June 15, 2016
2 mins read

It has been said that the past 20 years have witnessed a Renaissance in Spanish-speaking horror films. Without going into the Latin antecedents of that particular genre, numerous other nationalities and languages might lay claim to the same phenomenon. Horror is hot!

One of the most influential of the genre’s practitioners is Mexican-born Guillermo del Toro, a real giant in the contemporary field whose range as a writer, director, and producer (often at the same time) extends well beyond the confines of horror. Everyone knows his films, though the best remain his early Spanish-language entries like Cronos (1993, his first) and especially The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).

But del Toro is by no means alone in scaring the bejeezus out of us in Spanish. Let me suggest three other very different films on which you might nurse your craving for chills ‘n’ thrills and hone your Spanish at the same time (with the help of subtitles).

Winner of a multitude of international awards and nominations (including an Oscar for 2004’s The Sea Inside), Alejandro Amenábar usually writes the music and screenplay for his films as well as directing them. Such was the case for his first movie, Tesis (or “Thesis” in English), a riveting thriller in the tradition of Hitchcock and De Palma with a nod to the Italian giallo masters as well.

The plot of the 1996 movie involves a film student named Angela (Ana Torrent) who is writing a thesis on violence and film at the University of Madrid when her topic veers from fiction to reality. In short order, she becomes involved in a complicated plot centering on a series of snuff films that may involve one or more of her acquaintances. Her scholarly research into the fascination with violence also triggers some disturbing responses in her own psyche, particularly in regard to the diabolically handsome young stud (Eduardo Noriega) who begins to haunt her dreams as well as her waking reality.

Intelligent, provocative, and suspenseful, Tesis was an exceptional debut for Amenábar, whose next two features (Open Your Eyes and The Others) were also superior and original genre efforts. The latter is a terrific ghost story starring Nicole Kidman while the former was remade in English as Vanilla Sky starring Tom Cruise. 

[Rec] (2007) is one of the very best of the “taped” or “found footage” variety of contemporary horror, right up there with Cloverfield and George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead. Opening without any credits whatsoever, [Rec] follows a young reporter named Ángela (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman as they film a segment about real-life firemen for their television show. Things are dull at first at the firehouse until a distress call from a downtown apartment building in Barcelona propels the responding rescue workers as well as Ángela and her cameraman into an urban nightmare involving diabolic possession and zombies.

Graphic, scary, and inventive, [Rec] always seems absolutely real rather than contrived. Manuela Velasco, in particular, is one of the most memorable heroines of the genre since Jamie Lee Curtis started screaming in the original Halloween.

The incredibly faithful American remake a year later was retitled Quarantine, and the first film’s writer/director team of Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza produced their own sequel [Rec]2 in 2009. The second film is good, like the American version of the original, but the first [Rec] is a stand-alone classic for all the right reasons, including Manuela Velasco.

The third entry in our Spanish-language horror sweepstakes returns us to del Toro’s Mexico for perhaps the weirdest and most unsettling of the bunch. Written and directed by Adrián García Bogliano, Here Comes the Devil (2013) is a cross between Picnic at a Hanging Rock and The Exorcist with a heady mix of sex in the brew. Bogliano himself credited Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now as an inspiration.

You get the picture.

A couple’s two young children venture into a rocky cave from which they emerge a day later considerably different. Brutal, graphic, and deliberately ambiguous, the film’s central hallucinatory sequence — involving a babysitter for the two creepy kids — defines the tone and approach of the film as a whole. Neither we, nor the parents, are ever quite sure what is going on, but it is definitely not for the squeamish. The devil takes his due this time.
Adios, fearless viewers, and pleasant dreams.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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