The most terrifying translations in films

October has arrived, and social media, shops and audiovisual platforms are covered in black and orange, which can only mean one thing: Halloween is here!

This festival, which we see primarily as entertainment, marked by decorative pumpkins and horror films, originated in the US, but is increasingly popular in other countries around the world. However, Halloween –which is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve” (the day before All Saints’ Day)– is a medieval tradition in England inspired by pagan festivals to honour the dead.

The North American celebration has kept a certain link to the world of the dead through its references to scary and spooky things. And, of course, for cinema not be left behind, October has now become the month of popcorn and horror films.

We also like to be scared from time to time, so we’ve decided to take a look at the most “fatal” translations from the film industry.

Translations of horror film titles

Most horror films reveal the genre they belong to through their titles. In some cases, the title refers to what is going to scare us in the film, while other producers play with double meanings that we won’t understand until the end of the film.

Let’s look at some examples!

Boogeyman, la puerta del miedo (2005)

Literal translation: Boogeyman, the door of fear

Original title: Boogeyman

Sometimes the title translations add information in the target language, as is the case here.

If you don’t know what Boogeyman stands for, then the Spanish translation gives you a hint, although this perhaps wasn’t necessary.

At least in the 2023 version of the film, they’ve decided to leave the Spanish title the same as the original: Boogeyman is kept as Boogeyman, without adding any other details.

La semilla del diablo (1968)

Literal translation: The devil’s spawn

Original title: Rosemary’s baby

Here, subtlety was definitely not what the producers were aiming for! Although the original title simply mentions the existence of a baby, the Spanish title is a complete spoiler and pretty much gives away the plot of the film.

Given that it’s a horror film, a little bit of mystery would have been better.

Experimento mortal (2005)

Literal translation: Fatal experiment

Original title: Isolation

We know how difficult it is to translate film titles that are just one word into Spanish, because the result just doesn’t have the same impact (the translation of “isolation” is aislamiento). Even so, the strategy of adding “fatal”, “evil” or “hell” to make the title sound more terrifying is quite simplistic.

Not to mention that the Spanish title already reveals that the film is about an experiment.

…¡O una maldición del infierno! (1980)
Literal translation: …Or a curse from hell!

Original title: The Godsend

A “godsend” is a blessing sent by God. The Spanish title would have been okay if at least that part –“blessing from God”– had been included. As this isn’t the case, it’s a bit of a confusing title that also gives the plot away.

Crimen perfecto (1954)

Literal translation: Perfect crime

Original title: Dial M for Murder

In this case, it’s true that the original title is a word game related to the plot, which is difficult to translate into Spanish. Although Crimen perfecto isn’t bad, it would have been better to keep the reference to the call that represents the fatal moment in the film (spoiler: when the phone rings, that is when the murderer must kill the protagonist’s wife).

La cara del terror (1999)

Literal translation: The face of horror

Original title: The Astronaut’s Wife

With this example, the original title is completely distorted. The film is about the strange events that occur in the families of a group of astronauts who return from a space mission. However, as you can see, the Spanish title doesn’t give any hint as to the context.

Translations of legendary horror phrases

As well as titles, there are certain phrases from films that stick in our minds forever.

But have you ever thought about how they were translated into Spanish?

We’ve chosen some so that you can see how the phrase that goes round in your head at night would sound in Spanish.

Scream (1996)

“What’s your favourite scary movie?’’ → “¿Te gustan las películas de terror?” (Do you like scary movies?)

Here, the Spanish translation changes the original somewhat, but it remains punchy.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

“I see dead people.” → “En ocasiones veo muertos” (Sometimes I see dead people)

In the Spanish version, a time detail has been added (“sometimes”) that doesn’t appear in the original, but if this weren’t the case, it just wouldn’t have sounded quite right. In our opinion, it’s a good solution!

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” → “Me comí su hígado acompañado de habas y un buen Chianti” (I ate his liver with fava beans and a good Chianti).

It’s a literal translation, which is perhaps a bit distant culturally for a Spanish audience.

 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…” → “Uno, dos, canta a viva voz” (One, two, sing aloud)

We know that it’s difficult to translate songs, because you have to keep the stressed syllables and the rhyme, as well as the meaning. In this case, a word that rhymed with dos had to be found, so the reference to Freddy was removed.

These are just a few examples that have caught our eye. What about you? Do any terrifying translations come to mind?