Terrifyingly Good: 10 Must-watch Spanish Horror Movies
Are you looking for movies that will help you learn Spanish?
More specifically, are you looking for movies you’ll never, ever forget?
Then don’t blink now because this post contains 10 of the most terrifying Spanish horror movies to have graced the silver screen. They’ll get your heart and your brain racing as you frighten yourself to Spanish fluency.
We’ll show you how Spanish horror movies can be shockingly good tools to help you learn the language, then we’ll give you recommendations of some movies that are so freaky, they might just scare your pantalones off!
So grab some popcorn and a wooden stake, pour yourself a refreshing drink with a goblet of holy water on the side, and hold on tight to your movie watching partner—and your Spanish dictionary!—because this post may get educationally spooky!
What Makes Spanish Horror Movies Great Language Learning Tools?
It might seem like horror movies are more popular than ever these days, but Spanish filmmakers have been scaring the world for quite some time. The ’60s and ’70s, considered a “golden age” of Spanish horror cinema, produced movies like “El gran amor del conde Drácula” (“Count Dracula’s Great Love”) and “¿Quién puede matar a un niño?” (“Who Can Kill A Child?”). These and other movies coincided with the end of General Franco’s dictatorship, which had severely controlled such content.
Today, that tradition of psychological thrillers, bloodlust and scare-the-pants-off-of-you filmmaking is continued by the likes of Guillermo del Toro, Juan Antonio Bayona and Jaume Balagueró.
Spanish language learners can put all this overflowing gore to good use as language learning tools. The movies will keep you up at night anyway, so you might as well put those sleepless nights to good use and improve your Spanish!
Horror movies have a naturally compelling story line.
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One great thing about a horror or thriller movie is that you never know what’s going to happen next. Yeah, we know somebody is probably going to die, or somebody is definitely hiding behind the door or somebody is rearranging some furniture in the middle of the night, but we’re not really sure. This isn’t your standard Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks romantic comedy movie where, once you see their names on the screen, you know the two main characters will end up together by the time the final credits roll.
Instead, horror movies play on our primal fears, our deepest and darkest thoughts. By tackling the taboo, by skirting the commonalities between fantasy and reality, the horror genre has a way of imprinting movie sequences inside our minds.
They show us what’s inside our human heads (sometimes both literally and figuratively) and feature deep tragedies, strings of accidents that only some supernatural force can conspire to create.
Horror movies are supposed to pull the rug out from underneath us. They can purposely lead us to some erroneous conclusions in the first 117 minutes of the film, then introduce some fundamental twist that turns the whole movie on its head. Sometimes, it’s even a double or triple twist that takes us for a loop:
The woman was actually not her mother!
That guy was dead this whole time?!
The ghost was actually helping her!
Oh, so that’s why she killed them!
She’s actually the ghost!
Intense scenes, coupled with unique and unforgettable plot twists, combine to make horror movies more memorable in terms of both story and language itself, making them particularly useful for learners.
The repetition and rhythm in horror movies are great for language learners.
In spite of them being highly unpredictable, on some level, horror movies also follow a formula. So you’ll often see scenes that are reminiscent of what you saw earlier. For example, a character might have a modus operandi when killing, or there might be a repetition of what happens today and what happened exactly 666 years ago.
Or you might hear the killer blurt out the same lines over and over every time he stabs someone.
For example, in the movie “Final Destination,” you see Death work in a very similar way, creatively using everyday objects and a confluence of seemingly freak events to snatch his subjects from the world of the living.
Movies also have many other things going on for language learners.
The plot provides context for the language so you can actually see for yourself how it’s used in dialogues and scenes. Movies are language in action, and if anything, horror movies do this contextualizing function a notch above other genres. They hit your senses stronger, embedding themselves deeper in your memory.
You might forget everything about a boy-meets-girl flick, but you’ll never forget how a deranged daughter says, “Sabroso…” (yummy) while she’s naked and feasting on the raw, bloody insides of her own pet dog. Perhaps it’s an unconventional way to learn new vocabulary, but at least it’s effective.
Now let’s look at a few tips for working with horror movies, to ensure you get maximum learning from them.
5 Tips for Watching Spanish Horror Movies
1. Watch them like any movie, at least at first.
In this case, being too earnest can work against you. You can’t go full-on “Spanish language learner” mode from the get-go, mining every line of dialogue for all the Spanish goodness they contain. That can backfire.
