Jaume Balagueró, J. A. Bayona, Alejandro Amenábar… You might have heard of these names before. They have been some of the most prolific writter/directors in Spanish horror film history.
Here’s a list with the best horror movies entirely or partially filmed in Spain, produced at least by one Spanish production company and directed by a Spanish director (all except for one).
In chronological order:
TESIS [THESIS] (1996)
As Spanish horror movies go, Tesis is a very old-school psychological thriller, almost 20 years old. It’s probably the one to kickstart the horror genre in the country. A name you’ll read several times in this post is Eduardo Noriega. If there’s one actor who can say that he’s been in some of the most iconic Spanish horror movies of all time, it’s him.
While doing a thesis about violence, Ángela finds a snuff video where a girl is tortured until death. Soon she discovers that the girl was a former student in her faculty…
Tesis has been considered Amenábar’s masterpiece, but maybe that was before he did The Others. This is a slow-paced analysis about society’s fascination with violence.
Directed and written by Alejandro Amenábar.
Starring Ana Torrent, Eduardo Noriega, Fele Martínez.
ABRE LOS OJOS [OPEN YOUR EYES] (1997)
Amenábar and Noriega collaborate again to make this thrilling and brilliantly written film. It’s been considered by some to be a great source of inspiration for The Matrix, so you can now imagine how unique it was in 1997 to see a film with a virtual reality theme.
A very handsome man finds the love of his life, but he suffers an accident and needs to have his face rebuilt by surgery after it is severely disfigured.
Sound familiar? Cameron Crowe directed the remake, Vanilla Sky, in 2001. Penélope Cruz repeats her performance, with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz – who received several major award nominations for it – completing the lead cast.
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar.
Written by Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil.
Starring Penélope Cruz, Eduardo Noriega, Fele Martínez, Najwa Nimri.
LOS SIN NOMBRE [THE NAMELESS] (1999)
In Spain, the vanished six years old daughter of the editor Claudia is found completely mutilated in a well by the police, being recognized by her husband only due to a bracelet and her shorter leg. Five years later, Claudia, divorced and addicted in tranquilizer, receives a phone call from her daughter.
Not everybody who sees this film will love it, but what everybody can agree on is the excellent atmosphere it creates. Being honest, this Spanish horror movie can disappoint because the acting is not exactly top notch, the plot has weaknesses and the ending is unsatisfying, but you won’t be able to shake off the eerie and creepy feeling The Nameless will give you.
Directed by and written by Jaume Balagueró, based on a Ramsey Campbell novel.
Starring Karra Elejalde, Tristán Ulloa, Emma Vilasarau.
EL ESPINAZO DEL DIABLO [THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE] (2001)
After Carlos, a 12-year-old whose father has died in the Spanish Civil War, arrives at an ominous boy’s orphanage he discovers the school is haunted and has many dark secrets that he must uncover.
The Civil War was a Spanish horror in and of itself during the late 30s. And it’s no secret that Guillermo del Toro is very interested in telling stories set during that period, but why? “My country and my life were deeply affected by the emigration of Spanish refugees, who changed the culture and the arts for the better. Mexico and Spain have a strong link in the Civil War, but I was very interested in how, somehow, it also turned out to be the prelude and prologue (after the war) to World War II. I think, with all due respect, it can be used to create fables and parables that not only affect Spain but the world, through fantastic elements.”
And that’s exactly what he did in El Espinazo del Diablo. Again, there’s Noriega exercising one of his best performances in this dusty thriller, along with veterans Marisa Paredes and Federico Luppi.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Written by Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz.
Starring Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi, Fernando Tielve, Irene Visedo.
LOS OTROS [THE OTHERS] (2001)
My favorite in this whole list and what I believe to really be Alejandro Amenábar’s masterpiece and one of Nicole Kidman’s greates performances.
It’s nearing the end of the Second World War and Grace Stewart lives with her photosensitive children in a large and silent house. After her previous servants went missing, Grace accepted the offers of work from three new servants. Since these three have entered the home, strange events occur, and Grace begins to wonder if it’s her sanity getting the better of her or if there is something else in the house with them.
This is the kind of film which ensures that you’ll be seeing again after the first time. And you’ll discover new things every time. It’s an example of the best constructed atmosphere and the story is just as gripping. Even the children’s performances are impressive.
Directed and written by Alejandro Amenábar.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Eric Sykes.