The great nation on the Iberian peninsula has brought many wonderful, surreal, and suspense-filled horrors. If you love quality stories, what follows is the very best of the last fifty Spanish horror films I’ve had the pleasure of indulging.
Granted, all writers and directors are different, but the cinematography of Spanish cinema is consistently wonderful: great color, shadow, and composition. Even if a particular film from Spain fails to capture my imagination, the photography still resonates. Regardless, the acting is usually passionate, and although this may be something we expect from Spanish culture, the characters created by the screenwriters typically have much depth – so what actor wouldn’t want to bring them to life?
Once again, like most European horror cinema, original stories are brought to the forefront, while production companies in Los Angeles wallow in remakes to save money. However, European filmmakers, for the most part, revere cinema as an art form and focus little on return of investment – the plague that haunts Hollywood. In the end, even if a quality Spanish (or European in general) horror fails to clean up at the box office, it will accrue accolades and money over time, while many American horrors fall by the wayside.
This top ten includes a horror from Spanish television, and two short films of intense proportions. I hope you enjoy the selections.
The Orphanage (Spain, 2005) – 5 stars
JA Bayon’s masterpiece is one exceptional dramatic horror. Starring the glorious Belén Rueda, she brings Sergio G. Sánchez’s tale of a mother in search of her missing son to life. The atmosphere is palpable, and the film heralds one of the most haunting scenes in cinematic history. If you love quality horrors, this is the one to watch. Hell, it even made me cry.
(Photo from Imp Awards.)
The Ninth Gate (France/Spain, 1999) – 4.5 stars
This severely under-appreciated Roman Polanski film is a horrific mystery of demonic proportions. Starring Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, and Emmanuel Saugnier, this bibliophile based story is one of my go-to favorites. With Wojciech Kolar’s spellbinding score and a phenomenal atmosphere, the movie never ceases to satisfy the curious.
The Uninvited Guest (Spain, 2004) – 4.5 stars
Guillem Morales’ foray into creepiness unnerves the soul like few films do. After all, if you let someone into your home and they simply vanish, what would you do? Could they shadow your every move without you even knowing? And this is why I like squeaky floors and doors. If you love suspense, this is for you.
Aftermath (Spain, 1994) – 4.5 stars
This short film (30 minutes) by Nacho Cerdá is a disturbing venture when a morgue attendant violates and slaughters a corpse. Yes, this is one for gorehounds who should leave the movie more than satiated. Definitely not for the squeamish.
The Devil’s Backbone (Spain, 2004) – 4 stars
Guillermo del Toro loves to revisit themes associated with the Spanish Civil War, and this ghostly tale resonates on a grand scale. An unexploded bomb ticks the time away in the courtyard of the isolated orphanage, and young Carlos ruminates over a ghost’s prediction. Enjoy the suspense.
Fausto 5.0 (Spain, 2001) – 4 stars
This bizarre and surreal tale certainly leaves one on edge. In Fernando León de Aranoa’s scintillating story, a doctor on his way to a convention finds himself confronted by a man who claims the doctor removed his stomach eight years ago – and he promises to make all the doctor’s wishes come true. Enjoy the ride.
The Baby’s Room (Spain, 2006) – 4 stars
If you know the scientific experiment called “Schrodinger’s Cat” then you should love this intriguing tale that aired on Spanish television. Intelligent and gripping, enjoy the nightmare of a father searching for someone who may be out to harm his child – when he may just need to look in the mirror…
The Skin I Live In (Spain, 2011) – 4 stars
Antonio Banderas and the stunning Elena Anaya team-up in Pedro Almodóvar’s riveting story of a young woman held captive in a doctor’s home – think the bird in the golden cage. Interestingly, the lights are bright, but the tale is gripping and psychologically disconcerting. An extremely entertaining thriller.
Sleep Tight (Spain, 2011) – 4 stars
The phenomenal Luis Tosar delivers on a grand scale as a man on a personal mission to push everyone else’s emotional buttons to leave them morally destitute. With elements of THE UNINVITED GUEST, director Jaume Balagueró brings Alberto Marini’s script to life with enough suspense for three films. In addition, Pablo Rosso’s cinematography, and Lucas Vidal’s score, adds that extra edge of intensity.
Genesis (Spain, 1994) – 4 stars
Nacho Cerdá blows our minds with another short that captivates. Think “Pygmalion” – but this time, things go really wrong. Don’t miss this fantastic nightmare.
Other great Spanish horrors: Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (Spain, 2004), Horror Express (UK/Spain, 1972), Hipnos (Spain, 2004), The Abandoned (Spain/UK/Bulgaria, 2007), Shiver (Spain, 2008), [Rec] (Spain, 2003), and Exorcismus (Spain, 2010).
Over-rated or simply dreadful Spanish films: Who Can Kill A Child (Spain, 1970 – I can if they’re trying to murder me), Slugs (Spain/USA, 1988 – though it’s a fun ride!), Ghost Son (Italy/South Africa/Spain/UK, 2007), Giallo (USA/UK/Spain/Italy, 2009), [REC]3 Genesis (Spain, 2012), and Mama (Canada/Spain, 2013).