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)
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)
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?