Let’s conduct an exercise in self-awareness and slowly recite the following names with me: José Antonio Bayona, Jaume Collet-Serra, Jaume Balagueró, Guillem Morales and the brothers David and Àlex Pastor.
No, we weren’t playing with a Ouija board, or invoking an evil spirit. Catalonia has become one of the world’s greatest breeding grounds for fantasy and horror film directors. There’s no denying it.
If we add the tradition and importance of the Sitges International Fantasy Film Festival of Catalonia (Sitges Film Festival) to this cauldron, we have a perfect potion for lovers of the genre, with dozens of locations for a most unique and sinister screen tourism route.
Catalonia is diverse in every sense. From the most cosmopolitan Barcelona to the rural countryside, with a cultural tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages, along with the dreamy beaches and coves on the Costa Brava, Barcelona and Tarragona, mountainous peaks and landscapes in the Pyrenees in the provinces of Lleida and Girona, centuries-old traditions such as the castellers, a.k.a the human castles, and a world-class cuisine that Ferran Adrià and the Roca brothers have taken to another level.
With such a favourable breeding ground, it is only natural that it has been the setting for more than a thousand Spanish and international film productions in all sorts of genres.
But let’s get down to it: zombies and paranormal phenomena. In this article, we’ll help you take a tour of the sets of some of the most impressive fantasy film productions in Catalonia, highlighting the most emblematic sites and discovering places for a terrifying screen tourism getaway.
Get ready for an unforgettable adventure through the land of fantasy cinema!
Terrassa, Jaume Balagueró territory
Let’s start this route with one of the greatest directors of fantasy and horror cinema in recent decades. Lleida-born Jaume Balagueró became famous thanks to the intriguing film The Nameless, an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by British author Ramsey Campbell.
His feature film directorial debut, in addition to many sleepless hours for viewers, earned him the Melie d’Or award after its premiere at the Sitges Film Festival and catapulted him as one of the best examples of the genre in Europe.
The Nameless led Balagueró to film in Terrassa, a town in the Vallès Occidental region that would become recurrent in many of his later works.
The film takes place in the old Hotel del Vallès and the Hospital del Tórax in Terrassa, an emblematic building that makes your hair stand on end and that would later appear in other works by Balagueró such as REC 2, Sleep Tight, and Musa.
One of the rooms of Casa Alegre in Sagrera / Terrassa Film Office
Today the city features guided tours through cinematic Terrassa where you can visit part of the Hospital del Tórax and the Parc Audiovisual de Catalunya inside the city.
The latter is a legendary multimedia production centre where, in addition to Jaume Balagueró’s REC 2 and REC 4, scenes from A Monster Calls by Juan A. Bayona’s , Contratiempo, Bird Box, and the recently released El cuerpo en llamas, with Úrsula Corberó and Quim Gutiérrez, among others, have been filmed there.
The streets of Terrassa have also appeared in many of Jaume Balagueró’s projects, so you might as well take advantage of your stay to do some screen tourism so you can visit some of its most iconic places.
Located less than 50 kilometres from Barcelona, Terrassa is a city steeped in history. Known as Egara in Roman times and Egosa in Iberian times, Terrassa boasts many interesting places to visit.
La Seu d’Ègara, a monumental site with more than 2,500 years of history / Terrassa Film Office
Don’t miss the Seu d’Ègara complex, the Masia Freixa, in Sant Jordi park where you must visit the mNACTEC, the National Museum of Science and Technology of Catalonia, the modernist Casa Alegre de Sagrera, and the Carthusian castle of Vallparadís.
You can find more information on the official website of the Terrassa Film Office Parc Audiovisual de Catalunya.
The influence of the Sitges – International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia
The International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, also known as the Sitges Film Festival, has had a profound cinematic influence on Catalonia and Spain. Held in the beautiful coastal town of Sitges, the festival has grown in importance and prestige since its inception in 1968.
Here we have seen Robert Englund take off his Freddy Krueger mask, the screening of the film banned in Germany, Rohtenburg, whose grotesque scenes caused the audience to faint and vomit, endless ovations for Juan Antonio Bayona after the screening of The Impossible as well as the face of David Prowse who always hid on the screen behind the black helmet of Darth Vader.
Every year Sitges attracts big names in the fantasy film industry and thousands of film fans from all over the world. The festival has helped to position Catalonia as a leading destination in the genre.
With a vibrant mix of film screenings, discussions and themed events, the festival celebrates the best of fantasy and horror cinema, clearly representing one of Europe’s leading film events.
