One of the oldest settings in horror films, arguably the oldest setting, is the haunted house. You can picture the archetypical structure: usually a run-down Victorian mansion, boarded up and in disrepair, with a colorful and vague history of spooky events. Haunted house movies have survived the changing of horror trends, moving from Vincent Price classics up through The Amityville Horror and Tobe Hooper’s (or Steven Spielberg’s…we won’t go there right now) tour de force Poltergeist. Even films like The Shining and Evil Dead are a variation on the theme. It’s a classic and reliable setting to work with when it comes to the genre.
When it comes to horror films, European horror especially, Spain isn’t the first country that jumps to mind. Typically, people think of Italian horror films: the Fulcis, the Argentos, the Bavas, the Lenzis. But Spain has been ahead of the curve when it comes to the genre. Tombs Of The Blind Dead was terrifying European audiences with its vision of bloodthirsty reanimated corpses years before Romero’s magnum opus Dawn Of The Dead was released. Pieces is a 1982 slasher effort that, even if you do believe that it’s just a cheap Texas Chainsaw knockoff is still held in high regard in the horror community. [REC] is a film that stands on its own in a sea of found footage/zombie clones, and newer films such as The Orphanage, Here Comes The Devil and Veronica prove that Spain is still churning out quality horror films.
Albert Pinto’s 32 Malasana St. sets out to take its place in this pantheon of haunted house films, as well as Spanish horror films. It has all the ingredients for a quality haunted house flick. Family with a bunch of kids, the youngest of which will be the focus of the ghosts? Check. Elderly grandfather who espouses esoteric weird bullshit? Check. Financial trouble? Check. “Based on a true story” tagline? You better believe that’s a check. It even has horror mainstay Javier Botet as the spooky specter who’s haunting their apartment. How can you go wrong with all of this?
Unfortunately, 32 Malasana St. is nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s not a bad film per se, it’s just so medium rare and paint by numbers that it’s difficult to see how it’s going to separate itself from the pack of other similar films. The family in financial straits theme is such a tired trope at this point that it did nothing to really advance the story aside from provide a reason as to why they couldn’t just leave. There are a handful of quality scares (the youngest son Rafael being cajoled by the ghost through a children’s television show was genuinely unsettling) and the flat that the film takes place in is certainly creepy enough, so they nailed the setting in a way a lot of haunted house flicks don’t bother trying to do anything new with. But most of the time, any sense of dread the film tries to create it does so in such a tired and heavy-handed manner that it’s impossible to take seriously. Javier Botet is, as always, visually unnerving to witness as the creature haunting the flat, but quickly gives way to the same old routine of crackly bones and grotesquely long limbs that we’ve seen so many times already. There’s a bit of twist towards the end that almost breathes life into the film, but it’s too little too late and ultimately it just collapses into another movie about a haunted house that has a crackly bones ghost. And the actual climax of the film felt almost criminally unearned and did little to alleviate the feeling that this was just a hodgepodge of older better movies being thrown into a blender and pushed out into a slicker package.
Let me be clear, 32 Malasana St. is not a bad film, it just didn’t really hit for me. There’s a goodish amount of stuff you can find in it to enjoy, and if you’re looking for a scary movie for Halloween this year you can certainly do worse than this. I’d like to see what Pinto does in the future, but as for this film, I can’t say I was thrilled after watching it.