Instead, watch the movie first, like you would any movie. Do it at least once. Make your popcorn, get your cold soda and wrap your “spill blanket” around you. The director did their best to scare you, so at least give them the chance to do that.
In order to linguistically milk a movie, you have to understand motivation and situation. Language doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the things that characters say and do follow from their motivation. How they react and what they say to each other depends so much on the situation. You won’t be able to effectively divine that unless you go through the film at least once and digest it like any normal moviegoer.
2. Read along (out loud) with the subtitles.
Let’s say you’ve seen the movie a few times. Now you’re in learner mode, looking to get as much as you can from the film.
At this point, there’s a real tendency to get immersed in the plot, lulling yourself into passivity in the process. But in order to maximize the time you invest, you should also be speaking along with the characters, reading the subtitles aloud, aping characters’ emotions and/or playing the role of one of the characters.
If you do that enough, soon you’ll not only be able to memorize the lines, but your tongue will also become familiar with the rhythm and rhyme, the twist and turns, the dips and rises of Spanish—those things are the essence of being able to speak the language.
3. Watch without subtitles, even before you think you’re ready.
Sometimes subtitles can be a crutch. Yeah, they’re eminently useful, but there comes a point when you have to let go and immerse yourself in the language without their help.
When you go to a Spanish-speaking country, sit in a public square and listen to the native speakers talk. You won’t see puffs of subtitles suddenly appearing out of nowhere, will you? You just have to do your best to figure out what everyone is saying to each other.
But with horror movies, you actually have so much going on in terms of context, visuals, sounds and themes, that you can wean yourself from subtitles earlier than you think.
Go ahead and try it. You don’t need 100% comprehension. Just enough to negotiate meaning.
4. Take note of character reactions and repeating lines.
When somebody in the movie whispers, “No corras” (Don’t run), it’s not just so the sleeping monsters won’t wake up and impede the children’s escape. It’s actually a vocabulary entry.
Dialogues, reactions and repeating lines in the movie don’t just move the story forward. They’re the things that enrich your grasp of the language, giving you an actual example of how the language is used in a specific situation.
One of the characteristics of a good language learner is the ability to extract something from a scene and use it in a different context. For example, you can take that line from before and add to it, saying, “No corras. El piso está mojado.” (Don’t run. The floor is wet.)
So, be very conscious of the words you learn from these movies because you can actually apply them to less-nefarious everyday situations.
5. Write a plot summary in Spanish.
Make the movie a jumping-off point to practice your writing skills. Writing is often the last skill that language learners master, but the very act of writing itself makes you better with other language skills like speaking and listening.
Writing your own summary of the film forces you to learn more words, helps you notice the basics of Spanish sentence construction and gives you the chance to express your thoughts in Spanish. You end up with a visual reference of your thoughts.
The beautiful thing about having something written is you can edit it as you go along; over time, you can add more nuances to the sentences so they reflect the advances that you’ve made in the language. Overall, writing is an awesome way to cement your Spanish.
Let’s now check out 10 Spanish horror movies you’ll be dying to see—hold tight while we enter a world of pure horror en español!
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10 Frighteningly Good Spanish Horror Movies That’ll Help You Learn
1. “El espinazo del diablo” (“The Devil’s Backbone”)
Let’s start off with something relatively light. Not as jarring as others in the horror genre, but still with the requisite “jump” scenes, this Gothic film is a spine-tingling experience.
Guillermo del Toro’s “El espinazo del diablo” is set in 1939, as the Spanish Civil War is coming to an end. The boy Carlos is sent to an austere orphanage in the middle of nowhere. He undergoes all the taunts and bullying usually reserved for the new kid on the block. What is unusual, though, is that he hears a voice which says, “Many of you will die.”
Carlos soon learns that the voice is of a small boy, Santi—a ghost with a story to tell. The plot is brilliantly unveiled and soon we realize that something is hidden in the orphanage that serves as catalyst for the whole film. We also see how one man’s greed can cost so much for so many.
By the way, if you’re wondering what “el espinazo del diablo” refers to, it’s a drink from the liquid used to preserve dead fetuses, spiked with herbs and spices, and believed to cure all sorts of ailments, even impotence. And in the movie you get to see a man of science drink it.
Still, the most memorable line that will probably haunt you long after the credits roll is “Muchos de ustedes morirán” (Many of you will die). It’s the warning that the ghost of Santi repeats, presaging what will happen in the movie. Speaking of ghosts, the Spanish term for them is fantasma.
