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June 04, 2015

Spanish Horror Film

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Antonio Lazaro-Reboll - 2012
Edinburgh University Press

To their credit, Edinburgh University Press has been reissuing their hardcover genre studies in paperback at more affordable prices.

This is the first English language book devoted to horror films from Spain. Even for those who may not have more than passing interest in the films beyond a few critically acclaimed titles, what makes this book valuable are discussions on how one approaches genre films as a subject of serious discussion. The book opens up with a discussion about the consumption of films, the difference between cinephiles and cinephages. What is applicable to all genre studies is that while there are those enthusiasts who may indulge in certain genres for their own sake, Lazaro-Reboll suggests that it is some of these very fans who are at the forefront in recognizing genre artists, well before the critical establishment. It is also noted how some of these fans went from contributing to both the professional magazines and DIY 'zines, to becoming filmmakers themselves, most significantly, Jaume Balaguero.

Of course there can be no discussion about Spanish horror films without a discussion of the two Francos, Francisco and Jesus. It was because of several arcane rules regarding the production of horror films made through 1975, that Jesus Franco got around the censors by making international coproductions, and Jacinto Molina Alvarez had found fame as Paul Naschy. Even before filmmakers started making English language productions for international distribution, the fictional locations could be anywhere except Spain, while the actors were expected to restrict their work within the genre. Jesus Franco survived Francisco Franco, changes in film ratings, ebbs and flows of financial support, and indifference from Spain's critical establishment to finally get late career recognition after almost forty years of filmmaking.

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Horror Rises from the Tomb (Carlos Aured - 1973)

There is a look at the disjointed distribution in Spain of the classic films from Universal, the influence of Hammer Films and Roger Corman's "Poe Cycle" in the early Sixties, and how a television producer from Uruguay, Narcisco Ibanez Serrador helped make horror a popular staple of Spanish television.

Of the older films, Lazaro-Reboll has an interesting analysis of the "Blind Dead" series by Armando de Ossorio as a critique of Francoist Spain. Eloy de la Iglesia is discussed in terms of how he addresses gay identity within the confines of genre filmmaking and censorship. Also included is an overview of the English language, Spanish productions of Brian Yuzna, and in greater detail, the Spanish films Guillermo del Toro.

Conspicuous in its absence is more than some passing references to Victor Erice's Spirit of the Beehive. Aside from interest in the film contrasting the horror of the Spanish Civil War with the onscreen horrors of James Whale's Frankenstein, it seems odd not to be discussed when several pages are devoted to del Toro's two films that take place in the same era, Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphanage. Additionally notable is that the young girl at the center of Erice's film, Ana Torrent, grew up and starred in another film discussed in some detail, Alejandro Amenabar's Tesis, as well as a horror film not mentioned in this book, also with a narrative relating to the Civil War, The Haunting by Elio Quiroga. To his credit, Lazaro-Reboll address the exclusion of Sprit of the Beehive and a handful of other titles.

Otherwise, Spanish Horror Film provides a very useful formal introduction to films and filmmakers as well as analyzing the conditions under which these films were made. There is a good sized filmography listed with Spanish, and in most cases, English titles. The only other flaw to be mentioned is how no one seemed to notice the erroneous credit that would make the least discerning fanboy wince: it was Wes Craven, not Sam Raimi, who directed A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Spectre (Mateo Gil - 2006)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 4, 2015 02:42 PM