We’re closing out Hispanic Heritage Month and welcoming Halloween with a selection of Spanish-language movies that are sure to spook. From vampires, monsters, and ghosts to mad scientists and cold-blooded killers, these stories are the stuff nightmares are made of — no matter what language you dream in. Here’s what to stream this October and beyond.
Widely regarded as one of the best horror films of all time, Guillermo del Toro’s debut feature is a “unique, terrifying mini-masterpiece,” which earned the director immediate acclaim and a 91% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In a new twist on the vampire genre, the film follows an antique dealer who comes across an ancient scarab-shaped device that changes his life forever. With top-notch acting and a refreshingly original story, the Chicago Reader says “you have to admire the style, sincerity, and overall sense of craft even if you don’t fancy the comic-book gore.”
“Abre los ojos” (1997)
Almost immediately remade as a mediocre Hollywood flick starring Tom Cruise under the name of “Vanilla Sky,” the original film — which translates as “Open Your Eyes” — is a unique and solid endeavor with an 85% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Exploring existentialist questions and the nature of the human spirit, the film centers on a rich and handsome man who loses everything in a strange car accident that changes the course of his life forever. Penélope Cruz co-stars in both versions, but according to Time Out, the first mystery thriller “is so smart, mischievous and stylish, you’ll instantly want to see it again.”
“El espinazo del diablo” (2001)
Del Toro’s “The Devil’s Backbone” is known as the second installment of del Toro’s trilogy of terror. Categorized as gothic horror, the film is set during the last year of the Spanish Civil War, serving as a political parable and good old-fashioned ghost story in one. With a 92% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the tale of a boy who finds himself living in a haunted orphanage makes for a “creepily good [horror flick] that also functions as an allegory of the war that still haunts Spain seven decades later.”
“El laberinto del fauno” (2006)
The dark fantasy, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” completes del Toro’s critically-acclaimed horror trilogy. Set once more during the Spanish Civil War, this time the story centers on a young girl who’s forced to move to her sadistic, new stepfather’s army post. As her harsh new world sets in, she encounters an ancient and magical maze where she meets Pan — a faun who informs her that she is a legendary lost princess.
At turns breathtaking and horrifying in its representation of fairytale wonderlands and grim fascist realities, it’s a film that never fails to leave viewers spellbound. “If this is magic realism, it is also the work of a real magician,” says The New York Times. The film is “swift and accessible entertainment, blunt in its power and exquisite in its effects.”
“El orfanato“ (2007)
For a “frightening movie that earns its scares the hard way, generating unbearable tension through artful technique instead of computer,” look no further than “The Orphanage.” A well-crafted take on the haunted house genre, it follows the story of a woman (Belén Rueda) who buys the orphanage she grew up in with a dream to make it a home for sick children. But when her son disappears after moving in, she starts hearing spirits who might just know what happened to him.
“El piel que habito” (2011)
Among the most chilling works of Pedro Almodóvar‘s oeuvre, “The Skin I Live In” is a unique and unpredictable story about a gifted, yet grief-stricken, plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) who tirelessly works on developing a new kind of skin for burn victims. After over a decade of research, he needs a new specimen to test on — but the lengths he’ll go to get it are nothing less than disturbing. A NYT Critic’s Pick, “Almodóvar seeds the narrative with assorted teasing clues…[and] plunges you straight into a story that moves, restlessly, at times imperceptibly, between the present and past.”
“La Llorona” (2019)
The legend of La Llorona, or “the Weeping Woman,” tells a story of a ghostly woman whose cries over her murdered children can be heard into the night. In this new retelling of the classic Latin American horror story, myth gets mixed with real events. When an army general is found not guilty of the genocide he ordered in Guatemala 30 years prior, one of his victims returns for vengeance. “Blending suspense with political drama and supernatural thrills,” RogerEbert.com says that the film “finds new emotional ground…[with] not just a creepy story, but a painful reflection of injustice.”
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