How about you: do you believe in ghosts?
Regardless of the answer, go and watch this film and turn it into one powerful learning tool.
2. “Los ojos de Julia” (“Julia’s Eyes”)
Everything is not what it seems in this movie. Crafted by the master storyteller-director Guillem Morales, this 2010 offering is so full of twists, turns, betrayal and discovery that your head will still be spinning days after watching it.
Julia’s blind twin sister Sara has just died, ostensibly by suicide. Julia, who has a degenerative eye disease, suspects that there’s more to her twin sister’s death than meets the eye. She decides to discover who or what really murdered her twin.
Her worsening condition doesn’t help her cause and she’s left with poor vision and a feeling that someone—a sinister presence lurking in the shadows—is out to make her suffer the same fate as her sister.
There’s a section in the movie where the director puts us in the shoes of Julia, giving us a firsthand look, showing us what she sees, and only what she sees. It’s powerful technique that drags viewers into her world.
Language learners sometimes say that the dialogues in movies happen so fast that they can’t really follow along. Well, you won’t have that problem with this film. The dialogues are often learner friendly, and the audio is crisp and clear. You’ll have no problem making out the individual words because the actors enunciate their lines really well. Add to that the context provided by film’s plot, and you’ll be able to negotiate meaning easily.
You’ll also find plenty of vocabulary. For example, there’s often talk about being or becoming ciego or cegado (blind). Then there are also words like oscuro (dark) and negro (black). They refer not only to the state of the surroundings, the lighting conditions or the gradual impairment of Julia’s vision. They really refer to the unenlightened characters, and how they’re clueless about the hidden but real forces that move behind the scenes.
Be ready for some exciting revelations all throughout this one.
Imagine being in an apartment complex full of zombies. You’re part of a documentary crew that’s trapped inside, recording the whole thing—and trying to stay alive in the process.
A reporter-cameraman pair, hoping to document what a group of firefighters does during the evening shift, follows them on a dispatch. The call is regarding a Mrs. Izquierdo, who’s trapped in her apartment, screaming.
Lo and behold, you find yourself ascending into an enclosed zombie epidemic. The building’s residents are fearful and normal one minute, but become aggressively rabid the next. As you weave, duck and try to keep yourself free from infection, you stumble upon the source of this strange phenomena.
But will knowing that matter? Because the real question actually is: Will you survive the night?
Language learners will discover vocabulary like zombi/autómata (zombie) and mordida (bite), and hear a lot of frenzied gritos (screams) both from the living and the undead. This “Blair Witch”-style movie, where you get to see what the camera sees, will keep you on the edge of your seat.
4. “Tesis” (“Thesis”)
Angela is a university student working on a thesis about audiovisual violence. Now, this should already alert you to the theme and the kinds of visuals contained in this movie. If gore and great storytelling are your regular fare, then you’ll fit right in here.
While Angela is searching in the university’s audiovisual archives, she finds a snuff film featuring a girl who disappeared two years earlier. Using deduction and insight, she and a friend try to find out who videotaped the murder (el asesinato).
As Angela gets deeper into her thesis, and into the provenance of the video, she also gradually establishes the real possibility that she could very well end up starring in her own snuff film and end up dead (muerta). Now everybody is a suspect. Her friend, her professor, a recent acquaintance. Who did it? Who’s the psycho (psicópata) who tortures and murders random people on tape?
This winner of seven 1996 Goya Awards, including the awards for Best Film, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, will take you on a rollercoaster of a ride. Let’s see you try to eat your hot dog or popcorn while watching this one.
5. “La madre muerta” (“The Dead Mother”)
A bungled burglary leads to the murder of a woman, while her daughter looks on.
Twenty years later, the criminal, going by another name and now working in a bar, sees the girl again. The poor girl is suffering from a developmental disability. Her blank stare sends cold chills down the murderer’s spine.
Does she recognize him? Will she turn him in?
The disturbed killer, getting desperate, badly wants to cover his tracks and tie up some loose ends. He plots to finish the job he should have done many years ago. Will he be able to finally do it? Check out the movie and find out.
When you look closely into this psychological thriller, you’ll see artful use of the color red (rojo). But that doesn’t mean overflowing shots of blood (sangre); in fact, there’s not much blood in this one. The director was able to incorporate red into the scenes, with red lipstick, red walls, red shirts, a red dress and red drawn on the nose and face—that of a clown (payaso).
