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Filmax Returns From the Near Dead

Dunne, Isabelle top Barker’s ‘Torment’ cast

MADRID — In “The Returned,” helmed by Spain’s Manuel Carballo (“Exorcismus”), zombies are “returned” from a state of living dead thanks to protein injections.

The movie could stand as a metaphor for its producer, Filmax, the Spanish company behind shaky-cam fright franchise “REC,” which has grossed $55.6 million worldwide, and a founding father of Spain’s genre boom.

This Friday, the Barcelona production-distribution-sales house announced that Robin Dunne, star of Syfy’s “Sanctuary,” and genre habitue Katie Isabelle (“American Mary,” “Ginger Snaps”), will topline “Torment,” directed by Jordan Barker (“The Marsh,” “Duress”).

Produced by Canada’s Gearshift Films in association with Parachute and sold abroad by Filmax Intl., the home-invasion slasher went into production May 1. Filmax distributes in Spain.

Filmax’s current 10-pic production-sales slate marks a remarkable corporate return.

In 2010, weighed down by multimillion-dollar debt, Filmax put a clutch of its companies into Spain’s equivalent of Chapter 11. Many observers wrote Filmax off.

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Three years later, having emerged from a suspension of payments in 2012, it is back from the undead with a nine-title shiver-quiver.

Filmax’s return underscores genre’s residual attraction in scary times. The protein for Filmax has been a focus on genre production and sales, scaling back on distribution to downsize its dependence on the Spanish market.

Once a Filmax cashcow, but now decimated by piracy, DVD has imploded in Spain. Total consumer spending in Spain — for all distributors —  on physical video (outside sports, live events and adult content) sank to 200.3 million euros ($263 million) in 2012, 23% of its 2003 figure, according to IHS Screen Digest.

In further moves, Filmax will produce first-timer Rafael Martinez’s “Sweet Home,” a gory action-thriller set in an abandoned building, shooting early 2014.

The Barcelona genre hub aims to shoot this summer on “Rec 4 Apocalipsis,” the franchise finale, by Jaume Balaguero who co-directed “Rec” and “Rec 2.” It has also taken international on Joan Cutrina’s one-last-job action thriller “Alpha,” produced by Jordi Rediu and Norbert Llaras.

Godfathered by Balaguero, an infection genre movie “Summer Camp,” the directorial debut of “Sleep Tight” exec producer-writer Alberto Marini, is now in pre-production.

“ ‘Rec 4,’ ‘Sweet Home’ and ‘Summer Camp’ are films for fanboys. Although a lot of youth audiences in Spain are unemployed and penniless, it’s a niche market that has held up,” said Filmax head of sales Ivan Diaz.

On other films, Filmax aims to broaden demos, appealing to fan girls and more mainstream auds. An urban survival thriller, “The Returned” stars Emily Hampshire (“Cosmopolis,” “My Awkward Sexual Adventure”) as a kick-ass nurse battling a zombie outbreak and fighting to save her “returned” husband’s life.

Filmax’s strategy, Diaz added, is to “combine low-budget, edgy films with big name cast made in English.”

Many genre movies, especially from young helmers, can be made on highly contained costs. Larger titles — such as the Marini-written vendetta thriller “I Will Die Tonight,” from Miguel Angel Vivas, whose debut “Kidnapped” topped the Austin Fantastic Fest — will be co-produced internationally,  diminishing dependence on Spain’s contracting finance facilities.

On “The Returned,” Filmax partners with Toronto’s Ramaco, again reducing financial outlay. Filmax has also moved more into taking international rights on third-party titles, such as “Torment.”

Genre movies from most of Europe still sell on their individual merits. Spanish horror pics and broader genre is a brand, Spain’s prime export biz and the kind of film many if not most young Spanish directors, acutely attuned to market realities, aim to make today.

“Filmax is now most interested in production and we’ll make the films where we can,” said Diaz.

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