Spanish Horror That Will Scare Your Pantalones Off

Francisco Goya, Spanish artist. Spanish speaking countries have a rich history that adds to their particular contribution to horror art, literature and film

Just to be clear, I mean horror movies in the Spanish language , not just Spain.  Growing up in a predominately Mexican-American community like I did, one develops a very deep tradition of superstitions and beliefs that has been passed down the generations. Like el mal de ojo, if you show envy (even in the form of compliments), you are required to touch the object of your desire.  For example, if you compliment a mother on the beauty of her baby, you must quickly touch the baby or you will cause the baby to get sick .  And my mother would throw a fit if ever I set my purse on the floor, (one of the many reasons I know longer bother with purses.)Anyway, that’s just a few examples of something other cultures  may find curious.  Some may roll their eyes at certain beliefs, but personally, superstitions and beliefs make life more interesting and colorful.  I grew up with stories of La Llorona and El Cadejo and the lechuza.  My grandmother gave us protective red thread and prayed over her children and grandchild while rubbing an egg over us.  Sounds weird, I know, but an “egg cleansing”  is something any Mexican-American child has seen or had done to them at one time or another.  My grandmother would crack the egg in water and “read” it.

She would call my cousins and I to come inside when it was dark out before La Llorona came and got us, and we’d come running inside.  I’ve overheard people talk about La Llorona strictly as a South Texas Legend, but her story doesn’t just belong to us, she is a central American and Southwest legend.  The truth is no one knows  her origins although she is commonly associated with a weeping Aztec goddess named Cihuacoalt from the city of Tenochtitlan.

In Aztec mythology, Cihuacoatl (“snake woman”) was one of a number of motherhood and fertility goddesses.  Cihuacoatl is pronounced the wo ko ah’tl, which surprised me, turns out I was pronouncing it wrong.  Cihuacoatl was especially associated with midwives, and with the sweatbaths where midwives practiced. She helped Quetzalcoatl create the current race of humanity by grinding up bones from the previous ages, and mixing it with his blood. She is also the mother of Mixcoatl, who she abandoned at a crossroads. Tradition says that she often returns there to weep for her lost son, only to find a sacrificial knife. The story goes that Cihuacoatl was said to have appeared shortly prior to the invasion of Mexico by Hernán Cortés, weeping for her lost children, an omen of the fall of the Aztec empire.  La Llorona is also sometimes identified with La Malinche, the Native American woman who served as Cortés interpreter and who some say betrayed Mexico to the Spanish conquistadors. In one folk story of La Malinche, she becomes Cortés mistress and bears him a child, only to be abandoned so that he could marry an aristocratic Spanish lady.

Here is a story of La Llorona I found that was most similar to the story I grew up with: 

by Joe Hayes

This is a story that the old ones have been telling to children for hundreds of years. It is a sad tale, but it lives strong in the memories of the people, and there are many who swear that it is true.

Long years ago in a humble little village there lived a fine looking girl named Maria Some say she was the most beautiful girl in the world! And because she was so beautiful, Maria thought she was better than everyone else.

As Maria grew older, her beauty increased And her pride in her beauty grew too When she was a young woman, she would not even look at the young men from her village. They weren’t good enough for her! “When I marry,” Maria would say, “I will marry the most handsome man in the world.”

And then one day, into Maria’s village rode a man who seemed to be just the one she had been talking about. He was a dashing young ranchero, the son of a wealthy rancher from the southern plains. He could ride like a Comanche! In fact, if he owned a horse, and it grew tame, he would give it away and go rope a wild horse from the plains. He thought it wasn’t manly to ride a horse if it wasn’t half wild.

He was handsome! And he could play the guitar and sing beautifully. Maria made up her mind-that was, the man for her! She knew just the tricks to win his attention.

If the ranchero spoke when they met on the pathway, she would turn her head away. When he came to her house in the evening to play his guitar and serenade her, she wouldn’t even come to the window. She refused all his costly gifts. The young man fell for her tricks. “That haughty girl, Maria, Maria! ” he said to himself. “I know I can win her heart. I swear I’ll marry that girl.”

