Top 5 Spanish horror movies

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Spanish horror has had a lot of press in recent years with the international success of films like REC, The Orphanage and the fantasy horror Pan’s Labyrinth, but the Spanish film industry has been dreaming up top-notch scares since the likes of Who Can Kill A Child? and Necrophagous in the 1970s.

So, what distinguishes Spanish horror from its American counterpart? For a start it isn’t bound to a formula in the way a lot of Hollywood productions are. Part mysteries, once the mystery in these films is resolved they can’t be made into sequels; much of Spanish horror is therefore franchise-proof. There is less teenage murder-fodder and less of Hollywood’s favourite tool to make you jump: sudden LOUD NOISES on the soundtrack. Instead scares come from the acting and camera-work.

Tension builds inexorably. As in Korean and Japanese horror, it’s more about eeriness more than cheap frights. Like Ringu, in which the most terrifying death happens in the morning, much of the horror happens under a wide blue sky.

As well as being more sophisticated than their US counterparts, the thirty-something protagonists of Spanish horror films don’t have the same pheromone-rich appeal for their tormentors. They’re often married with children and not being short-listed for death simply because they’re having teenage/premarital sex.

The menace is ambiguous. Is it scientifically explicable or supernatural? The boundaries between common or garden psychopathy and the diabolical are blurred in films like REC, Who Can Kill A Child?, in which the children’s madness spreads through eye-contact, and even Julia’s Eyes, in which the psycho can escape notice like a phantom. This ambiguity gives Spanish horror a fairytale quality. And like fairytales, some of these films even have a happy ending – but always at a price.

Here, we pick out five gems of the genre…

The Orphanage (El Orfanato)

Produced by Guillermo del Toro, the man who gave us The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage (2007) mixes horror with heartbreak and appeals to people who aren’t necessarily fans of the horror genre.

When her adopted seven-year-old son Simon (Roger Princep) goes missing in the converted-orphanage house she grew up in, Laura (Belen Rueda) must confront six ghostly children who appear to be implicated in his disappearance, including a little boy in a sack mask. Her search for Simon becomes a search for the truth about what happened to the children, played out in one of cinema’s creepier interiors.

> Buy The Orphanage on DVD on Amazon.

Who Can Kill a Child? (¿Quién Puede Matar a un Niño?)

Director Narciso Serrador said if there was one thing he regretted about his 1976 horror it was not putting the historical footage of dying children at the end of the film instead of at the beginning – after he’d got you to hate the children for what they do to the adults.

The film follows a pregnant English tourist and her husband who get stranded on the fictional Spanish island of Almanzor after all the children go mysteriously crazy and kill the adults.

Whatever its flaws (which include the worst fake blood on celluloid), Who Can Kill a Child? deserves its cult status, with frolicking ten-year-old murderers, a girl who communicates with an unborn baby by stroking its mother’s belly, an ice-cream van soundtrack and that frequent player in Spanish horror; gorgeous weather.

> Buy Who Can Kill a Child? on DVD on Amazon.


When a horror film uses the documentary format, there’s a high probability that none of the characters are going to be alive by the end of it. Why would they be when no one needs to be alive to tell their story – when their footage tells it for them? The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield are two examples of this tradition and from the start REC – with its far-too-upbeat TV presenter protagonist – threatens to go the same way.

As always with ‘found footage’ horror, there is no spooky soundtrack to do the scaring. Instead the film-makers use the limits of technology to create obscurity, here aided by an old-fashioned Barcelona apartment-building interior.

Is the infection that spreads through the people trapped in the building viral or demonic? The question comes up somewhat late in the day, but it adds an extra dimension of creepiness to what is already a shock-filled zombie-fest.

> Buy Rec on DVD on Amazon.


From director Alejandro Amenábar (The Others), this 1996 film of a grad student, Angela (Ana Torrent), who comes across a snuff film showing the torture and murder of a student from her faculty derives much of its fear factor from asking you to guess which of her two potential love-interests (or any or both) is the psychopathic killer – the geeky horror-film buff or the gorgeous film student.

Then there is the snuff film itself, which is terrifying from its sound effects to its blurry visuals. And let’s not forget the fascination it exerts over the mind of the initially-timid and sensitive Angela. A disturbing journey into the dark side of voyeurism.

> Buy Tesis on DVD on Amazon.

Julia’s Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia)

Here we have a killer whom most people don’t notice because ‘he doesn’t give out light’, who is very sad, who makes you wonder if he’s human, phantom or something in the middle.

The boundaries between menace of the supernatural kind and the kind you can explain with science/psychology are blurred once again, this time in an offering from Guillem Morales that uses the main protagonist’s failing eyesight as a device to create obscurity and terror.

> Buy Julia’s Eyes on DVD on Amazon.

Do you agree? Let us know your favourite Spanish horror movie below…