Spanish horror

Over the past couple of decades, Spain has emerged as an expert on horror.  I’ve realized that many of the films that have terrified me the most, the ones that I share with friends, hail from Spain.  Even when the idea behind the some of the films seem like horror that’s been retreaded many times over, they’re injected with tension, effective scares, beautiful cinematography, and emotion that just gives it that refreshing twist.  I thought I’d share my absolute favorite, though it’s by no means the only Spanish horror films worth checking out.

5.) The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

The Devils Backbone

Set in a remote orphanage during the Spanish Civil War, the story follows young Carlos who was left behind by his parents.  As stories circulate about a child who went missing the day an unexploded bomb dropped into the orphanage’s courtyard, Carlos notices ghostly figures and creepy noises.  The plot is far more complicated than a simple ghost story; the effects of the war stretch even to isolated orphanages.  Though Guillermo del Toro’s first draft was set in his home country of Mexico and didn’t feature a ghost, I’m glad for the changes.  The addition of the ghost not only unnerves, but adds a layer of melancholy that enforces the tragedy of war.


4.) Witching & Bitching (2013)


This zany horror-comedy by director Alex de la Iglesia follows bumbling thieves as they steal gold from a pawn shop.  Truly, the worst robbery ever.  Jose even brings his son along, since it’s his day for custody.  With the cops closing in the thieves try to evade them by heading to France, though they get stuck in Zugarramurdi, a little town known for being inhabited by witches.  Now they must not only escape the law, but the family of witches looking to serve them for dinner.  Though some of the humor falls flat at times, the banter between the thieves is a highlight and the horror elements are so bizarre that the film succeeds any way.


3.) Sleep Tight (2011)

Sleep tight

Directed by Jaume Balagueró, this intense thriller follows concierge César and his unhealthy obsession with apartment tenant Clara.  What begins with unhappy César playing pranks on his unsuspecting victim quickly escalates into far more sinister acts.  From wiping cockroach eggs everywhere to voyeurism, this film’s chills come from its realism and fear of privacy invasion.  The tension is palpable throughout, and the reason César does what is does is terrifying.  Well acted and often uncomfortable, this thriller feels on par with classics like Hitchcock and Polanksi.


2.) Fragile (2005)


Jaume Balagueró strikes again!  Shot in Spain and the UK, this supernatural flick is set in a rundown hospital, currently in the process of closing its doors for good.  Enter American nurse Amy, played by Calista Flockhart, who frantically tries to keep the remaining patients safe from a series of mysterious attacks.  Amy bonds with a young orphan, Maggie, who is suffering from fibrosis and together they discover the entity behind the attacks.  This ghost story may not be original, but its abandoned hospital setting, save for the children’s ward, may for very effective scares.  No other ghost may be quite as scare as the one that haunts the remaining patients, but it’s the emotional bond between Amy and Maggie that’s the heartbeat of this film.  Their growing adoration of each other not only gives this film purpose, but it pulls on your heartstrings.  With scares and soul, this is easily one of my favorites on any list.


1.) [Rec] (2007)


Perhaps I should have just dedicated this list to Jaume Balagueró?  This time he shares the helm with co-director Paco Plaza.  In one of the most intense horror films I have had the pleasure of viewing, [Rec] is a found footage film in which television reporter Ángela Vidal and her camera man follow a local fire station for her show.  What starts out as a rather boring evening turns out to be anything but when the fire station receives a call about a woman trapped in her apartment.  Upon arrival they find the woman is completely crazed and aggressive, and bites one of the firemen before plummeting to the lobby floor below.  The CDC and police arrive and put the building on quarantine, locking everyone inside with an infection that’s spreading.  This is easily the most effective use of found footage.  The limited view of the camera contributes to some of the most tense scenes in any horror film.  When the lights are cut off, the camera also becomes the only source of light, eliminating the oft asked, “Why didn’t they put the camera down?”  The final moments will likely have your hands hovering somewhere around your face, and at the very least you will watch most of this film at the edge of your seat.  It’s not a bad idea to have a change of pants handy, either.  What appears to be a simple zombie film is anything but.


What are your favorites?


Oculus Review

OculusI should warn you now, before you view this film you should disregard any trailers or tv spots you’ve seen.  They’re misleading.  Or perhaps, more accurately, they only provide a glimpse into a small part of of the story.  Which for me worked great, as the trailers seemed more like a derivative supernatural flick I’d seen before.  Oculus feels like two movies in one; a supernatural past interwoven beautifully with the psychological present.