And so everything turned out as Maria planned. Before long, she and the ranchero became engaged and soon they were married. At first, things were fine. They had two children and they seemed to be a happy family together. But after a few years, the ranchero went back to the wild life of the prairies. He would leave town and be gone for months at a time. And when he returned home, it was only to visit his children. He seemed to care nothing for the beautiful Maria. He even talked of setting Maria aside and marrying a woman of his own wealthy class.

As proud as Maria was, of course she became very angry with the ranchero. She also began to feel anger toward her children, because he paid attention to them, but just ignored her.

One evening, as Maria was strolling with her two children on the shady pathway near the river, the ranchero came by in a carriage. An elegant lady sat on the seat beside him. He stopped and spoke to his children, but he didn’t even look at Maria. He whipped the horses on up the street.

When she saw that, a terrible rage filled Maria, and it all turned against her children. And although it is sad to tell, the story says that in her anger Maria seized her two children and threw them into the river! But as they disappeared down the stream, she realized what she had done! She ran down the bank of the river, reaching out her arms to them. But they were long gone.

The next morning, a traveler brought word to the villagers that a beautiful woman lay dead on the bank of the river. That is where they found Maria, and they laid her to rest where she had fallen.

But the first night Maria was in the grave, the villagers heard the sound of crying down by the river. It was not the wind, it was La Llorona crying. “Where are my children?” And they saw a woman walking up and down the bank of the river, dressed in a long white robe, the way they had dressed Maria for burial. On many a dark night they saw her walk the river bank and cry for her children. And so they no longer spoke of her as Maria. They called her La Llorona, the weeping woman. And by that name she is known to this day. Children are warned not to go out in the dark, for, La Llorona might snatch them and never return them.

My mother and aunts would talk about a friend of a friend or family member hearing a voice at night, going to check on it, and finding not a person but a lechuza.   A lechuza is a black owl, or rather, a bruja or witch in the form of an owl.  The lechuza would stalk the house of it’s intended victim and “call you out” in a way, because the lechuza calls are nothing but curse words.  According to Francis Edward Abernethy, in The Folklore of Texan Cultures, “the lechuza is a woman who, having sold her soul to the devil, becomes a screech owl at night.  Some say that even in the form of birds lechuzas retain the faces of hideous women.” This suggests that the lechuza is of normal size for an owl. However, Ed Syers, in Ghost Stories of Texas, says, “She [the bruja] knows the secret of becoming her own familiar,  self transformation, usually to a lechuza, or screech owl.”  The stories I personally heard were of a large sinister looking black owl, sometimes with a human face, that one could only get rid of through prayer.  It’s hard not believe in something like that when one has personally experienced the fear of the adults around them over a meeting with the lechuza.

Anyhoo, every culture has it’s own myths and superstitions, what I find fascinating, is that there are similarities in every myth in each culture.  We have screeching witch owls similar to Irish and Scottish owl myths.  It’s also similar to the Greek myths of the harpies and Medusa.  La Llorona resembles the Greek myth of Medea who killed her sons when her husband left her.  El mal de ojo spans several cultures such as Turkey, Israel, China and India (to name a few).

So my whole point is that a culture with such a rich oral tradition and mythology has produced imaginative and fantastic horror literature and film.  Many Latin countries have a history of the disappeared, people abducted for political reasons, most likely murdered. Their bloody history has been a vehicle and background  for horror movies such as The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labrynth, and El Orfanato.  And just as the original Night of the Living Dead was a social commentary on racism, so is the zombie flick [Rec].  The second [Rec] brings religion into the mix, annihilating everyone much like the Spanish Inquisition.

El Espinazo del Eiablo (The Devil’s Backbone)

 2001 Directed  by Guillermo del Toro.  A ghost story.  In Spain, 1939, a young Carlos arrives at an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War.  Jacinto, a former orphan, terrorizes and kills to get the gold that has been hidden from the Fascist army.  The children are protected by the ghosts of Santi and Dr. Casares who were murdered by Jacinto.

