A mysterious door slowly creaks open, a blood-curdling scream and then it slams shut. That was all the great master ‘Chicho’ Ibáñez Serrador needed to introduce his ‘Historias para no dormir’ (Tales to keep you awake at night) to set teeth-chattering across Spain and have the entire country glued to the only black and white channel available in the sixties and later in color in the eighties. Sleepless nights on which such simple, but effective formulas would mean no rest for thousands of night owls and TV that when all was said and done, would leave its mark and inspire many creators of the genre (Juan Antonio Bayona, among others) and which still survives today in the collective imagination of an entire country. Fertile lands to which Amazon Prime takes us back, decades later, with the same header as then, and the same spirit of intrigue, suspense and terror which now inspires the four new ‘Historias para no dormir’.
This ‘remake’, produced by VIS, Prointel and Isla Audiovisual, is available from November 5 on Amazon and will later return to what can only be considered its rightful home on Spain’s public television network channel 1. Although, it’s sure to only whet the appetite as the four chapters, independent of each other, will leave you crying out for more horror stories and more footage.
Four directors summon up the very best from the original show to give shape to this fine tribute to ‘Chicho’. Rodrigo Cortés directs the first episode, ‘La broma’ (The joke); Rodrigo Sorogoyen takes the helm on ‘El doble’ (The double), in which he recovers his protagonist from ‘Riot police’, Vicky Luengo; Paco Plaza is responsible for the third, ‘Freddy’, and perhaps the most touching of all as it travels back in time to the Prado del Rey studios with a masterful Carlos Santos in the role of Narciso Ibáñez himself – as stellar here as when he played Luis Roldán in Smoke & Mirrors; while Paula Ortiz directs the final installment, ‘El asfalto’ (The tarmac), with collaboration from Manuel Jabois in the writers’ room.
The four tales are just as poignant today and are fascinatingly readapted to fit the current times: pandemic, futuristic, dystopian and individualistic. Times in which a simple and unexpected WhatsApp message sent to one of our protagonists in ‘The joke’ can reflect the anguish of a dramatic and awry plot twist. And times when dolls and ventriloquists -and I don’t mean José Luis Moreno- swear like sailors, are lewd and very, very carnal.
Of the four, perhaps Sorogoyen’s is the least terrifying overall and a far cry from the terrible and agonizing journey he devised for the short film ‘Mother’ and that placed the Oscar within fingertip reach. The least terrifying episode it may be, but also the most dystopian and in line with our ‘new reality’ of masks and social distancing.
For my taste, the most flawless episode of all is the first, ‘The joke’, where everything works perfectly: the three protagonists, montage, narrative tension, the use of light, and cinematography. By the way… Nathalie Poza is sublime, not that the other two stories in the collection are any less great as a result: ‘Freddy’, which also pays tribute to the great Hitchcock, and ‘El asfalto’, where poor old Dani Rovira looks like the reincarnation of José Luis López Vázquez in ‘La Cabina’, only this time he plays a rider trapped on the asphalt and with a pizza delivery that’s overdue.
The cast also features some of the most prominent names in Spanish cinema: Dani Rovira and Nathalie Poza are joined by Miki Esparbé, Inma Cuesta, Eduard Fernández, Raúl Arévalo and David Verdaguer. All that’s good is everlasting and as such these four stories, re-adapted decades after the first aired, are still as fitting and engaging. Perhaps not as terrifying as they were back in the mono-channel Spain of yesteryear as between then and now, we’ve just about seen all there is to see, both on the evening news and in drama. They are perhaps more innocent storylines, or maybe we’ve just experienced more, and more vividly, however they are still a great excuse for burning the midnight oil… So, the best thing Amazon and Spanish Television can do from here would be to continue exploring the legacy ‘Chicho’ left behind.