Shudders latest 32 Malasana Street, inspired by true events, is a refreshing riff on several popular tropes resulting in a genuinely scary supernatural film.
Films about ghosts and hauntings can go one of two ways. They can be campy belly grabbers that bring more laughs than scares, or they can be harrowing atmospheric creepers that linger in the room like forgotten memories. 32 Malasana Street is the latter. Death and abandonment are universal fears, and this film uses both wisely. There is nothing cheesy about director Albert Pintó’s moody slow burn. This is a deliberately methodical, meticulously conceived horror films for those that like a good old fashioned ghost story. With plenty of old school touches, 32 Malasana Street uses the best of the past in a new way to deliver a perfect ghost story just in time for Halloween.
A family of six moves into a new flat in Madrid, looking for a fresh beginning in the big city. They have invested every dollar they have in search of a better life. Although set in 1976, the date doesn’t matter in terms of the story. Moreso the timing allows some of the creepier set pieces to exist. There is plenty of tension in the family and it’s obvious not everyone is happy about the move. Making matters worse, Manolo(Iván Marcos), who is the quintessential Macho Man is not the most patient person. Everyone has some anxiety about the move and feels disconnected from each other and their former lives. There is tension in this family. Everyone has something they feel ashamed of.
Shortly after they arrive, weird things begin happening to many of the members of the family independently. Teenage son Pepe(Sergio Castellanos) is courted by a mysterious woman who hides behind her window and sends him ever-increasingly bizarre notes while Amparo(Begoña Vargas) sees and hears strange things. Five-year-old son Rafael gets the brunt of the attention, which ranges from disturbing television programming straight out of Candle Cove and paranormal activity ala Poltergeist. One particular twenty-minute period is so crammed full of unsettling images, sounds, and behaviors; it is almost overwhelming.
There are a few jump scares, but Pintó is more adept at the wondering trick. That glance out of the corner of your eye at what appears to be a monster but has to be just a coat you didn’t hang up. Windows and reflections are used nimbly to build dread until the ghost is revealed. Quick glimpses are all we get for the first thirty minutes, but there is no going back once she shows herself. Horrific and oddly sympathetic, she is a well-crafted creature.
32 Malasana Street starts slow but builds brick by brick until the final forty minutes, which race by in a collage of clicks, grunts, whistles, and crunches. The soundtrack is phenomenal and highlights how the right music and sound, coupled with a quality story, can make magic. However, terrifying that magic is. The ending is arguably rushed, and the resolution is not as powerful as it is exploitive. All of that can be forgiven as the earlier scares make up for the rambling finale that needed a gentler touch.
Shudder’s film is supposedly based on real events. What that actual story is, no one seems to know. There isn’t any specific story based on Malasana Street, and 32 Malasana Street doesn’t exist. 30 Malasana Street is the closest address match in Madrid. There are several unifying features to Spanish urban legends and the ghost in the film, however. El Coco, which HBO’s The Outsiders used so brilliantly, is a monster parents often use to encourage their children to behave. The legendary creature uses nursery rhymes and children’s songs to lure her innocent victims. Clara, the resident ghost in 32 Malasana Street, does the same thing to Rafi.
Another option is a complete reimagining of Manuela Malasaña Oñoro. She lived in Maravillas (now commonly known as Malasaña). She fought in the Spanish War of Independence and died at just 17 years old. At the end of the film, Candela makes a point of telling the movers to send the sewing machine. It is perhaps a nod to the woman for whom the neighborhood is named or a reminder of something much more horrific. Not all of the stories of the neighborhood are heroic. Far too many are horrifying.
The director said, “Reading old articles and listening to stories we realized the black legend that hides the Malasaña neighborhood and, in some way, we wanted to collect them all and give them life through a script.” You won’t find a specific story like Clara’s for Malasana Street, rather a rich tapestry of dark history, including the cursed house of Malasana located at Calle Antonio Grillo. This infamous house has a lauded past full of death and misery.
The killings began in the 18th century and continued until 1964. In 1962 a tailor killed his entire family and then committed suicide. He killed them using a hammer and a kitchen knife. Just two years after the gruesome crime, a single mother killed her baby to hide her disgrace. With Amparo’s delicate conditions, Clara’s abuse, and Manolo’s overly testosterone behavior, clear parallels can be drawn. On the corner where this building resides, there have been child beheadings and murders. Inside, multiple bludgeonings by hammer-like instruments and suicide were commonplace. It’s a building with a dark past.
Whether it is based on any real haunting, or something more contrived, 32 Malasana Street is scary. The Madrid neighborhood has more than enough history to draw from. There is a good deal to like about this well-made movie with complicated yet compelling characters. Like most good ghost stories, Clara’s rage was the catalyst for the vengeful spirit she became. They should have treated her better. Who knows how things could have been different. For fans of ghost stories, this one is a quality watch. The ending isn’t perfect, but the film’s sum is good enough to excuse the minor misstep. Catch it on Shudder on October 22nd, 2020, just in time for Halloween.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.