Saturday, September 7, 2013

Friday Night Frights: Spanish Horror Mini-Moviethon



As anyone reading this will have gathered from my previous posts, I'm quite a big Italian horror fan (although still a relative neophyte in the grand scheme of things). However, it seems I've been somewhat neglectful of other countries on the continent, such as France and Spain. As part of an initial attempt to rectify my lack of exposure to the latter's horror output, I put together this quadruple bill a fortnight ago. I've seen the first three, but decided (somewhat counter to my usual M.O. with these things) to save the unseen one for last. So, without further ado...

Friday 23rd August 2013

20:10 - Nightmares Come at Night (Jess Franco, 1970)

I've only seen two films so far by the recently deceased Jess Franco, and this is the second.
I now find myself teetering on the edge of the abyss, as Tim Lucas describes it (in his tribute to the director in Fangoria #325). As he says, he had no guardrails to prevent him from being sucked over the edge by the tantalising allure of the filmmaker's seemingly bottomless filmography, where as I've had plenty of warning... not that it will stop me from diving in head first anyway...

The film is something of a psychosexual thriller, following the volatile relationship between a stripper (Diana Lorys) and her domineering lesbian lover (Colette Giacobine). I won't attempt to summarise the plot, as for one I find writing synopses of such things generally tedious, but much more importantly, I wouldn't want to give too much away.

I had absolutely no idea of the strange trip I was in for here, and Ioved pretty much every minute of it. I'll be honest and say that I found some of the initial striptease scenes agonisingly long the first time I watched it, but during this second viewing it occurred to me that this was probably Franco's intention, due to the nature of the act itself (i.e. delayed gratification and all that).

I thought all of the performances were generally top notch here but the stand-out for me was definitely from Diana Lorys as the protagonist. Quite a few of the near-monologues she delivers in this movie gave me goosebumps. Again, I don't want to spoil anything, but there's some profoundly poetic dialogue to be found here (credited on IMDb to a Josyane Gibert).

Speaking of dialogue, and this really isn't giving anything away, but Lorys' line "I had to be punished... brutally tamed!" gave me a good chuckle both times I've watched this (not sure who dubbed it though; it's their delivery that really makes it stand out).  

Finally, kudos to Bruno Nicolai for his wonderful score, which appropriately alternates between sleazy jazz, beautifully haunting ethereal ambience, and experimental freak-out passages; an apt musical backdrop for this fascinating and surprisingly moving film. 

22:21 - Bloody Moon (Jess Franco, 1981)

I'm acutely aware that this is the second time I've discussed this movie in as many posts, so I'll attempt to be brief (attempt being the operative word) in order to avoid repeating myself. But to reiterate somewhat, this is one of my favourite guilty pleasure slasher movies and, in comparison to the previous movie, almost a polar opposite in terms of tone and general intention. Sure, both are undeniably sleazy, but with Nightmares Come at Night you could tell that Franco was attempting to make a serious movie with lots to say (and he succeeded admirably I'd argue). Bloody Moon, on the other hand, has no such ambitions... but that's okay... as I highly doubt Jess was shooting for 'High Art' with this one...

Watching the two back to back though, it occurs to me that there are one or two similarities in terms of plot and general character dynamics, but to say any more would be giving the game away on both fronts...

Whilst not a patch on Nicolai's soundtrack for Nightmares... I still dig the similarly schizoid score from Gerhard Heinz, even though the main melodic motif is admittedly a bit overused (not that it really bothers me; it's one more thing that makes this movie oddly endearing). 

There's some nice, if not exactly effective, fake-out scares here, and I especially like the early scene on the train between Angela (Olivia Pascal) and Miguel (Alexander Waechter).

I alluded briefly to the film's cheese-tastic dialogue in the previous post, but to finish off I'm gonna take a cue from the guys over at the awesome slasher podcast The Hysteria Continues, as I was listening to their Bloody Moon episode earlier today, and at the beginning they did a Top Three of cheesy dialogue clips from slasher movies. Surprisingly though, no lines from Franco's film appeared (if memory serves at least) in their respective lists, though countless were quoted throughout their actual discussion of course. So again, without further preamble, I give you my Top Three Cheese-tastic Lines from Bloody Moon...

3: "I've never been so excited, it's the first time I've ever been out on a boat at night. A moonlight voyage in the high seas.. EERRRGGGHHH!!!!" (*dies*)

2: "I bet he's never even made it with a girl, the phony Spanish lover!"

1: "I'll have nightmares if you go on telling all your horror stories, you've quite a repertoire of chilling tales."

These might not seem hilarious when taken out of context, but as with that aforementioned amusing line in Nightmares... it's really the delivery of the dubbing that does it for me.

