I love horror movies and I love hearing people speak in the language I grew up around. Outside of my own family and neighborhood, I mean. Put these two together and I get to share my favorite Spanish-language horror films to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month with you all. If you are friends of our podcast, Nightmare on 5th Street, you have heard us share many stories of our childhood and upbringing in a Mexican-American household. Literally…we were raised in The United States in a border town by a Mexican mother, surrounded by the beautiful Mexican culture. I am not biased at all.
My siblings and I were so close and we grew up sharing a love of movies. When I tell people we were close, I feel like that is a severe understatement. My mother was a single mom who worked literal back breaking jobs to raise us. No exaggeration here. She once needed back surgery so bad directly caused from work, it was one of the only times we had a little money in the bank since work had to pay her due to these “unfortunate” circumstances. Our childhood was formed and fostered from having no money (except that nifty little payoff that one time), no entertainment, and strict household rules we didn’t always agree with at the time. But we just learned to make do, keep to ourselves, and stay busy and entertained.
We didn’t have cable television, and often, the only way we caught new and popular movies was on the Spanish network that was on public television. We grew up in the days of very few free channel options and we had four whole choices. The films were often dubbed in Spanish or had Spanish subtitles and it was our norm. We also visited the video stores and were lucky enough to watch our favorites again and again. That was a privilege we had thanks to my father who sometimes was able to take us for an evening here and there and somehow he always knew someone who owned a really cool shop of some sort. We also joke that we took advantage of that “weekend dad” syndrome of wanting to spoil the kids since he didn’t get to hang with us often.
Horror has always been exciting for us. It’s fun, scary, almost always a good laugh because it’s a great way to release that nervous energy. Most importantly, horror has always been a great time together for my family. Still is. In no particular order, I have made a list of my personal favorites, from the more serious masterpieces to the scariest and most entertaining. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
Directed by George Melford
This Spanish language version was filmed at night after the English version was completed during the day. They used the same sets and worked after viewing Tod Browning’s dailies so that Melford could create his own version. The script was rewritten into Spanish. The cast was led by Carlos Villarías as Count Dracula and a primarily Mexican and South American cast, including Lupita Tovar as Eva. This Spanish film is almost 30 mins longer and is stylistically different. The slower pacing is an example, and I personally have enjoyed it much more. They’re both worth the watch and can be appreciated for their individual strengths. Available for free on Tubi.
Somos lo que hay [We Are What We Are]
Written and directed by Jorge Michel Grau
This film was shot entirely in Mexico City and follows a family whose patriarch has passed away and now the family must continue with their family tradition of ritualistic cannibalism. It’s dark, sad, depressing, all the negative feelings, and there are no happy feelings for anyone. That said, it’s beautifully shot, the cast is strong, and the story is gripping. Available for viewing on AMC+ or for rent on Prime.
La casa lobo [The Wolf House]
Written by Alejandra Moffat, Joaquín Cociña, and Cristóbal León and directed by Cociña and León
Completed over the course of 5 years, this stop-motion Chilean masterpiece tells the story of María, who takes refuge in a house after escaping from a German colony. The story is just as frightening as the animation style. There is much to take in as each scene transforms into the next. Available for viewing on Tubi.
El orfanato [The Orphanage]
Written by Sergio G. Sánchez and directed by J.A. Bayona
Laura (Belén Rueda) returns to her childhood home, an orphanage, to reopen it as a home for disabled children. Her son, Simón, disappears at a party after many strange encounters involving an invisible friend. The film is visually stunning, the story is heartbreaking, and the scares are chilling. I cried so long and hard after watching this film that it was challenging to view again so we could cover it for our podcast. Available for rent on Prime.
Written by Luiso Berdejo, Jaume Belagueró, and Paco Plaza and directed by Belagueró and Plaza
This Spanish film follows a tv reporter and her cameraman on the night shift at a fire station. It was shot in real locations throughout Barcelona, with no sets, and the cast was never handed the script in its entirety to produce realistic reactions. This movie was followed by several sequels and spawned an American remake. Rec is why I love found footage horror, although I don’t think I have ever seen better. Available on Tubi for your viewing pleasure.
La Llorona (2019)
Written by Jayro Bustamente and Lisandro Sanchez and directed by Bustamente
This Guatemalan film captures the story of an aging war criminal haunted by the ghosts of his past. It’s not the typical telling of the folk story of La Llorona as it is able to reinvent it in an even more haunting light. I am confident that most have heard nothing but praise, and I can’t say anything new except that everyone needs to see it. It’s beautiful, and María Mercedes Coroy is breathtaking. Available on Shudder.
Vuelven [Tigers Are Not Afraid]
Written and directed by Issa López
Vuelven is a dark fairy tale about five children trying to survive drug cartel violence and life on the streets of Mexico City. The film is gorgeous, the story is brutally heartbreaking, and the horror is so real that the fantasy elements were necessary so that we can separate ourselves from the horrible reality that bad things happen to children every day. Available now on Shudder.
Written and directed by Demián Rugna
Strange and scary things are happening in a neighborhood in Buenos Aires. I put this film on my list solely because it scared the absolute shit out of me. I admit I had a handful of questions for the paranormal investigative team in this movie, but I do not need the answers. I was too busy occasionally screaming while viewing what I could through my spread fingers covering my eyes. Dead people scare me. Available on Shudder.
El Hoyo [The Platform]
Written by David Desola and Pedro Rivero and directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
This film summary exists on a lost episode of our podcast where I retold the story to my sister as if we were kids again, sitting on our shared bed, trying to whisper in the middle of the night and scare each other. I miss that pastime of ours. El Hoyo is profoundly deep, and just like the levels in the prison that house the characters, there seems to be no end to the misery and tragedy. Available for viewing on Netflix.
La casa del fin de los tiempos [The House at the End of Time]
Written by Alejandro Hidalgo and Frank Baiz Quevedo and directed by Hidalgo
Another Venezuelan great, this film follows the story of a mother experiencing haunting events in her aging home and then facing the tragedies of her past these many years later. For those who love the supernatural, science-fiction, mystery, and drama, there is a story to entertain everyone. Available on Peacock and Tubi.
// You can listen to Alma & Dalia discuss some of these movies on their podcast Nightmare on 5th Street. Check them out the following links!