After the Grand Guignol horror of William Castle’s lurid 13 Ghosts, time to go down a more subtle avenue with the 1961 British horror classic The Innocents.  Based on the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw, this atmospheric slice of haunted gothic is a direct influence on the mood and look of the Nicole Kidman vehicle The Others and its claws are also in any number of other films that use chills and suggestion rather than shock and awe to fray the audiences nerves.

A young governess played by Deborah Kerr becomes convinced the house and grounds of the house where she works are haunted when her two charges start behaving oddly. The Innocents is more in line with a classic round the campfire ghost yarn or the chilling horror plays the BBC used to produce for Christmas in its golden era.

Although not a massive hit with audiences at the time (but then, neither was The Wizard of Oz… Or It’s A Wonderful Life), the film has grown in stature over the years and is now pretty much the benchmark for how to create a faultless haunted house movie. Martin Scorsese rates this film, placing The Innocents on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time while Time Out rates it 18th in it’s list of the 100 greatest British films.

Any horror fans and indeed any serious lover of cinema should watch this film and see how many genre rules are nailed down…

Break-out horror movie smash of the year that has been electrifying hardened genre fans and non-horror fans alike, “The Pact” combines the supernatural terrors of “Paranormal Activity” with the tense atmospherics of a serial killer thriller to create a unique, modern-day take on the classic ghost story.

And it’s out on October 1st! Pre-order yours here.

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The standard rhetoric is that the horror is best served Italian, American or British (with an occasional side order of ghostly Sushi from the Japanese), but for scary movie fans with one foot in the world cinema camp, the Spanish aren’t to be sniffed at. They’ve been pumping out hundreds of movies – from real chilling classics to brain scrambling kitsch shlock – for decades, even if the odd fascist dictator like Franco occasionally decided to get censorious in order to protect the people from themselves. Let’s be clear about this… Any country that can spit out a tits and terror hero like Jess Franco has to have something going for it in the realms of fright flicks, porn drenched Lesbian vampire movies and grisly undead shockers.

So here’s my primer. Just a few classics to prove that the awesome [REC] franchise isn’t some strange anomoly…

The Living Dead at The Manchester Morgue (1974)

These day,s eco disaster is standard issue in the horror movie but in this unique, British set Italio-Spanish production, mankind’s obsession with fiddling with the natural world leads to some pretty horrific gore splattered Zombie action in a movie that forms a neat bridge between Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in the late 60s and Dawn of the Dead and its pasta rip-offs a decade or so later. From a film of this vintage, it pours on the gore in torrents and there’s a general air of the surreal and unsettling that acts as a pre-cursor to some of the more batshit insane Italian flesheater epics of the early 80s, such as the output of fever dream specialist Lucio Fulci.

Romasanta (2004)

Werewolf movies… Unwitting villain who didn’t choose his fate, psychological torment, silver bullets, waking up naked in the woods with half a dead sheep. Such is the typical cinematic offering. But Romasanta – from the man who brought you the Rec movies – is a different animal. More of a 19th century police procedural with a psychological bent than a straight up horror flick, this a film that is unfairly overlooked. Our fiend presents himself as victim of Lycanthropy but the officer pursuing the foul serial killer thinks differently. Romasanta turns all the cliches laid out in the classic Universal horror pictures on their heads and should be sought out by any fan of Wolf’s Bane and the silvery light of a full Moon.

H6: Diary of a Serial Killer (2006)

Trust the Spanish to jump on the torture-porn bandwagon with a completely skewed take on the material. No elaborate Saw-like traps or moral lessons here. Just a sick F**K in a tarp-lined room who likes to dismember women. Take one relentlessly psychopathic man recently released after a 25 year stint behind bars, let him inherit an old hotel where he has the space and privacy to exact his twisted will on his victims and then give him a mission to ‘purify’ those who have lost the will to live. If you can get out from behind your hands and actually watch this unrelentingly grim and sordid but rather excellent affair I salute you.

The Blind Dead Series (1970s)

Mentioning Spanish horror without taking about The Blind Dead is impossible. These films alone earn the country a seat at the grown-ups table when it comes to 70s horror that slams European Gothic, Sexploitation and general Grindhouse weirdness into one messed up package. There’s a touch of the Hammer studios about these graphic tales of undead Templer Knights who lost their souls in the pursuit of power and now ride the night, searching with sightless eyes for generally topless girls to sate their foul hungers upon. Creaky, bizarre and dated they may be, but consider this. They filmed secret stronger sequences under the radar of Franco’s fascist regime for foreign markets. Horror producers in the 70s may have been exploitation hucksters, but they were also part of the revolution.

