With this week’s DVD release of the Spanish horror import [REC] 2 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment — the original [REC], you’ll recall, inspired the American remake Quarantine — it reminded us that some of the smartest and most stylish cinematic scares these days are coming to us from the Iberian peninsula.
Oscar winner Pedro Almodóvar’s outrageous comedies and stylish melodramas were, for years, the country’s most notable cinematic output, but with even Almodóvar taking a turn for the spooky (as evidenced in the chilling trailers for his latest, The Skin I Live In), suspense and horror has become the specialty of the country that gave us bullfighting and paella.
If you want a taste of terror, Spanish-style, sample these five movies that go bump in the night:
The Others: Director Alejandro Amenábar may have borrowed a thing or two from Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but quietly suspenseful thriller became an instant classic of the haunted-house genre while giving Nicole Kidman one of her most memorable roles.
Kidman stars as a mother living in a creepy house during World War II with her two children, who are so sensitive to light that they must go through elaborate daily rituals to avoid contact with the sun. And then the strange servants show up. And the daughter starts drawing pictures of people she swears she’s seen in the house. And the mother finds a book of photographs of the recently deceased.
Like Robert Wise’s legendary The Haunting, The Others relies on a minimum of cheap shocks and a maximum of slowly suffocating atmosphere to leave you tense and terrified.
The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth: Guillermo del Toro hails from Mexico, but he’s shown himself to have an affinity for telling chilling tales set in Spain during that country’s civil war of the 1930s.
Pan’s Labyrinth, the more widely seen of the two, tells the story of a young girl who finds a way into a creepy parallel world — or does she? — while her Fascist stepfather battles partisans in the countryside. Backbone (produced by Almodóvar) takes a young boy’s perspective in an equally goosebump-y story, set in a haunted Madrid orphanage.
The Orphanage: Speaking of which, this suspenseful 2007 feature marked a prestigious debut for young director J.A. Bayona. Laura, with her husband Carlos and son Simón, move into the orphanage where Laura grew up, and which Laura and Carlos plan to turn into a home for disabled children. But then Simón makes an imaginary friend, a masked playmate named Tomás. And then Simón disappears. And then things get really weird.
[REC]: Before you watch the sequel, check out the original, a film that takes the post–Blair Witch shaky-cam aesthetic to new heights. A TV news crew follows some Barcelona firemen on a call that a woman in trapped inside her apartment. After the police break down her door, the lady bites one of the cops, and suddenly there’s a horrifying outbreak going on within this labyrinthine apartment complex.
This is the kind of movie that keeps you awake nights, and while it won’t exactly encourage you to get to know your neighbors, it might inspire you to figure out all the exit routes from your home.