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In this case study I’m going explore the horror series The Outsider from the point of view of someone for whom El Cuco, the antagonist of the series, is not a novelty but more like a memory from childhood.

The Outsider (2020)
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The Outsider 2020


Since it awakened my curiosity that a folklore element that’s not an urban legend could be used as the antagonist of a horror story I checked everything previously related to El Cuco and its equivalents.

The English Wikipedia lists a lot of different origins but in this variation of El Cuco, the character Holly Gibney unequivocally says this one is from the South American branch.

The most important thing I learned from the Wikipedia entry is that in this case, the story is about the Latin American Cuco.

Other mythological beings going by a similar name appear to be unrelated to this one, including the Brazilian versions. These go by names such as Coco, Cucuy, Cuca, and many more.

About Me

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I’m Yarema Levinson, born and raised in a Latin American city that’s one of the top 20 biggest in the world. I review non-Hollywood horror movies of any grade. When it comes to horror series I’m up for any kind of them. It doesn’t matter if they are made from AAA, major, or similar studios. 

Case Study Tags

Horror Series, El Cuco, El Coco, The Coco Man, The Boogeyman, The Outsider, Stephen King

What’s The Outsider About?

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The Outsider touched on a practically forgotten subject that only very seldom I remembered, the topic of El Cuco, or a mental scarecrow that grown people in Latin America use on children to make them behave.

This case study has two objectives, first to analyze how a cultural appropriation of Latin American folklore sits with a Latin American viewer of a horror series. A series, The Outsider, which perpetrates such an appropriation.

To write this case study I first wrote it stream-of-consciousness style and only after I had written my personal experience with El Cuco did I check Wikipedia to examine its El Cuco page.

As soon as I knew that The Outsider was based on a novel by Stephen King I knew I was going to like it. I liked it more than other long-form (horror series/mini-series) Stephen King audiovisual adaptations I watched.

Because it caught my attention I decided to watch the miniseries on Max. Then watched it until the end to see how the approach to the El Cuco being was expressed. To know how the series take related to my mental images of it.

A challenge was when it was revealed that the story was about El Cuco, and the script began delivering packets of underwhelming information about the being.

From the first time in the script when the El Cuco name is dropped on the viewer my expectations shot up in a very unrealistic way.

A Definition of El Cuco

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If I should define El Cuco, from my perspective, it’s not an urban legend/creepypasta/old wives’ tale, but these three things:

  • A creepy Latin American lullaby
  • A name to drop to kids to make them behave
  • An explanation for a child’s fear (personal)

Personal Mental Image of El Cuco

As I write this, I am kind of debating with myself about putting into words the mental picture I got as a child anytime El Cuco was mentioned.

Okay, I’m going to have a go at writing it and I promise you that whatever I write next is going to stay unedited in the final version of this study.

I think that when El Cuco was mentioned I used to see a very hairy (as in very hairy from the top of the head to the soles of the feet), very dark entity that had two very disturbing features.

One of those features was that it had cones or spikes protruding from different parts of the body. That looked kind of similar to what an Imp character from the video game Doom would look like.

The other abnormal and scary feature of El Cuco that I saw in my mind’s eye was that it had a dark, semi-transparent shroud from the top of the head, down. But the shroud didn’t cover it to not let one see the humanoid monstrous features below.

To have a disturbing image of an entity that may or may not be real like the one I had, and then to find a story about it, but approached as a shape-shifter 

Nevertheless, what shocked me was to find a lifetime (or two) after my visions of El Cuco as a child, that the nebulous, dark, dreadful thing I saw in my mind’s eye is an amalgam of the features of various of those entities from all around the world!

In my vision, it had:

  • A veil, like in Goya’s Que Viene el Coco (1799)
  • Spikes, like in the Catalonian mythological monster named “Cuca Fera de Tortosa”.

Testing The Outsider Just as Horror Series

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The Outsider contributes generously to television’s horror series/miniseries tradition. We know by now that the police procedural format goes hand in glove with horror and The Outsider is proof of that.

Besides, in the series, the plot arches and cliffhangers seem to be designed and placed in an optimal, or at least very efficient way. I say this because while watching The Outsider it somehow pulled my binging strings; I couldn’t stop watching it.

But when I had to stop watching it (either things to do or time to go to sleep) the interest in the story kept me on edge until later or the next day, when I sat to continue watching it.

So yes, it’s a very bingeable thriller/horror series. In my case, I guess a desire to know how a novel and horror series would approach El Cuco’s topic played a great part in the binge, too.

At the core story level, I think it should be considered by what it is, an adaptation.

So far, most adaptations like The Outsider I watched tended to be high quality.

As someone who’s not me has said: always remember to watch an adaptation first and then experience the original item, like in this case Outisder first, then King’s novel later.

As I wrote elsewhere in this study, I can’t slag the subject matter because (if the script of the adaptation is faithful to the source material) Stephen King seems to have been careful and wrote the story intelligently.

King gets away with a cultural appropriation that maybe if it were approached by a less-able writer would have ended up being a very disappointing tale.

Did I like This Horror Series?

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I didn’t actively seek to watch this series.

It showed as a horror series in my Max feed and that’s why it interested me. When I did a little research and found out that it was based on a Stephen King novel I knew it was compulsory watching for me, so I watched it from start to finish. It took me around a week, give or take several days.

When El Cuco was brought into the main plotline of The Outsider I can’t tell you exactly what I felt. It both amused me a little and at the same time annoyed me.

I should give you a little background I was born and raised in a South American city, and El Cuco is a staple thing (it doesn’t qualify as a story) that, I dare say 90% or so, little kids learn from parents, older siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles.

As I understand El Cuco (AKA El Coco) is the Spanish language, Latin American version of The Boogeyman, who is also known as The Coco Man in Colorado.

It’s a thing to keep children at bay and make them behave. However, in my case, El Cuco was the explanation of why I was afraid of the dark.

Now, how El Cuco is approached in The Outsider amused me, because making El Cuco a shape-shifting entity is very convenient when you’re dealing with a folklore character that has not a defined, agreed-upon appearance.

Still, in The Outsider, El Cuco has certain definite forms, and that is what annoyed me.

I am not going to deny that making El Cuco a shape-shifter exonerates Stephen King from committing a crass cultural appropriation. Yet the ultimate, lasting effect of using that character, when I watched the series, was disappointing.

The story transpires in Flint City, Michigan, but the monster is of South American extract. Because of that, I think that deliberately calling the story The Outsider is the masterstroke.

Still, it disappointed me because with an unknown being like El Cuco, the preconceived ideas you had about its nature and the mental pictures of it you formed in your mind’s eye through a lifetime may have been much more spectacular than what The Outsider delivers.

Conclusion

Overall, I can say I loved The Outsider for a lot of reasons except for the antagonist, which is a very common and reasonable top thing to like in horror media.

For those who didn’t watch it as of yet. I wouldn’t go into this horror series with a lot of expectations.

Especially if you heard or read that it’s about El Cuco, and think it’s going to answer all your El Cuco questions.

If that’s you, then please know from now on that its creepy folklore connection is more of a very efficient gimmick than any actual attempt to incorporate creepy South American folklore.

At least the series is like that. The folklore element is very cursorily treated. Maybe the novel is different.

Media Sources

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© Yarema Levinson 2024 — The Outsider (2020) Case Study Horror Series

YaremaLevinson

I’m Yarema Levinson, from a Latin American city that’s one of the top 20 biggest of the world. I review non-Hollywood horror movies of any grade. When it comes to horror series I’m up for any kind of them. It doesn’t matter if they are made from AAA, major, or similar studios.

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