6. Los Otros / The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001)
Upon its release, this film caused split reactions and invited comparisons to The Sixth Sense. But what made it truly captivating is the ease with which young filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar captured the tone and feel of Victorian British horror stories, namely The Turn of the Screw.
Set in the island of Jersey in 1945, the film takes place in a giant, dark, desolate house. Its caretaker, Grace (Nicole Kidman), is a distant, overprotective mother on the verge of hysteria. She shields her children, who suffer from life-threatening photosensitivity, from the outside world, and strictly instructs them in religious teachings.
When three new servants arrive, strange occurrences follow. Grace’s religious beliefs don’t allow her to accept that something supernatural might be going on in the dark corners of the oppressive home’s eternal gloom. But even her hardheadedness can’t blind her to doors that swing open even though they’re supposed to be locked, or a piano that insists on playing itself.
The frights in this film are mostly subtle and atmospheric, with the idea of something horrifying lying beneath the surface. Kidman’s performance heightens the tension as she hurries down tight corridors trying to deny rather than to solve the mysteries in her home.
7. [Rec] (Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, 2007)
There have been sequels, spin-offs and American remakes, but this is the film that started it all. When [Rec] was released in 2007, it took the world by storm with its nearly flawless execution of a well-loved horror theme—being trapped with an unknown number of the flesh-eating undead.
A found footage masterpiece, the film begins with a television crew visiting a fire department to get behind the scenes of the daily lives of these heroes. When they get called in to a residential building in a frenzy, the camera crew follows, to find that something out of the ordinary is going on. They find themselves trapped in the quarantined building, at the mercy of something dangerous.
Zombies, living dead—it doesn’t matter what you want to call them. They’re hungry, they’re fast, and they’re coming for everyone. As journalist Manuela (Angela Vidal) fights to survive, she goes deeper into the building and its secrets, learning that there’s more to these flesh-eaters than the authorities are willing to say.
With plenty of jumps and screams, this film quickly became a cult favorite. Now a four-part series, none of the sequels quite live up to the first—and we won’t even get into the American remake, Quarantine)—but the [Rec] name lives on as a fun, terrifying series in the vein of George A. Romero’s zombie opus.
8. El Orfanato / The Orphanage (J.A. Bayona, 2007)
It seems director J.A. Bayona learned a few things from executive producer Guillermo del Toro, because his hand seems to have touched this film that delivers both on the frights and the story. Horror films about children are often the scariest, perhaps because the loss of innocence is truly a terrifying thing.
Laura (Belén Rueda) grew up in an orphanage, and she returns to her childhood home as an adult to turn it once again into a safe place for abandoned children to grow up. The giant, victorian home is an ominous presence in itself, but Laura doesn’t know the horrors that occurred there after she was adopted.
Her son, Simon (Roger Princep), makes friends with invisible children, which his parents brush off as his imagination at first. But when Simon disappears, the presence of these children in the house are Laura’s only hope at finding him. Love drives her to face her fears, as she is determined to find out what happened behind these once-happy walls.
Geraldine Chaplin’s cameo is just the cherry on top of this terrifying yet somehow heartwarming story that deals, like El Espinazo del Diablo, with the human-inflicted horrors that stripped the innocence from these children.
9. Los Ojos De Julia / Julia’s Eyes (Guillem Morales, 2010)
The idea of using eyes and blindness as a horror device is not new. We saw it in the Hong Kong film The Eye and its American remake. Julia’s Eyes uses the theme to the fullest extent, making viewers feel the desperation of losing one of your senses without—you know—having the entire film be a black screen.
We’re first introduced to Julia’s sister, Sara (both twins played by Belén Rueda), who is convinced that someone is in her house. What follows is Julia’s search for the truth about her sister’s sudden and mysterious death—but the degenerative disease that plagues both the twins is starting to take its toll on Julia, and she is losing her sight.
While everyone dismisses her as paranoid, Julia’s descent into blindness brings the viewer into a world of isolation. As she loses her sight, we can no longer see people’s faces, and have to develop blind trust in the characters that surround her. She has to learn to use her other senses to find out who is the invisible man that followed her sister and is now after her.
Everything crescendos into a very graphic, disturbing scene that might make even the strongest gore fans scream—let’s just say Morales channels his inner Luis Buñuel.
10. Mientras Duermes / Sleep Tight (Jaume Balagueró, 2011)
Jaume Balaguero shows us his deft hand at dealing with scary monsters in the [Rec] series, but in this film the terrors come from a good-old psychopath.
It’s best to watch this tense, atmospheric film with little knowledge of the plot. The pace is so subtle, building slowly beneath the surface, that it’s almost cathartic when you realize you’ve been caught in a whirlwind of straight up insanity.
Cesar (Luis Tosar) starts off as an almost sympathetic character, and the viewer gets caught up in his petty schemes. He claims he has never been happy a day in his life. The concierge in a residential building, he can only find pleasure by inflicting unhappiness unto others. With some, it’s easy—like hurting a lonely old woman’s dogs, or sending a young man to jail for no reason—but others prove more of a challenge.
He becomes fixated with Clara (Marta Etura), whose cheery disposition makes it almost impossible to break her spirit. But that doesn’t mean he’ll stop trying. Cesar plays the long game, gradually finding more harmful ways to infiltrate in this young woman’s life—and it all takes place in the privacy of her home. This film questions privacy and safety, and will have you checking underneath your bed before you go to bed.
Author Bio: Nathalia Vélez grew up in Venezuela and now lives in Denver, where she works as a freelance journalist by day and blogger by night. She likes to write reviews, analysis and lists about film, television, books, art, culture and creative people.