The way Andy Muschietti sees it, “Horror is not a rational, grown-up feeling. It’s those irrational fears from childhood, those wounds we still carry.”

As a child growing up in Argentina, Muschietti was obsessed with scary movies. “At four, I was taken to the drive-in to watch ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ and it was traumatic. That was the first stain, the first trigger,” he says.

But it took Muschietti years to try his hand at making a horror film of his own. He studied film at the Universidad de Cine in Buenos Aires, then made a living as a storyboard artist while shooting his own shorts. When a comedic short about football became a regional hit, he says, “I was pigeonholed as a director who made comedy commercials.” After becoming a successful blurb director in Argentina, he signed with Spanish company Double Nelson in 2001. In 2003, he was joined in Barcelona by his sister Barbara, and they formed Toma 78, an ad shop named, he says, “for the moment when you’re in deep shit on the 78th take.”

Still, the helmer’s nightmares dogged him, and in 2007, he awoke one morning with a vision of two terrified young girls and two questions: “Why are these kids running from this thing? And why do they call it Mama?”

Muschietti’s creepy two-shot short impressed Guillermo del Toro, who signed on to co-produce the feature version of “Mama,” which stars Jessica Chastain, to be released Jan. 18 by Universal.

Muschietti feels he has come full circle to childhood fears: “Making these movies has a lot to do with recovering those lost feelings. I love this genre. I sort of believe in a higher expression of horror, and I’d humbly like to offer it to the world for a couple more movies if they let me.”

Homebase: Barcelona, Spain
Inspired by: “Most of my favorite filmmakers are not horror directors,” he says, citing Steven Spielberg, Dino Risi, Roman Polanski and Jacques Tati.
Rep: Agent: Marc Helwig (ICM)