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Netflix takes on the chupacabra, a mythological creature from Latin American lore

A new film from Netflix that features an icon of Mexican and Latin American mythology debuts Friday. But the movie “Chupa” departs quite a bit from traditional lore.

“Chupa” is Jonás Cuarón’s latest film. The movie tells the story of a Kansas City teenager who discovers a young chupacabra while visiting his grandfather in Mexico. 

The chupacabra is a mythological creature known for feeding on the blood of livestock, such as chickens and goats. Its Spanish name translates literally to “goatsucker.” 

The creature’s legend has origins in Puerto Rico and Mexico. But over the years, sightings have crept into Texas and the southwestern United States.    

Joel Palka is an anthropology professor at Arizona State University. He has researched Mexican and Central American folklore since the 1980s. 

“It's very interesting timing, because all around Latin America in the 1990s is when people were talking about chupacabras. So it's almost like there was a producer or a writer or somebody that remembered chupacabra lore from the nineties and decided to make a kids’ movie, it seems, or they’re looking for an idea to make a kids movie,” he said.

That ’90s kid is Cuarón, the film’s director. He’s talked about growing up with the chupacabra legend as it began to spread across Latin America.

Depictions of the blood-sucker include an upright, alien-like creature with large eyes, hands and fangs — or a large, hairless dog with large teeth. 

But the film deviates from the traditional chupacabra. “Chupa” presents a small, furry puppy with wings and a playful demeanor. This has Palka stumped. 

“I don’t understand this current take on the chupacabra myth either because back in the day, chupacabra was exactly what the name means in Spanish, it was a goat blood sucker. They’re nasty looking creatures. This is a big shift essentially to go from a monster, a horrifying creature that was terrorizing barnyard animals all around Latin America, plus people walking around at night, to having like a child’s pet,” he said.

First reported in the mid-1990s, Palka says the legend of the chupacabra spread quickly across Latin America.

“Sometimes people just create these fantastic stories about seeing something else, right? They think they saw or believe they saw another creature, not a wolf, attacking their goats or sheep, but something like an alien. Then all of a sudden other people start believing it, too.” he said.

Palka himself is still skeptical about the chupacabra’s existence.

“I’m out in rural areas and urban areas throughout Latin America. I welcome any kind of sighting of anything,” he said. “I don’t believe it, I haven’t seen any really strong evidence of the existence of this kind of animal, at least the way it’s depicted in Latin America as this goat sucking goblin alien looking creature. I always welcome any kind visits by any mythological being. But so far I haven’t had the luck.”

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Nick Sanchez is a senior producer for KJZZ's The Show. He joined the station as an intern during the spring of 2022, where he developed a passion for audio storytelling in the Valley.