00:11 - The Orphanage (J.A. Bayona, 2007)

I'll preface this next part with a quick confession... This was one of the first films I bought on Blu-Ray, and whilst I enjoyed my initial viewing of it, rather idiotically, I decided to sell it some time after, without ever re-watching it (although to be fair to my younger self, this was before I started seriously getting into Euro horror). Inevitably, I ended up regretting this decision, but luckily it was easy to find again, and at a more than reasonable price. Anyway, previous transgressions aside, let's move on...

Like 2001's The Others (directed by another Spaniard, Alejandro Amenábar), this is an elegantly constructed return to the slow-burning charms of the classic ghost story. As with many other examples of the form, the plot is deceptively simple (woman returns to her childhood home with family in tow and finds out they're not alone), but serves as an ideal springboard for a highly involving and sometimes ambiguous character study. 

Somewhat atypical of the genre, the film also contains a few much more visceral shocks, which I obviously don't want to spoil for anyone who hasn't seen it. I'll simply say that I thought they were brilliantly integrated into the whole, adding something of a modern edge to the movie. 

Often subtle, frequently affecting and consistently creepy, The Orphanage undoubtedly deserves its reputation as one of the best horror films of recent years. It's one I'm sure I'll be returning to many times, and never selling ever again.... God, I'm such a moron.... 

02:05 - Nipped outside briefly for a smoke break and a quick stretch of the old legs. Plus, it's late and I need a bit of fresh air (so to speak) to wake me up a bit before the last movie, though I'm looking forward to this one immensely, so I'm actually still quite with it.

02:31 - The Abandoned (Nacho Cerdà, 2006)

This film first came onto my radar due to being co-scripted by the criminally underrated writer/director Richard Stanley, whose work I highly recommend to horror fans (see here for my review of his superb debut feature, the killer robot/slasher hybrid Hardware) and especially those who are into Euro horror. The DVD has been sat on my shelf for far too long, and now seems like exactly the right time to break it out...

On that last point, I had no idea how right I was. It turns out that The Abandoned, while markedly different in many ways, has some striking similarities to The Orphanage. Of particular note are its similar set-up and certain shared thematic preoccupations, including (and this isn't really giving anything away) an interest in doppelgängers and an strong emphasis on the way the past haunts the present.

Due to the relatively unknown status of this film, I really don't want to say much else, except that I'm kicking myself for not watching it sooner. And, as I've suggested, this for makes a great double feature with Bayona's better known flick.

Finally (and again I doubt I'm spoiling anything as this is somewhat evident on various posters and packaging), I highly recommend this to any fans of Fulci's The Beyond, as it both references and riffs on that splat-tastic classic in some interesting ways.  

Final Thoughts...

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this mini-moviethon. Somewhat unintentionally, it actually turned into an amazing Double Double Bill, as the former and latter pairs of films went together brilliantly; I really couldn't have planned this better if I actually knew what I was setting up in advance. Needless to say, you can now consider me well and truly sold on Spanish horror, and it fills me with excitement to think that I've barely explored the tip of the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If anyone has any recommendations to help shepherd me further into this strange and alluring undiscovered country, then I'd love to hear them.    


  1. That was a fun read! Out of these four films I've only seen Bloody Moon which I liked and gonna re-watch soon, now that I read your blog. Perhaps I'll wait till I get Nightmares Come At Night for a double feature. The last two sound very interesting, especially The Abandoned!

    The only Spanish horror movie that I can think of right now is A Candle For The Devil that Richard of Cinema Somnambulist introduced me to. I quite liked that one! I've seen a whole lot of Jess Franco films, but those (like Bloody Moon I think) were mostly produced outside of Spain with people from all over Europe.

    I enjoy your blog!


    1. Hey MLP,

      Many thanks for the complementary comments!

      'Bloody Moon' and 'Nightmares...' certainly make for a great double feature seeing as one is such unashamed cheesy fun and the other is a more serious affair.

      As you'll have gathered, I highly recommend all of these movies but the stand-out was definitely 'The Abandoned' (probably because I'd never seen it before), which really deserves to be better known.

      'A Candle for the Devil' sounds kind of familiar, and based on your's and Richard's recommendations I'll definitely seek it out in the near future (just spotted some copies on Amazon for a reasonable price). If I'm not mistaken that's by the guy who did 'Horror Express' right? That's another one I really want to see.

      Can't wait to dig into some more Jess Franco. I wasn't sure whether to include his two films in the moviethon at first, on account of the international co-production status of both that you allude to, but decided if the director is Spanish then that's enough for it to qualify.

      Cheers again for commenting and for the film recommendation,

      All the best,