Aside from the obvious language difference, there is something unique about the horror films that come out of Spanish-speaking territories. Countries like Spain and Mexico have especially made their mark in the genre. In recent years, filmmakers from these places have effectively combined elements of their culture with horror.
Horror is one genre that is perfect for allegory and metaphor. Which is precisely why so many Spanish-language movies gravitate towards it. But where does one start when diving into all that Spanish horror has to offer? It can be overwhelming when researching. So, let's look at ten of the scariest Spanish-language horror films according to Rotten Tomatoes.
10 The Orphanage (2007) — 87%
After having spent her childhood in an orphanage, Laura convinces her husband to buy the place. Together, they convert it into a home for ill children. During an event at the orphanage, Laura's son Simón goes missing. For the next few months, Laura agonizes over her loss while also seeing an apparition around her home.
J.A. Bayona's The Orphanage is a different kind of haunted house horror movie. It mainly focuses on drama and raw human emotion rather than jump scares and violence. The ending will likely leave viewers heartbroken.
9 [REC] (2007) — 88%
A television reporter and her camera operator visit a firehouse when the station receives a call from an urban apartment building. The firefighters respond and find one of the residents has contracted some unknown contagion that makes her violent. Soon, the disease spreads throughout the complex and turns the tenants aggressive and rabid. The authorities finally quarantine the building with everyone else — including the reporter and her cameraman — still stuck inside.
[REC] was proof to people that the found-footage style is effective when implemented properly. When it comes to zombie terror, this claustrophobic survival-horror still tops people's best-of lists.
8 Timecrimes (2007) — 89%
Hector has just moved into a countryside home with his wife. When he spies a woman undressing in the nearby woods, he goes in for a closer look. Once there, though, he finds the woman has been assaulted by an unknown party. Hector is then himself attacked by a man swathed in bandages. As things progress, Hector eventually realizes he is caught in a time loop that he may never escape.
Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes is a chaotic sci-fi thriller driven by a series of unforeseeable events. This is one movie that will keep its audience both enthralled and white-knuckled.
7 Julia's Eyes (2010) — 90%
When Julia's sister dies under mysterious circumstances, she takes it upon herself to solve the case. However, her degenerative eye condition prevents her from doing so. After uncovering some vital yet confusing clues, Julia undergoes an experimental operation. This requires her to have her eyes covered for two weeks following the surgery, though. And in the meantime, she worries for her life as she's vulnerable to whomever killed her sister.
Julia's Eyes is nearly undone by its own convoluted story, which is riddled with seemingly floundering tip-offs. But fortunately, it finally graduates into an exciting thriller in its last act.
6 Cronos (1993) — 90%
An antique dealer named Jesus finds an ancient scarab that grants it wearer youth and eternal life as well as an insatiable quench for blood. Soon, someone comes in search of the scarab, and Jesus will do whatever it takes to keep the life-giving artifact for himself.
Critics loved Guillermo del Toro's Spanish-language debut. They found it not only gory and smart, but they also loved its unique style and its refreshing take on vampirism. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert was glowing in his own review, saying that "Cronos is not really about plot. It is about character."
5 Sleep Tight (2011) — 91%
An apartment manager named César is completely unhappy with his life. So, he wants to make everyone else miserable, too. He does everything in his power to agitate the building's tenants, who are easy prey. Yet when it comes to Clara, César finally finds a challenge. This requires him to go to extremes to break this woman down.
Critics found Sleep Tight to be a taut and unnerving stalker film. In particular, they loved the performance from César's actor, Luis Tosar. Film critic John DeFore said that the movie "benefits from [its] black-comic undercurrents."
4 The Devil's Backbone (2001) — 92%
After losing his father, a ten-year old boy named Carlos enrolls at the Santa Lucia School, an institution specifically made for orphans. While there, the austere headmistress is Carmen and the kind professor Casares see to Carlos' upbringing. Over time, Carlos becomes aware of the school's innermost secrets, which include a young ghost that haunts the property.
This political ghost story is a master stroke for director Guillermo del Toro. The movie boasts an atmosphere that creeps audiences out in the most insidious way. There is also an undeniable poignancy that gives The Devil's Backbone even more weight.
3 Shrew's Nest (2014) — 94%
Set in Spain in the 1950s, an agoraphobic woman named Montse is limited to her Madrid apartment at all times. Her only connection to the world outside is through Nia, the younger sister she spent the majority of her life caring for. But when an impetuous neighbor named Carlos falls down the stairs, he drags himself to Montse and Nia's apartment for help. As Carlos enters their apartment, he does not realize he may never actually leave.
Shrew's Nest (or Musarañas) is a potent period thriller that is both intimate and entertaining. It starts off slowly before escalating into a gruesome display. Lead actress Macarena Gómez gives an all-out performance, too.
2 The Similars (2016) — 95%
At a bus stop near Mexico City, a group of strangers waits out a terrible storm. As they stew, they notice a series of unusual phenomena taking place at this depot. There appears to be some kind of supernatural force at work, and it's affecting them all like a virus.
The Similars (or Los Parecidos) wears its resemblance to the classic Twilight Zone on its sleeve. There is no doubt that Rod Serling's classic series about thought experimentation is the film's biggest inspiration. On its own, though, The Similars is one mind-bending thriller that will keep its audience guessing.
1 Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017) — 97%
Amidst the Mexican Drug War, an orphaned child named Estrella is given three magical wishes. And after Estrella joins a band of other orphans, they all evade the cartels and other daily horrors that continue to devastate so many people's lives.
Tigers Are Now Afraid is a metaphorical horror film that draws comparisons to Guillermo del Toro's own works. Director and writer Issa López encourages powerful performances from the movie's young cast. In a bid to meld fantasy with upfront realism, this sorrowful tale of childhood trauma stirs up emotion in the most rousing ways.