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10 essential Spanish horror films you need to watch

In recent years, modern Spanish horror films have been attracting larger audiences throughout the world. However, the origins of Spanish horror extend further back into the last century with some criminally neglected masterpieces embedded into its legacy. Although it hasn’t received the same amount of attention as its European counterparts, Spanish horror has contributed to the evolution of the genre in innumerable ways.

Featuring charming cinematic surrealism and original interpretations of the horror genre, the country’s horror cinema provides a perfect introduction to the unique sensibilities of Spanish artists. Far from being isolated, Spanish horror films have enjoyed a seminal influence on American classics of the genre but have seldom received the recognition that they deserve.

For this edition of Far Out Fear Club, we take a look at some of the most fascinating horror films in the history of Spanish cinema. Our list is an eclectic one, including pioneers of the past such as Jesús Franco as well as modern masters like Guillermo del Toro and Pedro Almodóvar.

Check out the entire list below.

10 essential Spanish horror films:

The Awful Dr. Orloff (Jesús Franco, 1962)

An enigmatic cult classic that deserves to be seen by everyone, The Awful Dr. Orloff is an unmistakable product of its time. Refusing to take itself seriously, The Awful Dr. Orloff is a fantastic glimpse into early Spanish horror presented through newly fashioned frameworks.

The film tells the story of a crazy doctor who is terribly sad because his daughter’s face is disfigured. In order to rectify that, he embarks on a sinister quest that involves grafting skin onto his daughter’s face after kidnapping young women.

Tombs of the Blind Dead (Amando de Ossorio, 1972)

Another formidable entry to the genre which has gained a cult following in subsequent years, Tombs of the Blind Dead is an indispensable part of the history of zombies in cinema. It follows a curious phenomenon where dead knights from the 14th century come back to life at night.

As is common with most Spanish horror films of that time, it is more of an engaging experience than anything else. If you’re looking for some truly bizarre zombies and a brilliantly constructed cinematic atmosphere, Tombs of the Blind Dead is an essential choice.

The Cannibal Man (Eloy de la Iglesia, 1972)

Once declared as a ‘Video Nasty’, The Cannibal Man is an intense horror flick that chronicles the misadventures of a young butcher who accidentally kills a taxi driver. While trying to hide his crime, he realises that he has started a rampage with no redemption in sight.

The Cannibal Man is such a welcome anomaly because it brilliantly incorporates sociopolitical commentary into the film’s investigations. As the film progresses, we are completely aware of the allegorical implications of the despicable actions on screen.

Who Can Kill a Child? (Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, 1976)

This 1976 masterpiece contains a fantastic premise that is terrifying to even think about. It follows a British couple who go on vacation and end up on an isolated island where the entire population seems to be made up of unsettling little children.

However, they soon discover that the island’s inhabitants are perfectly capable of acts of destruction due to their own history of oppression. It is a brilliant psychoanalytical subversion of the inherent biases we have in our conceptualisation of children.

Pieces (Juan Piquer Simón, 1982)

A classic slasher by Juan Piquer Simón which still manages to invoke terror in the minds of modern audiences, Pieces presents a strange case where an unidentified serial killer is hunting down female college students in order to make a jigsaw puzzle out of human body parts.

Pieces traverses the tropes of several genres, ranging from exploitation and horror to elements of slasher films and even pornography. Although it was banned in the UK at one point, the film has now become a bonafide cult classic thanks to critical re-evaluations.

The Day of the Beast (Álex de la Iglesia, 1995)

A perfect balance between black comedy and horror, The Day of the Beast is an unforgettable production which revolves around the absurd adventures of a priest. When the priest discovers that the Antichrist is going to be born on Christmas Eve, he initiates a search-and-destroy mission.

Even after all these years, The Day of the Beast stands out among its contemporaries because of its self-reflexive humour and its ability to reimagine the exigencies of horror cinema. It might just be one of the best Christmas movies ever made.

Thesis (Alejandro Amenábar, 1996)

In what is Alejandro Amenábar’s debut feature, the celebrated director chooses to explore the life of a college student writing a research paper on violence in the media and its impact on the family unit. By a twisted turn of fate, she soon finds herself in the middle of her own investigations.

Amenábar ends up conducting an interesting, metafictional examination of audiovisual violence by subjecting the frameworks of horror cinema to academic inquiries. It provides precise commentary on our collective, cultural fascination with fictional violence.

The Devil’s Backbone (Guillermo del Toro, 2001)

An enigmatic early work by modern pioneer Guillermo del Toro, The Devil’s Backbone contains a lot of precursors to del Toro’s later sensibilities as a top filmmaker. Even back in 2001, it was clear that del Toro was a master capable of creating a palpable balance between terror and wonder.

Set in the context of the Spanish Civil War, The Devil’s Backbone is about a young orphan who has to live in a scary orphanage. Supernatural occurrences clash with the historical horrors of the time, contributing to the creation of magical realism.

REC (Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, 2007)

A more recent example that garnered attention from all over the world, Rec is the perfect representation of what modern Spanish horror can do to the audience. A critically acclaimed gem from the found footage genre, it shows the terrifying events that take place after a reporter follows firefighters to a strange building.

Due to the film’s commercial success, it spawned an entire franchise but the first instalment still remains the best. Apart from winning several top prizes at film festivals around the world, it has also been cited as one of the greatest horror films of all time.

The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011)

Pedro Almodóvar isn’t a name that is usually associated with the horror genre but he surprised everyone in 2011 when he released a masterful treatment of the genre, proving that a sublime artistic vision can transform anything it touches.

The Skin I Live In is an adaptation of Thierry Jonquet’s novel, telling the story of an ominous plastic surgeon who is obsessed with the idea of developing a skin that can help save burn victims after his wife died the same way. The film isn’t just one of Almodóvar’s finest but also one of the definitive works from the last decade.