who was also a drug dealer and felt that the murders helped conceal his team and move the drugs easier.

Henry is shot in the neck by the cult enforcers and decides he doesn’t have it in him to stay and help Phil. Santillian meets Phil and explains why he needs his brains and that the locals just won’t do. He begins to torture and prepare him for the sacrifice while Ulises explains to the rest of the group what is happening to their friend and that he is going to go after the cult himself. Henry and one of Valeria’s friends are killed brutally by the cult and so Valeria and Ed go with Ulises for some good old-fashioned vengeance. Sadly, they are too late as Phil has his head shaved, his tongue bitten out, and he is strung up to bleed to death before they harvest his body parts.

Borderland (2007) – WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie?

(Factometer 25%) This portion of Borderland is just pulp and horror to create tension as thankfully none of Killroy’s friends were harmed in any way. What happened to poor Mark is worse than what we see in the movie, too. He was tortured and even sexually assaulted by the cult before hand and then killed with a blow from a machete before having his spine and brain removed, his limbs chopped off, and his body buried on the ranch grounds with the other bodies the cult used.

Ulises ends up killing Santillian but dies due to his injuries a short time later. The remainder of the cult then go after the final two heroes who make a last stand in the house they have. The cult fails or flees, including Sen Astins character who is the last notable villain left and Valeria along with Ed are broken but victorious over the group. There is a text to end the movie that explains that drugs were found in cauldrons along with human hair. One of the cult members was stopped at a blockade and claimed that the cult’s magic made him invisible to detection and that over 50 bodies were found on the property with brains and spinal cord removed. The case apparently remains open with Valeria and Ed escaping vis the Rio Grande and being found by authorities.

(Factometer 25%) Well, I mean, no. None of the last stand stuff happened with anyone nor was the cult leader killed by a vengeance seeking ex-cop. The real Constanzo ended up having one of his own men kill him when the police found him, and he accidently started a gunfight. The ranch was exhumed, and they found parts up to 26 bodies though only 16 murders were confirmed. Many members of the cult were arrested and the story about one of the cult members being stopped and saying he was invisible is absolutely fact with one of the real life members being stopped during the day crossing the border with drugs but claiming he and the drugs were invisible.

The true story of the murder of Mark Killroy and the drug cartel of Adolfo Constanzo has been covered in multiple documentaries but only attempted once on film. Borderland adds a lot of fiction but brings just enough fact to be chillingly real. Seek out Borderland as it’s a good, underseen horror film but look up the facts at your own risk.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To check out the other shows we have on the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel, head over to the channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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