My love affair with Spanish cinema began when I first saw Un Chien Andalou (1929) as a wide-eyed undergrad in my first Film History class. I watched, awe-struck, as a razor sliced open a woman’s eye (or did it?) and my cinematic horizons were infinitely and irreversibly expanded. Since that moment, my obsessive relationship with Spanish horror has been an enduring one, just as surreal and gory as it started.
This list is by no means comprehensive. It is merely my personal Best of/Intro to Spanish Horror. Think of each film as a terrifying yet tasty tapa, offering you a small sampling of the wonderful world of Spanish-language horror.
[REC] (2007) – Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Regardless of which side you fall on in the fast vs. slow zombies debate, odds are you enjoy a good scare. [REC] (like the “Record” button on a camera) provides that in spades via its shaky, found footage style and expertly paced 75 minute run time.
Angela is a reporter doing a story on the daily (or nightly, as is the case here) lives of firefighters in Barcelona. The firemen answer a call at an apartment building that ends up being anything but routine. [REC] is a roller coaster ride of a movie that reminded me just how good modern Spanish horror can be and has yet to be replaced in my top 10 list of horror films I recommend to anyone and everyone.
6 Films to Keep You Awake / Películas para no dormir (2006)
Blame / La culpa – Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Spectre / Regreso a Moira – Mateo Gil
A Real Friend / Advina quién soy – Enrique Urbizu and James Phillips
A Christmas Tale / Cuento de Navidad – Paco Plaza
The Baby’s Room / La habitación del niño – Álex de la Iglesia and James Phillips
To Let / Para entrar a vivir – Jaume Balagueró
This collection of films showcases some of the best horror directors Spain has to offer.
If you liked…
- Pro-Life, check out Blame.
- Malena, check out Spectre.
- Donnie Darko, check out A Real Friend.
- Stranger Things, check out A Christmas Tale.
- The Shining, check out The Baby’s Room.
- The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, check out To Let.
The Devil’s Backbone / El espinazo del diablo (2001) – Guillermo del Toro
As a student of film, I find it all too easy to drift into the mentality that the “Golden Age of Movies” has come and gone and to bemoan the current state of affairs in the movie industry. Then I come across directors like Guillermo del Toro and my faith in humanity and the magic of the movies is restored. In the case of The Devil’s Backbone, his masterful weaving of genre within genre will having you wondering if you just saw a horror film, a war epic, a coming-of-age tale, or an atmospheric period piece. And lucky you, this film is all of the above and so much more.
Spanish version of Drácula (1931) – George Melford and Enrique Tovar Ávalos (uncredited)
Shot at night on the same stage and sets as the English version that catapulted Bela Lugosi to stardom, this Spanish-language MLV (multiple language version film) is considered a classic in its own right. Because the Spanish version crew had access to the English rushes shot during the day, they could make changes they felt improved upon the original (different camera angles, more effective uses of lighting, etc.). The slightly longer running time (1 hr 44 min vs. 1 hr 25 min) also allows for better plot and character development. Finding out this version of Dracula existed blew my little Spanish major / Film Studies minor mind. Film history buffs and classic horror fans alike are in for a treat.
The Orphanage / El orfanato (2007) – J.A. Bayona
The Orphanage stands as a hauntingly beautiful and surprisingly poignant haunted house film that doesn’t need to rely on blood and gore to get its scares across. The story revolves around Laura (played by the ridiculously talented Belén Rueda), her husband, Carlos, and their adopted son, Simón. The family returns to the titular orphanage Laura grew up in as a child and plans to reopen the home as a facility for disabled children. The renovation stirs up some unpleasant memories for both Laura and the house as Simón’s behavior takes a turn for the strange. If creepy children are your cup of tea, be sure to put this on your To Watch list.
What’s your opinion on Spanish horror? Is there another country you feel does horror better? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading and stay spooky!