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6 Films to Keep You Awake (V)

Overall 9/10 or 4 ½ Skulls
Individual Films Reviewed Separately

In 2006 while American fright film fans were still reeling from the first uneven season of Showtime’s MASTERS OF HORROR, across the Atlantic, Spanish television was preparing it’s own Horror Serial. 6 PELÍCULAS PARA NO DORMIR or 6 FILMS TO KEEP YOU AWAKE was about to show the world that the future of horror once again might be arriving with an accent mark attached to it. Now the 6 films that make up the series are arriving on DVD in one simple collection. So, what does it have to offer?

Like MASTERS OF HORROR and NBC’s FEAR ITSELF these films are all designed as stand alone thrillers. But, what is interesting is that so many of the themes that are explored in these productions are similar if not outwardly identical to one another. The subject of childhood and spirits are broached here as often as they are in Director Guillermo Del Toro’s wonderful trilogy of films, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, PAN’S LABRYNTH and the production THE ORPHANAGE. Actually, it’s interesting to note that Del Toro is so heavily associated with the success of Spanish horror films that it’s easy to overlook the fact that the filmmaker is not a native Spaniard but a Mexican import into that country’s historic (see Paul Naschy and Jess Franco) film community. This time around all the auteurs on screen are homegrown directors (with the exception of the Uruguayan born Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, who gets a pass since he has been helming Spanish horror films for nearly 40 years—including the brilliant WHO CAN KILL A CHILD) and what they deliver only further cements Spain as a hotbed of psychological and phantasmagorical horror cinema.

BLAME (7/10 or 3 ½ Skulls)

The set begins with Serrador’s BLAME. The director who also serves as the Executive Producer of the series offers his own take on the kind of parapsychological environments that have populated the like of Del Toro’s projects as well as Alejandro Amenábar’s THE OTHERS. The film takes place in a non-descript Post-Franco setting where many repressions still exist and the characteristics and prejudices of the country’s deep Catholic faith remain steadfast.

When a female gynecologist offers to share her home with a nurse and her daughter, the nurse discovers that the doctor’s home office is actually an abortion clinic and that the secrets that lie behind the doors of this home may prove to be deadly.

BLAME is very similar in tone to the other productions features in this set. It is a slow burn situational horror film, where the supernatural is slyly implied but never overtly illustrated. Everything that is happening here could be the machinations of a non-spectral entity. The ratcheted suspense and the standout performances make this thriller a successful and nearly bloodless affair.

SPECTRE (4/10 or 2 Skulls)

Mateo Gil’s SPECTRE is unfortunately the least successful entry on display. Gil, the screenwriter behind the films ABRE LOS OJOS and THE SEA INSIDE tells us the story of Tomás—a man returning to the village of his youth, just a few weeks after his wife’s suicide. Tomás has not been home in 44 years since a terrible tragedy killed the woman he loved. But in the middle of a town that has completely changed, the house that holds his most horrible memories remains intact and it appears to still be inhabited by his lost love.

SPECTRE is a dry, matter of fact, supernatural romance film. It relates in flashback the story of Tomás and Moira—The lovers. What ultimately drove them apart and why is Tomás to blame for Moira’s fate? Like BLAME the film looks at judgment through the eyes of a Spain that has not accepted the social changes (especially sexual mores) that were sweeping throughout the rest of the Western Hemisphere at the time. In that regard the film feels like a less successful companion to BLAME, also offering no clear ghostly occurrences as the film could have taken place entirely in Tomás’ head.

A REAL FRIEND (8/10 or 4 Skulls)

10-Year old Estrella has some imaginary cohorts in Director Enrique Urbizu’s A REAL FRIEND. But unlike most other kids with magical playmates, Estrella’s companions are horror movie icons Leatherface, Nosferatu and Lon Cheney’s LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT monster. One day while waiting for the bus, little Estrealla encounters a new friend—The Vampire. Only this time, her new friend seems a bit more real than others.

Urbizu’s film lives and dies on its quixotic initial gimmick, as you’d have to be blind not to know that Estrella’s new companion is more than a make-believe monster. So, what happens to Estrella and her mother? The answer here is more satisfying than you might imagine. Unfortunately what was shaping up as a near perfect film loses some major points for trying to justify its saga in a final scene that changes the entire context of what came before it. It’s a resolution that betrays the fantasy of the film completely. So, my advice is shut off the movie when Estrealla is standing in the hall with her mother after the Vampire is vanquished. If you leave then you’ll be thrilled, if you stick around for 2 more minutes you’ll be sorry.

