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Reign of horror

Spanish fare from aliens to zombies

If Spanish films are remembered for anything at the 25th American Film Market, it could well be their horror.

Spain’s biggest sales company, Filmax Entertainment, is a frightfare specialist. But a generation of newer Spanish producers are now revving their chainsaws, honing their f/x or sweating over subtler scenarios of psychological pain.

An avid appetite of horror and stepped-up production levels can of course be seen in the U.S. and Asia.

Why the Spanish film industry has a particularly acute case of the horror heebie-jeebies, leading Europe in scarefare, is another matter.

No sub-strain dominates its horror pics. Tubthumped AFM product run the gamut of A (aliens) to Z (zombies):

  • Filmax has 14 horror pics or TV movies on its current slate at the AFM. Highlights: the gothic Calista Flockhart starrer “Fragile,” from Jaume Balaguero; Luis de la Madrid’s deb “The Nun,” where a back-from-the-grave sister of mercy shows little toward the schoolgirls who murdered her; and the delirious sanitarium-set “Hypnos,” from another first-timer, David Carreras.

  • Eugenio Mira’s English-lingo deb, “The Birthday,” market preems at the AFM. Pic combines a bravado nerd perf from Corey Feldman, and a finale appearance by a schlock Satan monster.

  • Possibly the AFM’s most out-there bow, tyro Pepe de las Hera’s splatterfest “Mucha sangre” (Much Blood), has a bunch of alien zombies terrorizing a village, sodomizing the men folk, aided by an extraterrestrial penis.

  • In the Aurum-sold “Ouija,” four young board players accidentally summon up a devil.

  • Canonigo Films touting two projects toplining Spain’s 1960s horror pic legend Paul Naschy: werewolf tale “Waldemar,” and slasher “Behind the Tapestry.”

Why has horror found such fertile ground in Spain?

Here, pundits wax large. One theory: under Franco’s dictatorship, the Catholic Church instilled a horror of hell in Spaniards. The Church’s influence has waned. But a capacity for horror remains.

Also, like Japan and South Korea, Spain saw a relatively recent industrial revolution. Half a century ago, most Spaniards lived off the land.

Superstitions, tall tales, folklore abounded.

Now young Spaniards live relatively comfy urban lives.

“But they need shocks to be jump-started out of their materially sated existence. Horror provides this,” says “Much Blood” producer Isona Passola at Massa d’Or Produccions.

In industrial terms, the biggest brute force energizing indie business remains DVD.

International DVD sales have rocketed from $6.3 billion in 2001 to a forecast $20.1 billion for 2004. Dutch distrib San Fu Maltha at A Film claimed early this year that two-thirds of his revenues came from DVD.

Horror plays notoriously well as home entertainment.

Though its pics are now squarely aimed at theatrical, Filmax was one of the first European companies to tap into the burgeoning DVD market, launching a horror label, Fantastic Factory, in 1999.

“Filmax created an industrial model that saw consistent international sales. On modest levels, younger Spanish producers are trying to imitate it,” says Canonigo’s international affairs director, Igor Massa.

The horror genre has also allowed Spanish films to square a — characteristically European — industrial circle.

From the 1960s, any Spanish director of artistic ambitions has seen himself as an auteur.

Yet, facing increasingly studio-dominated markets, local producers have battled to make more commercial auteur pics.

An early stock response was to combine social-themed cinema with local, often TV, stars. The results often grated, satisfying neither haute art crowds nor multiplex hordes.

Horror offers a happier solution, allowing young Spanish directors to place their personal signature on a mainstream genre.

“When you have co-production meetings with foreign producers, everybody asks if you’ve got some horror,” Passola said. “But they also demand a second element: a large dose of individual imagination.”

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