Panic Beats (1983)

Another thing you can’t avoid in a discussion of Spanish horror is the name Paul Naschy. The Madrid Lon Chaney Jr, who starred as El Hombre Lobo in a host of Spanish Wolfman movies, is the face of Spanish shlock-horror and it would have been easy to pick an obvious title from his extensive filmography that reflected his recurring role as Waldemar Daninsky – the tragic figure cursed with the werewolf’s bite – but that would be too easy wouldn’t it? Instead, let me draw your attention to something really, REALLY weird… Panic Beats, the chilling and also extremely kitsch tale of a ghost knight who returns to his castle every one hundred years to ice any troublesome women who happen to causing his descendants grief. Politically correct? Not a chance. Wild and screwy entertainment? What do you think!

Fragile (2005)

Another hidden gem, overlooked by horror fans perhaps because they see Calista Flockhart and assume it’s a romantic drama about a fragile Ally McBeal character instead a twisted tale of broken limbs and a haunted children’s ward. There’s a ghost in the hospital who was once a nurse obsessed with a young patient suffering brittle bone disease. This damaged angel of mercy deliberately shattered the child’s limbs in order to keep her in treatment. Driven to madness, the mentally unstable carer threw herself down a lift shaft and now she’s back from the dead to snap more delicate arms and legs. See this movie, it’s about as far from sassy lawyers getting down to Vonda Shepard in a cocktail bar as you can get.

Who Can Kill A Child? (1976)

Before The Children of the Corn, there was a little Spanish film about an island of psycho kids with murder and mayhem pumping through their veins. After a documentary intro about the effects of war on children, we meet an English couple on a last jolly before the birth of their child. Their idyllic island hideaway is far from the ideal locale however, populated as it is with a horde of grim-faced silent children with a certain look in their eyes. These kids have obviously wiped out the adult population and have the ability to turn unaffected youngsters into dead faced murderers like themselves. Now this innocent couple, who ironically are about to bring a new life into the world, must decide… Can they kill a child?

La Cabina (1972)

Aside from the Rec movies – after all, that’s why we’re here today – if you watch one movie from Spain, see this absolutely chilling flick. Well, when I say movie, it’s actually an Emmy awarding winning episode from a Twilight Zone style TV series but as an exercise in fear and building tension, it’s almost unbeatable. Do I offer spoilers for this? Is there any point in explaining the plot. I think no… If you haven’t seen it yet, head to Youtube where you’ll find it in full and prepare to be completely surprised and bowled over. So many films are described as nightmare visions but in the main, they are carefully referenced genre works constructed from familiar tropes. La Cabina is very different. It feels as if the screenwriter awoke from a night terror, reached for paper and pen on the bedside table and wrote about the REM sleep horrors his mind had created before they faded from memory. There really is nothing else like this.


Pieces (1982)

I include Pieces not because it’s a great movie, it isn’t. Entertaining maybe, a box ticker certainly, but good? It depends on your stomach for genre I suppose. No, I include Pieces in our Spanish horror run down because, like the Quasi-religious disease that sweeps through the various casts of the Rec movies, turning them into flesh-starved, brainless, rotting zombie-like fiends, this movie demonstrates how the US slasher boom acted like a foul plague, infecting film industries around the world with its Point-of-view, through the eyes of the killer camera work, Reaganomic sexual morality and leering cheesecake shots. Pieces is so typical it makes your teeth aches. Heres ‘that’ prologue. You know the one… The one where the future killer is turned evil by some depraved act by a parent (the other one being the high school or college prank intro). Here’s the kid decades later, ready to kill nubile women and their dates, especially if the girls put out. Pieces, like so many of these films is simple, stalk/slash fun but it serves to remind us that Spain has always had a eye on the international market when it comes to creating cinema terror.

The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)

Familiar title? You might remember it as a chapter heading in Tarantino’s Kill Bill but don’t dismiss it as yet another element of Quentin’s mixtape movie making factory, this is one of the pivotal sapphic vampire flicks of the 1970s. As morality loosened and sex and death became the mainstay of B-cinema and exploitation hacks, The Blood Splattered Bride rose above the pack and sits alongside some of the movies of French art-porn maven Jean Rollin in the blood-on-breasts, Lesbian vampire genre. Grindhouse fans will know this movie from it’s outrageous double bill trailer when it was teamed with the less than subtle I Dismember Mama and actors posing as audience members played insane after witnessing the shocking reality of the two movies but The Blood Spattered Bride is a much more modest, erotic and quietly disturbing movie with a unique if occasionally a little too sedate style.

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