Spanish-language pair lift genre festival

SITGES — Europe’s largest genre moviethon, the Sitges Film Festival, got a shot of adrenalin this weekend from a pair of Spanish-language pics, “Sexy Killer” and “Santos.”

The upbeat reception for the duo followed a so-so response to Thursday’s opener, Alexandre Aja’s Kiefer Sutherland starrer “Mirrors.”

The “Sexy Killer” and “Santos” screenings repped fest highlights, given the growing interest in Spanish-language genre fare post “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Orphanage.”

“Killer” — think “Scream” meets “Legally Blonde” — drew praise as a straight entertainment vehicle, carried by lede Macarena Gomez. The effervescent Andalusian actress delivers a swaggering perf as a fashionista fangirl-cum college campus psycho.

WB releases “Killer,” which world preemed at Toronto, in Spain on 250 copies on Oct. 10.

“Santos,” about a dweeby comicbook writer turned reluctant superhero, goes several steps further.

It was one of the more popular tickets at Austin’s Fantastic Fest, where it world preemed late September, taking a Special Jury Prize for originality and vision.

While heavy on exposition in the early going, “Santos” boasts an extraordinary effort in sci-fi f/x, a new high for Spanish-language filmmaking that went down well with Sitges’ fanboys.

“The visual and plot excesses first bother, then surprise and finally move the spectator,” said El Pais.com.

Pic, from Chile’s Nicolas Lopez, received a heavy dose of post-production from Elizabeth Avellan’s Austin-based Troublemaker Studios, with Avellan taking a co-producer credit.

At a press conference Saturday, male journos blushingly quizzed Elsa Pataky, Spanish sex symbol and g.f. of Adrien Brody. Her presence in “Santos” as the hero’s sweetheart should give the pic a kick at the B.O. when it bows Oct. 10.

Of smaller Spanish films, most notable were “Ramirez” and “Las Manos del pianista.”

From first timer Albert Arriza, “Ramirez” proved an unrelentingly dark, docu-ish record of a serial strangler, scouring highways and night-clubs for victims.

A TV movie, “Pianista” marks the feature-length directorial debut of Sergi Sanchez, screenwriter of “The Orphanage,” and as such one of the most sought-after young talents in Spain.

Pic takes a simple case — the investigation of the murder of a Barcelona businessman — and paints a fresco of human frailty, obsession and evil.

Chronicling a couple’s descent into madness, as they search for their dead son in rain-sodden Burmese villages, “Vinyan,” from Fabrice du Welz (“The Ordeal”), played well at a press screening.

A comment by Du Welz at his Sunday press conference — “I’ve learnt that this isn’t the ‘70s. You can’t be so experimental anymore” — summed up one challenge for genre filmmakers at Sitges.

Ten years ago, Sitges was a bunker for pebble-glassed black T-shirted genre freaks. But now genre and the fest has gone mainstream.

Barcelona’s young cool crowd graced a screening of laffer “Yo soy un pelele” Saturday night, while fest staff distributed catalogs for the fall collection from fashion house Desigual. Too “out-there” pics risk this audience’s opprobrium.

The challenge is to sell to Spain. Horror plays well, but the market’s so tough that a host of competition heavyweights still had to find a local buyer going into the fest.

In industry news, Nicolas Lopez and Jose Manuel Lorenzo’s Boomerang Cine, the Spanish producer of “Santos” with Telecinco Cinema, announced they will re-up for “Providencia,” a Santiago de Chile-set musical.

The Teaserland Festival, an online event for mock movie trailers, attracted entries from directors Isabel Coixet, Juan Antonio Bayona (“Orphanage”), and the co-helmers of “REC,” Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza.

Prolific helmer Salomon Shang (“Madre Cuba”) announced a move into the mainstream with “Asesino a sueldo.” The comedic contract killer Western will topline Shang, Assumpta Serna (“The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes”), Scott Cleverdon (“Wedding Belles”) and Tony Corvillo (“El Cor de la ciutat”).

With production design by Antxon Lopez, just off Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces,” “Asesino” rolls November, produced by Kaplan and Shang.

After “Vinyan,” Du Welz said he’s returned to developing a passion project, the French-language “Coffin Island,” which Du Welz described as “an insane love story.”

Film is an adaptation of Maurice Leblanc’s 1919 novel, “The Island of Thirty Coffins.”

“Transsiberian” topliners Woody Harrelson and Eduardo Noriega (“Vantage Point”) led the star presence at Sitges over its first weekend.

Noriega announced he would join Belen Rueda (“The Orphanage”) on the Alejandro Amenabar-produced “El Mal ajeno,” helmed by Oskar Santos, which is shaping up as one of Spain’s highest profile shoots of late 2008.

Christiane Kubrick, Stanley Kubrick’s widow, accepted an award at fest’s opening ceremony.

Charlie Kaufman and Abel Ferrara are due at the exquisite Catalan sea resort later this week. Both pick up Time Machine awards.

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