The EOFFTV World of Horror: Spain

INTRODUCTION

Cinema came to Spain in 1897, two years after the first public demonstration of the new technology in Barcelona, though there's been some debate as to exactly what the first Spanish film really was (it's a toss-up between Eduardo Jimeno Peromarta's Salida de la misa de doce de la Iglesia del Pilar de Zaragoza, Alexandre Promio's Plaza del puerto en Barcelona, Llegada de un tren de Teruel a Segorbe (director not known) or Riña en un café by Fructuós Gelabert, all released in 1897).

The fledgling Spanish film industry quickly concentrated in Barcelona where a seemingly endless string of lavish historical epics (españoladas) were the favourites among audiences across the country. Inevitably, these stirring tales of Spanish heroes and legends didn't travel well, a problem that Spanish cinema has been struggling with ever since.

The series of crises and difficulties that has dogged Spanish film production began with the dawn of the sound era - foreign films, mostly American, proved to be a far more appealing draw the home-grown silents that proliferated until well into the talkie era and by 1931 Spanish film production had virtually ground to a halt with just one film being released that year.

Salvation came in the shape of producer Manuel Casanova who set up Compañía Industrial Film Española S.A. (CIFESA) with the express aim of making Spain's first sound films. From humble beginnings, CIFESA went on to become the largest production company in Spain, nurturing huge amounts of talent releasing hundreds of films while fending off endless claims that it was a tool of right wing.

Inevitably, the development of the Spanish cinema and the troubled politics of 20th century Spain are closely intertwined. During the Civil War, both sides used cinematic propaganda and the victorious Nationalists, under the leadership of Generalísimo Francisco Franco, attempted to control the industry by creating the National Department of Cinematography which imposed increasingly strict censorship controls on film-makers - so much so that many of them chose to flee the country to find work elsewhere.

During the 30s and 40s, Spanish film-makers were stifled, the Department imposing obligatory dubbing strict censorship meant that sex and horror were off the menu. As in Britain at the same time, Spanish horror was anaemic, largely confined to dark mysteries or spooky thrillers a very long way from the more full blooded genre fare being made in the States.

When change came, it did so from an unexpected quarter - the new saviour of Spanish cinema was tourism. Politically, Spain was become less isolated and by the late 1960s a combination of a less relatively affordable air travel and the devaluation of the Spanish peseta made the country a viable tourist destination and visitors soon started to flock to Spain, despite the still volatile and oppressive political situation. With them came an influx of foreign films, barely seen during Franco's reign, particularly Italian comedies that inspired a spate of similar modern-dress comedies in Spain.

As more and more outside influences poured into Spain during the 1960s, so things slowly began to change in Franco's Spain. The appointment of Manuel Fraga as Minister of Information and Tourism in 1962 led to a gradual loosening of censorship laws and the introduction of a quota system designed to help the ailing Spanish film industry. By the end of the decade, Spanish films were in the ascendant and alongside spy thrillers, westerns and comedies, genuine full-on horror films began to appear.

The industry survived a minor glitch at the turn of the decade when Fraga was replaced and the government, fearful of the many international co-productions that Spanish producers were entering into, attempted to impose a high minimum budget law that failed to find much popularity. As the 70s dawned and other European countries started to flirt with more explicit sex and violence, so Spain followed, if rather tentatively at first.

The first half of the 70s saw an explosion in Spanish horror, mostly made as co-productions, which brought international recognition to directors who had been toiling away unnoticed by the outside world for many years. Jesus Franco had always been a law unto himself and, by the 70s, was already indulging in his trek around the exploitation film-making centres of Europe, but back home the likes of Amando de Ossorio, Carlos Aured, Leon Klimovsky and Vicente Aranda were making horror films which, against all the odds, were ending up being sold and seen across Europs and even in the States.

This period also gave the world the only Spanish horror star in the unlikely shape of former professional weightlifter Jacinto Molina, better known to the world as Paul Naschy. Naschy appeared in a series of genre films, mostly as the tortured werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, and continued to work in horror movies well into the new millennium.

The death of General Franco in 1975 failed to bring the immediate lessening of state control over the entertainment industry that was expected but new methods of censorship were introduced when the new "S" rating was created in 1977. By now, on paper at least, censorship no longer existed in Spain though in practice it was still difficult for Spanish film-makers to be as liberal as their continental neighbours. But the "S" rating did allow more explicit sex films to be made and released and in 1984 the "S" was got rid off and replaced by the more advisory "X" as censorship was finally and completely abolished.

It was too late for the Spanish horror film, however, which, like so many other national genre industries, went into decline during the 1980s. The early part of the decade saw production continuing apace, aided by the wider availability of Spanish films overseas with the arrival of home video, but by the end of the decade and throughout the 90s, what was once a torrent was reduced to a mere trickle.

The combined effects of Scream (1996), The Sixth Sense (1999), The Blair Witch Project (1999) and the arrival in the West of a new wave of Japanese horror led to a revival in fortunes for the ailing horror film and Spain has enjoyed a post-millenial renewal of interest in screen horror. Brian Yuzna, producer of Re-Animator (1984), relocated to Spain in the early years of the new millennium and, with Julio Fernández, set up Fantastic Factory, a horror and science fiction production company under the aegis of the Barcelona based company Filmax. The results have been uneven but Fantastic Factory has ensured a continuing Iberian presence in the world of horror alongside a new generation of independent film-makers who have embraced the genre to varying degrees of success.

The best of these post-millennial works - Alejandro Amenábar's The Others (2001), Pedro L. Barbero and Vicente J. Martín's Tuno negro (2001), Brad Anderson's El maquinista / The Machinist (2004) - were as good as any horror made anywhere else in the world.
KEVIN LYONS

 


Last Updated: 1 January, 2009

 


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