A CHRISTMAS TALE (10/10 or 5 Skulls)

Director Paco Plaza (REC) must have had a hell of a time growing up in the 1980’s because A CHRISTMAS TALE is the ultimate evil hallmark card to every imaginable movie you can think of from that cotton candy celluloid landscape of Spielbergian wonderment. From STAND BY ME to THE GOONIES and from FRANKENSTEIN to THE A TEAM, Plaza’s film about a group of kids who find a female bank robber who’s fallen down a pit in the woods is sure to hop your cortex up on a nostalgia trip of epic proportions.

The film opens with a dead on recreation of a classic Spanish Horror film—entitled ZOMBIE INVASION. The faux film plays a major plot point in the kids collective story line. It also serves as a love letter to the golden age of Spanish horror film, a point that is made even more obvious later when we see the box for the film on a pile of other titles including Paul Nashy’s 1971 classic LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS.

Hammering pop culture references from THE KARATE KID, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, STAR WARS, DYNASTY and the Sci-Fi Television Series V one would think that the film would be to busy trying to be clever to actually be good. Amazingly and without fail Plaza manages to not only pay tribute to everything he loved (and I loved) as a kid, but he does so with such passion and style that he’s actually crafted a film that would have not missed a beat if it too had been released in 1985—an amazing accomplishment for its sheer audacity as much as for its resounding success.

THE BABY’S ROOM (6/10 or 3 Skulls)

Álex de la Iglesia’s contribution feels the most derivative of the lot. But, even with momentary flashes of DARKNESS, THE ORPHANAGE and THE MESSENGERS, I still really enjoyed this film as well. Showing that even the lackluster entries this collection are heads above most of the stuff we—as genre fans—generally have to sit through.

THE BABY’S ROOM is haunted, as is the rest of the huge home that Juan and Sonia have recently purchased. When the couple swears they hear voices on the baby monitor, Juan purchases a video surveillance system that shows a lot more that he bargained for, as his home seems to have been the site of a terrible double murder. But is what Juan sees reality or fantasy? Maybe he is losing his mind, or maybe his home has been waiting for him to arrive.

Again we’re bombarded with babies and ghosts in this film, which also hints that—like SPECTRE—everything might be taking place in Juan’s mind. Interestingly, this film manages to hold interest based almost solely on Javier Gutiérrez’s performance as Juan. You can’t help but like the guy and sympathize with him even as he’s going completely off the deep end. It’s a captivating performance and one that works full steam ahead to the not-entirely-shocking conclusion. THE BABY’S ROOM also gets high marks for being the only film out of all 6 that actually made me jump!

TO LET (8/10 or 4 Skulls)

Jaume Balagueró’s brings the most current horror resume to the table in this collection, having been the man behind the lens on DARKNESS, FRÁGILES and REC and the screenwriter on THE NUN. His whole entry really hinges on one truly terrifying moment. What if you went to rent a new apartment and when you arrived, found your stuff was already there—and then you couldn’t leave?

TO LET abandons spooks, specters and societal commentary—but keeps the babies—and delivers a visceral thriller that will have fans of SAW, HOSTEL and THE HILLS HAVE EYES slaphappy with gory glee. It’s desaturation, rain, grit, grime and a most hands-over-your-eyes sequence of any of the entries provided.

The story is straight forward in the “they check in but they don’t check out” logic that we’ve seen a million times before. Everything in the building is crappy; logic would dictate that a sane, normal (non-horror-movie-type) couple would never even get out the car after seeing the shitty neighborhood. Then, they execute every cliché that you would ever expect of them. Finally, in the end, the film is as bleak as anything James Wan, Alex Aja or Darren Lynn Bousman has stamped their name on…but damn if it doesn’t work like gangbusters.

You’ll barely have time to breath as you watch this one—and clocking in at only 66 minutes I can only ask why no one has hired Jaume Balagueró for one of these uninspired U.S. anthologies! Ándele Hollywood…. Ándele! Ándele!

So, if you’re looking for 6 films that deliver on almost all your expectations then look no further. If you looking for 6 films to keep you awake then watch the whole set in one blistering midnight marathon. You won’t be sorry and you’ll slaughter 7 hours and 40 minutes of your life in the best possible way!

Official Score