The number of famous names that have passed through Sitges to premiere some of their works or as members of the jury is truly mind-blowing: Luis García Berlanga, Luis Buñuel, Wes Craven, Anthony Hopkins, Quentin Tarantino, Max von Sydow, David Cronenberg, Nicolas Cage, Woody Allen, Roland Emmerich, Christopher Lee, Oliver Stone, Christopher Walken, Susan Sarandon, George A. Romero, Viggo Mortensen, Jodie Foster, Cameron Diaz, Guillermo del Toro, David Lynch, Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, and Takashi Miike… just to name but a few geniuses.
The festival and its legendary Zombie Walk would be enough of an excuse to have a good time in Sitges, although this Catalan town has also served as a film set for some productions. Within the genre, perhaps the best known is Who Can Kill a Child? by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, a horror story that was a smashing success at the time.
The Zombie Walk, a can’t miss event for fans of the genre / Luis Javier Villalba
But beyond fantasy and horror films, Sitges is an excellent tourist destination to disconnect at any time of the year.
A visit to the parish church of Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla and the beautiful Palau Maricel, one of the jewels of modernism in this Catalan town, are can’t-miss sites on a two-day getaway to Sitges.
Of course, you can also relax on the wonderful beaches of Sitges, stroll through the Terramar Gardens or discover its charming old town with a stop at the Town Hall Square, where you can visit and have a snack at the Bacardí House Museum.
All the information is available on the official Sitges Film Office website
Catalonia and the Seven Kingdoms, welcome to Game of Thrones!
If there’s been one fantasy blockbuster that’s reached every corner of the planet in the last decade, it’s the HBO series Game of Thrones. Curiously enough, many of the scenes in Westeros have been set in Catalonia.
For example, the cathedral of Santa Maria in Girona, revered as a jewel of Gothic architecture, is famous for being one of the main locations in the series. Iconic scenes related to King’s Landing and the Sept of Baelor were filmed here… until it was blown up by Valyrian fire (only in fiction, not in real life, of course).
The most famous staircase from Game of Thrones is found at the Girona Cathedral / Pau García Solbes
Also appearing in the massive production is the Monastery of San Pedro de Galligants in Girona. This former Benedictine abbey, which is now the Archaeological Museum of Catalonia, represents the library of the city of Oldtown where Sam Tarly aspires to become master.
The castle of Santa Florentina in Canet de Mar (about 40 minutes from Barcelona), an 11th century neo-Gothic fortress built on the site of an ancient Roman villa, also features in the series. This beautiful building was the home of House Tarly in the sixth season of the series. This magnificent monument is only accessible with a guided tour or audio guide, so remember to book your ticket online in advance.
The beautiful Besalú, or Highgarden in Game of Thrones / Pau García Solbes
Other sites in Game of Thrones include the castle of Montgrí in Girona, where one of Bran Stark’s most important flashbacks takes place, and the beautiful village of Besalú, which represented Highgarden, the home of House Tyrell. Besalú, which has also appeared in the HBO series Westworld, is one of the most spectacular mediaeval villages in Catalonia. It is a must see if you take a trip to the province of Girona.
The apocalyptic Barcelona of The Last Days and more
The Last Days is a film set in the city of Barcelona, in which the brothers Àlex and David Pastor immerse us in a post-apocalyptic world full of emotion and tension.
The film shows us how its characters fight for survival in the midst of this terrible cataclysm and allows us to see a Barcelona that is very different from the one we’re used to. In fact, we discover the Catalan capital as seen from the underground, with its most iconic monuments obscured.
The plot involves exploring through the city’s sewage system and using it as an escape route and refuge from the disaster raging above ground.
Paral lel, one of the most popular places in the city, is reduced to rubble, leaving the imposing skyline a wasteland. Arc de Triomf, Via Laietana and Carrer Balmes are also completely deserted.
It would be almost as impossible to sum up all the fantasy films shot in Barcelona as it would be to find a cheap hotel in the Catalan capital at the weekend or to design a route for a first trip to Barcelona.
REC (again by Jaume Balagueró) frightened us with its zombies in the now famous number 34 on Rambla de Cataluña, one of Barcelona’s most visited destinations. In his film, Sleep Tight, Balagueró takes us to another building that has become famous in the neighbourhood of Eixample.
In The Machinist (which was also screened in Sitges at one time), we enjoyed one of the best performances in recent years by Cristian Bale (and that’s really saying something). Can you recognise the Tibidabo Amusement Park in one of its scenes? It’s one of the best places to have fun in Barcelona if you’re travelling with children.
They may not be very touristy, but it was at the Olympic-sized Picornell pools that a very young and then unknown Tom Holland learned to dive into the pool during the last stage of filming Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible.
Fantasy and horror films have brought Catalonia to the screens around half the world, but if you shake up the locations and forget about the actors and props for a moment, you’ll find yourself in one of the most magical destinations in the world. Forget about ghosts and zombies and come and discover the city.
You can find a lot of information about filming and locations on the official website of the Catalunya Film Commission.
By Pau Garcia Solbes (El Pachinko)
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