A haunted phone booth may seem like an unlikely object of horror, but
that’s precisely the status it attains in this creepy Spanish TV movie,
a classic of its type.
and I can assure you that viewing it is well worth your while.
In the years since its 1972 debut on Spanish
television, the 35-minute LA CABINA has attained near-legendary status
among horror cultists. It stars the veteran Spanish actor Jose Luis
Lopez Vazquez, whose death in November of 2009 further stoked interest
in the film.
For some unfathomable reason LA CABINA has never been
released in home video format (in the English speaking world, at least),
which has increased its mystique. Thankfully it’s now available online
in streaming form (at
In a bustling city several men unload a red telephone
booth from a flatbed truck and deposit it in the middle of an empty
square. A bit later a middle aged man drops his young son off at a
nearby bus stop and decides to make a phone call, failing to notice the
booth door snap shut behind him after he steps in. The phone is dead,
and when the man tries to leave the booth he finds the door won’t open.
Thus the protagonist is effectively trapped inside a
glass coffin. Several passerby fruitlessly attempt to free him, and as
the day wears on a large crowd gathers around the booth, intrigued and
amused by its occupant’s bizarre predicament. Eventually some firemen
turn up, poised to smash the glass. They’re stopped in the act by the
sudden reappearance of the men who dropped off the phone booth, who pull
up in their flatbed truck and load the booth back onto it with its
captive still stuck inside.
The trapped man is transported through the city. At one
point the truck pulls up alongside another flatbed carrying an identical
phone booth with a man inside. The protagonist tries to communicate with
his fellow captive but is driven away. He also spots a funeral
procession with a dead child in a glass coffin and a band of circus
freaks, who gaze back at him sympathetically; clearly they understand
the isolation he’s experiencing better than anyone else.
After a lengthy drive through an increasingly rural
landscape (where at one point the truck is shadowed by a helicopter),
the phone booth is deposited at its final destination: a vast,
forbidding laboratory set within a mountainside. I won’t reveal what
occurs there, but it’s horrific and disturbing, closing out this
disquieting little film in unforgettable fashion.
Simplicity is this film’s key asset. The narrative is
spare to a fault, consisting of an unnamed individual caught up in an
increasingly surreal predicament. The dialogue is quite scant (the lack
of subtitles is only a minor annoyance) and the stylistic gimmicks are
kept to a minimum. There are no viewpoint shifts, and nor is any
explanation ever offered for the bizarre events, while the 35 minute
running time seems entirely appropriate. If there’s any padding in this
film I don’t know where it would be.
Many commentators have offered some highfalutin’
interpretations of LA CABINA’S narrative (as a “poetic meditation” on
the oppression of Franco’s fascistic rule, and so forth), but it works
best as precisely what it is: a no-frills horror story that plays
ingeniously on our collective fears of entrapment and torture at the
hands of a malevolent entity. The fact that director Antonio Mercero
illuminates those fears so skillfully nearly cancels out the film’s
shortcomings (such as an overly insistent music score). It’s direct and
unaffected, and all the more impacting for it.
LA CABINA (THE PHONE BOX; THE TELEPHONE BOX)
Director: Antonio Mercero
Producer: Jose Salcedo
Screenplay: Antonio Mercero, Jose Luis Garci
Cinematography: Federico G. Larraya
Editing: Javier Moran
Cast: Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez, Agustin Gonzalez, Goyo Lebrero, Tito
Garcia, Carmen Lujan, Maria Vico, Felipe Martin Puertas, Jose Montijano