Siblings Kaylie and Tim Russell had a rough childhood.  Both of their parents descend into madness shortly after the arrival of a mysterious antique mirror, and it culminates in a tragedy.  Kaylie is pushed into the foster system and Tim is sent to a mental hospital in the aftermath.  Eleven years later, Tim is released and the siblings meet again in their childhood home to fulfill their promise to each other years ago; destroy the mirror that destroyed their family.  Kaylie is prepared, having done so much research on the mirror’s history she’s set up a strict set of precautions to protect them from the mirror’s defense mechanisms.  Tim is less sure of the plan, afraid what this could mean for his state of mind.

Over the course of the evening, while the pair are fighting off hallucinations, their past is slowly revealed through flashbacks.  This format is both impressive and a bit repetitve.  Impressive in its cleverness, but after a while you feel like the hallucinations are all stuck on repeat.  The past storyline is far more intriguing because of this.

The performances are impressive as well, especially the child actors who play the younger versions of Kaylie and Tim.  Your heart breaks for them.  You watch as the mirror seduces their father (played by Rory Cochrane) and plays on the insecurities of their mother (played by Katee Sackhoff).  The unravelling of their psyches may be the most interesting aspect of the story.  Present day Kaylie and Tim fight off the mirror’s effects, struggling to figure out what is real or not, but moreso they’re struggling to cope with their past.

It’s because of the dual storylines that Oculus feels so clever, yet I can’t help but feel they clash with each other as well.  It’s also left me debating the ending, as I’ve formed a two opposing theories based the past and present.  The scares are not what was advertised in the trailers, either.  Oculus is far more about psychological and emotional horror than jump scares.

Oculus is an intelligent horror film, one that has left me pondering over the details for a while after initial viewing.  But if I’m being honest, the dual plotlines of past and present Tim and Kaylie contrast maybe a little too well.  I found myself more as a detached spectator rather than being fully immersed.  The ending is a bit predictable too; you’ll likely call it almost from the start.


The Queen Mary

Visiting California this weekend I had the opportunity to explore the famous Queen Mary, luxury cruise ship turned war transporter during WWII.  Time magazine voted the Queen Mary as one of the top ten most haunted, and the owners definitely capitalize on this.


In fact, included with the purchase of the self guided tour of the ship, you receive a Ghost & Legends guided tour as well.


The tour meets on the fourth deck, and your eyebrows raise right away when your instructed to pose in front of a green screen. We’re all instructed that photography is forbidden while on the tour.  Then you’re ushered down a few flights of stairs into a dark room where a video with ominous narration discusses the ship’s history in the war.  We were then introduced to our tour guide, who acted as though he came straight from Disney’s Tower of Terror right, eccentrically morose.  He slid open a wall to reveal a hidden door, bursting open with fog and special effects.  At this point I was confused, fully having expected a tour walked us through the ship while pointing out haunted areas…but special effects..what??

We’re lead onto walkways overlooking the first class swimming pool, which reminded me of the pool in Ghost Ship, though much larger and well kept.  The tour guide begins explaining of the deaths that occurred here years ago and how this area has been off limits for a long time.  This confuses me further because the bottom of the empty pool is still wet.  Then the lights go dim and the pool fills with fog while ghostly sounds echo throughout the room.  At this point I finally feel as though I’m in on the joke and start grinning.

The group is swept through multiple areas of the hull, all decorated with props and special effects straight out of a haunted house while the tour guide explains who died where.  We finally end up in the boiler room, a rather large dimly lit area filled with pipes where it’s explained where young men died in explosions there.  The tour guide makes a show of telling us to wait there while he wanders off and there’s a grand finale of the room appearing to flood while ghostly noises hover overhead before the guide retrieves us and leads us to safety of souvenir photo purchases.

I have to admit, this tour amused me a great deal.  I felt as though I was experiencing a haunted attraction a month early.  Even the gimmicky tour photos amused me- the green screen was replaced with haunted scenes from the tour with hidden ghosts in the background.  

While I’m more of a skeptic on the belief of whether ghosts exist, I can’t see how the Queen Mary could end up on any most haunted list.  Any ghostly presence is strictly man made.  During the month of October, the Queen Mary offers multiple mazes that just proves my point, though I do think the unique setting would make for some fun attractions.