Some of the most imaginative, thought-provoking, and downright terrifying horror movies come from the minds of Spanish filmmakers, whose works have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in the last few years. Even Mexican horror maestros like Guillermo del Toro have made it a point to produce movies in Spain, and feature the country and its culture in the settings for their most macabre creations.
Cinematic auteurs like Juan Antonio Bayona and Pedro Almodóvar often blend devout iconography and sensuality into a powerful amalgamation that is uniquely Spanish, and relative newcomers like Jaume Balagueró and Guillem Morales focus on psychological escapades into the mazes of the human psyche that are reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest (but much more passionate). Ranked by IMDB, these movies offer a thrilling journey into the rich tradition of Spanish horror.
10 Cronos (1993) – 6.7
Cronos tells the story of an antique dealer named Jesus who stumbles across an ancient mechanical scarab that, when it attaches itself to him, provides him eternal youth. His vitality becomes the focus of a dying old man intrigued by the secrets of Spanish alchemy, whose nephew will stop at nothing to locate the scarab and give it to him, but Jesus will not relinquish immortality so easily.
Although Guillermo del Toro’s first movie is entirely in Spanish, fans of the director should know that it’s steeped in the mysticism and macabre that would later become the calling cards of his career.
9 Julia’s Eyes (2011) – 6.7
While the local authorities tell Julia that her sister died from suicide, she is convinced that something drove her sibling to take her own life. Blaming something far more sinister and mysterious than the police can fathom, she decides to take charge of the investigation herself.
With comparisons to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, this superbly crafted psychological horror movie navigates a maze of suspense and mystery to make poignant connections between grief and identity. It builds upon a filmography of taut psychological horror movies by Guillem Morales.
8 Sleep Tight (2011) – 7.2
Forced to spend his days waiting on guests who barely acknowledge his existence, miserable apartment concierge Cesar decides that it he can’t experience any of the good things life has to offer, no one else will either. He abuses his position and begins to gain access to all the tenets’ rooms, engaging in predatory stalking behavior that incites a series of startling events.
Sleep Tight twists viewers’ expectations as it fries their nerves, proving itself to be an engaging and intense thriller that relies more an overwhelming sense of dread and anticipation than shock value.
7 The Hidden Face (2011) – 7.4
A young man and his girlfriend move to Columbia to go house hunting, but no sooner have they found the perfect place than she abruptly disappears and he’s the prime suspect. Despite the ongoing investigation, he moves her replacement in not long after, and strange things immediately begin to happen around the house. His new love interest is left to wonder if it’s haunted by her predecessor’s ghost, or if she might even be trapped somewhere in the walls.
The Hidden Face is exactly what viewers expect and yet so much more, providing a myriad of twists and turns that will keep them guessing right up until the end. Nothing is as it seems in this tense tale about the perils of jealousy and infidelity.
6 REC (2007) – 7.4
Considered The Blair Witch Project of zombie movies, the found-footage style of REC lends it instant visceral authenticity. Director Jaume Balagueró keeps the movie tightly focused on a news reporter and her film crew chronicling the events of an apartment building overrun by the undead, the ever-present “rec” in the corner of the screen lending it a perverse credibility, as though every gristly event that unfolds is part of captured history.
The movie spawned several sequels, but the original from 2007 shot in Barcelona, Spain remains the best of the franchise so far. Crucially, it doesn’t sacrifice story or character development for cheap thrills and jump scares, and instead marries all the elements together for an even more effective zombie thriller.
5 The Orphanage (2007) – 7.4
When a young woman discovers the orphanage where she spent many happy years as a child goes up for sale, she convinces her husband to purchase it and help restore it to its former glory. Inspired by her critically ill adopted son, they open it as a home for sick children, but when he suddenly disappears, joy turns to desperation. The grief-stricken mother turns to the spirits of the old orphanage to help find her missing boy.
Juan Antonio Bayona is one of Spain’s most prominent directors, and his work in The Orphanage proves why his movies continuously impress at the Goya Awards. Blending ambiance and psychological tension with a thrilling mystery, he makes a horror movie that is poignant, highly suspenseful, and beautiful to look at.
4 The Devil’s Backbone (2001) – 7.4
Set during the last years of the Spanish Civil War, The Devil’s Backbone is a Spanish gothic horror movie that follows Carlos, a young orphan boy who is deposited at Santa Lucia School among several other children who have been displaced by the conflict. Though he finds friends in the professor and the head mistress, he is plagued by a wandering spirit with a link to the violent caretaker’s secret past.
The talented Guillermo del Toro refined his blend of horror, spirituality, and the supernatural in this Spanish-Mexican production, applying many of the storytelling techniques and themes he would later use to great effect in Pan’s Labyrinth.
3 The Others (2001) – 7.6
Directed by globally renowned Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar, The Others is a Spanish gothic horror movie that combines elements of the supernatural, psychological, and mystical. It focuses on the strange events that occur at the estate of a woman and her young children, plagued by spirits in the aftermath of WWII.
The Others has the distinction of being the only English-language Spanish movie to be given the Best Film Award at Spain’s national film awards, the Goyas. In total, the movie has seven Goya Awards, including for Best Director.
2 The Skin I Live In (2011) – 7.6
A mysterious plastic surgeon living in a majestic villa harbors a dark secret and a beautiful woman in this Goya Award winning psychological horror movie. The Skin I Live In begins with a prominent doctor trying to develop a way to save burn victims after his wife is killed in a horrific fire, selecting an unwitting young woman as the test subject for a new synthetic skin, and ultimately devolves into an odyssey to create something abominable.
Much more than the story of a mad scientist and his monster, legendary filmmaker Pedro Almodovar’s movie moves beyond tropes and explores themes of loss, grief, and the meaning of life through his patented lens of sexual deviousness. It is equal parts a melodrama, morality play, and murder mystery.
1 Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – 8.2
After the Allies invade Nazi-occupied Europe, a sadistic captain sends a troop of Spanish soldiers to flush out rebels,bringing his new wife and her daughter along on his exploits. While his family resides in the countryside, he leads his men on a murderous rampage, much of which is witnessed by his step daughter. In an effort to escape her reality she plunges in Pan’s Labyrinth, a mystical world at the border of her own.
Guillermo del Toro has taken Narnia or Wonderland and made them equal parts enchanting and nightmarish, where the creatures encountered by the young heroine are both allies who want to aid her, and villains with more sinister purposes. Pan’s Labyrinth remains one of the most remarkable horror movies ever made.
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