Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Shudder: 32 Malasana Street

This Madrid address is the Spanish equivalent of 112 Ocean Avenue (the Amityville Horror house). At least that is what the “based on a true story” tag line would have us believe. It certainly looks like a sinister building, but the location is choice. That could lead to a dilemma New Yorkers could appreciate. Unfortunately, for this family, there were no notorious history disclosure requirements during the mid-1970s in Spain. Consequently, they are in for some sleepless nights in Albert Pinto’s 32 Malasana Street, which premieres tomorrow on Shudder.

Candela and her common-law husband Manolo were having a hard time in their stifling rural village, so they sold-out lock, stock, and barrel to afford their new Madrid flat, but it is still highly mortgaged. Her daughter Amparo his ambitions to work as a flight attendant, but she must care for her bratty five-year-old brother Rafael and her somewhat dementia-addled grandfather. Yet, he seems to be the first to pick up on the sinister nature of their new home.

In fact, he sort of precipitates the first crisis (or really the start of their sustained nightmare), when Amparo is forced to chase after him, leaving Rafael alone. After he vanishes, the middle brother Pepe starts getting mysterious notes regarding his whereabout, while Amparo receives phantom calls on the phone line they have not had time to activate. Soon, even stubborn Manolo must admit there is something very wrong about the flat.

The family’s apartment and the supposedly empty bordering unit represent some wonderfully creepy art and set design work. However, horror fans better see it while they can, because the way the film wrings scares out of protected groups (starting with the elderly and the disabled, but eventually including even greater sacred cows) is likely to get it cancelled by some professionally offended interest group.

Regardless, it is pretty scary stuff. Superficially, it follows a typical haunted movie beat-sheet, but Pinto’s execution is creepily effective and screenwriters Ramon Campos and Gema R. Neira constantly find ways to freshen up familiar elements. The way the climatic exorcism attempt plunges into utter chaos is a perfect example.

Begona Vargas is also terrific as Amparo. She really makes us feel for the kid, even when she is acting like angsty teen (arguably, she has just cause). In fact, the entire family looks credibly downtrodden and believably terrified. Concha Velasco chews the scenery marvelously as Maruja Davalos, a well-heeled customer at Candela’s department store, who seems to know about these kinds of things. One can only imagine how the makers of
Code of the Freaks would react to the presentation of her wheelchair bound daughter Lola, a developmentally impaired medium, but Maria Ballesteros fully commits to her portrayal.

Frankly, the supernatural stuff in
32 Malasana is so compelling, viewers won’t give much thought to the Franco-era setting. Nevertheless, it is quite a well-crafted period production. Pinto also has quite a keen eye for visuals that really make the prow-like building pop off the screen, like an evil Flatiron Building. Highly recommended for horror fans, 32 Malasana Street starts streaming tomorrow (10/22) on Shudder.