I saw this movie years ago, I remember the spookiness of the supernatural elements.  I really need to re-watch this.

El Orfananto (The Orphanage) 

2007 Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.  Another ghost story.  Laura, her husband, and their adopted son, Simon move into Laura’s childhood home, an orphanage.  Simon gains an imaginary friend with a very creepy mask and after a fight with Laura, Simon disappears.  I dont’ really want to give too much away, but this movie made a children’s game (Uno, Dos, Tres, Toca la Pared) really terrifying.

El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labrynth) 

 2006 Directed by Guillermo del Toro.  More fantasy and mythology than horror. But menacing nonetheless.  In Fascist Spain, 1944, Ofelia escapes into her own fairy tale world just as dangerous as the war ridden one she is in.  This movie blew me away.  The faun was freaky.


 2007 Directed by Jaume Balaguero.  A young reporter, Angela and her camera man follow firefighters to what seems like a routine call.  People begin to fall ill and attack one another in a rage.  Before they can get out of the building for help, they are locked in by authorities and told if they try to get out, they will be shot.  There was nothing particularly remarkable about this movie, yet it works.  It stays with you.  The scares are there.  And that girl at the end, the first “zombie”, freaked me the eff out.  Great movie. Random side note:  I watched this movie when it came out in 2007, I had vaguely wondered about the title, but forgot about it till I was reading some random lists of best horror films, and I just had one of those light-bulb moments of “Ooooh, I get it….Record….heh heh heh”

[Rec] 2

2009.  Directed by Jaume Balaguero.  This movie continues right where the first left off.  This time a SWAT team and a leader who turns out to be a priest enter the building with a mission:  to find the source.  I was initially turned off by the religious angle, but continued to watch, and I was not disappointed.  Not as good as the first, the introduction of the three teenagers annoyed me, but when one of them becomes zombified, he did an excellent job.  And just when I forgot to wonder about her, Angela, the protagonist of the first shows up.  Good movie, kind of predictable end though.

Los Sin Nombre (The Nameless)

 1999 Directed by Jaume Balaguero.  I haven’t actually watched this one yet.  But it has good rating on IMDB, and it’s on my list.  Here’s the synopsis from IMDB:  The mutilated body of a six year old girl is found in a water hole. The girl is identified as the missing daughter of Claudia. However, only two peices of evidence could be used to identify her; a bracelet with her name on it near the crime scene, and the fact that her right leg was three inches longer than her left. All other methods of identification were removed from her body. Five years later Claudia, now addicted to tranquilizers, receives a phone call from someone claiming to be her daughter, asking for her mother to come find her before ‘they’ kill her. Other mysterious clues show up, further indicating that Claudia’s daughter is indeed still alive, and very much in danger. Claudia, a run-down ex-cop, and a parapsychology reporter put together the clues to discover Angela’s whereabouts.

You guys got any recommendations on Spanish-language horror?

8 thoughts on “Spanish Horror That Will Scare Your Pantalones Off

  1. The Devil’s Backbone and El Orfanato had a classic horror feel, and I really liked them. As for tales, my mom used to tell me one of a guy who picked up a girl along the road they danced had a good time he gave her his jacket. He Left her at a certain house and next day the mother told him her daughter was dead for over a year. She took him to the cemetery and draped on her tomb stone was his jacket. I don’t know if that is a Spanish tale though. Did your mother tell you that one?

  2. Pingback: Weeping goddess | Digimages

    • Thanks. I wish I could take credit for the drawing. But I have zero skills in drawing. I searched for it, but I just can’t find where I got this pic from. If I find it again. I will certainly let you know, and give credit where it’s due.

    • Thanks, I appreciate it. I really should keep up with this site. I’m actually writing my thesis write now, and La Llorona is a big part of it. When I graduate(fingers crossed), I plan on updating this. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s