6. “Ahí va el diablo” (“Here Comes The Devil”)
They were supposed to be back in an hour. It was just an innocent trek in the hills.
A couple loses their beloved teenage son and daughter to the hills and caves of Tijuana, Mexico. It was a long night as the distraught parents imagined what could have happened to them.
Thankfully, the kids are found alive and well the next day.
Or are they?
They start to display very strange, antisocial and malevolent behavior upon their return—as if they’re possessed (endemoniados). This prompts the couple to suspect that something deeply sinister must have happened on the night they were gone, and they believe some evil spirit (espíritu maligno) might be causing this disturbing behavior. Seeking answers, they hear stories about the dark legends of the area and caves the children were lost in.
The mother finds herself in a cave (cueva), where she finds…all the answers to her questions.
“Ahí va el diablo” is a Mexican film by director Adrian Garcia Bogliano which debuted at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.
7. “El día de la bestia” (“The Day of the Beast”)
We take a breather from this parade of horrors with something on the lighter side.
“El día de la bestia” is a healthy mix of action, comedy and terror. It’s the story of a priest who deciphers the exact date of birth of the Antichrist. Wanting to stop the evil reign before it’s too late, the priest teams up with an occult expert and a fanatic of black metal music. Their absurd plan is to commit as many sins as possible in order to gain entry into the Devil’s inner circle and be around when the Antichrist is born.
And that’s why in the opening scene, you’ll see a priest walking down the street, punching people, shoving helpless strangers, shoplifting and committing a series of other awful sins.
This movie is full of Spanish cognates—words that are very similar to an English word. For example, “apocalypse” is “apocalipsis,” the “Antichrist” is “anticristo” and “occult” is “oculto.” This dark comedy may put you in between fits of laughter and fright, but hopefully it’ll give you a bright sense of what the Spanish language is all about.
8. “La casa del fin de los tiempos” (“The House at the End of Time”)
Imagine being under house arrest (arresto domiciliario) inside a haunted house (casa embrujada). Imagine living out your days in the house where your husband was murdered and your son vanished into thin air—and the one who’s been convicted of those crimes.
This movie happens in two timelines, one in 1981, and another in 2011. When the clock strikes 11:11:11 on November 11, 2011, the house is transported back 30 years to 1981. Dulce, the main character, sees things that make her understand all the tragedy, horrors and strange events from 30 years before.
Through shrewd editing, the movie is able to gradually unveil the whole plot, leading moviegoers from one “Aha!” moment to the next. This movie, which was distributed all over the world, has been well received by audiences and is one of the highest-grossing Venezuelan pictures.
9. “Los sin nombre” (“The Nameless”)
A six-year-old girl’s mutilated body is hoisted out of a deep cistern. A father receives that dreaded call and must go through the gut-wrenching act of confirming that the corpse (cadáver) is that of his daughter.
The body is so thoroughly disfigured that establishing identity is practically impossible, if not for the unmistakable bracelet found with the body and the fact that one leg was a few inches shorter than the other. It was indeed their girl.
Fast-forward five years: the parents’ marriage is now over, and the pill-popping mother suddenly receives a phone call where she hears a familiar voice: it’s her daughter! Or at least the voice claims she is. She says she only wanted everybody to believe she was dead, and now she’s asking her mother to come and get her.
And so begins a mother’s epic struggle to get her daughter back from the clutches of whatever it is that has her. “Los sin nombre” (The Nameless) is the name—ironic, right?—of the cult (culto) which traffics in the world of pure evil (mal). They’ve worked behind the scenes of history to commit humanity’s most horrendous acts. And just to make things more deplorable, the husband turns out to be a card-carrying member of the group.
Will the mother get her daughter back? Or will she lose her own life instead?
10. “El orfanato” (“The Orphanage”)
Laura goes back to the old orphanage where she grew up. Together with her husband and adopted son Simon, they’re going to reopen it for disabled children.
It doesn’t take long before Simon starts talking about seeing Tomás, a boy his age who wears an old sack for a mask (máscara). Simon claims he talks with Tomas, an orphan (huérfano) who has warned him that he’s about to die!
On the opening day of the orphanage, after a little argument, Simon runs and hides from Laura. Where’s Simon? Is he still alive? You’ll have to watch the film and brace yourself for more shocking revelations.
These 10 Spanish horror movies will chill your spine and activate your brain. Watch them day or night and use them to learn more of the language. If you do that, chances are your Spanish learning will have a well-deserved happy ending.