Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sex, Sadism, Spain and Cinema by Nicholas Schlegel

Over the last twenty-five years serious fans of horror and science fiction cinema have been happy to witness the awakening of book publishers to the idea that there is more to talk about than the monster make-up and special effects that are the most obvious point of interest in these films. It has always been difficult for those fascinated by genre films to convince mainstream film aficionados of the deeper, more thoughtful aspects of these movies because of the surface elements that attract the most obvious widespread attention. Because of this prejudice the long road to the publication of serious intellectual works focused on horror films almost had to start with movies that have stood the test of decades of popular acclaim and were slowly, grudgingly accepted as good cinema. Those first steps were books of deep discussions of films with literary roots such as Dracula and Frankenstein and movies with often tenuous links to Edgar Allan Poe. When those books proved successful the doors cracked open and, aided by several foreign press' similarly delving into the cult film world for new subject matter, more attention began to be paid to the high quality (and even low quality) works of horror. We are now at a point where someone interested in horror film studies doesn't have to rely on one or two reference books in a certain field but might actually find themselves in the position of having so many choices it becomes difficult to know where to start. Of course, this is a problem I'm glad to have even if it complicates my desire to learn more about the movies I love.

But one area of cinema interest has been, until now, mostly neglected by film academics and that would be the monster and horror films of Spain. In the United States much attention has been paid to the various Spanish language genre films of Mexico but Spain has suffered in the dark. This might be because of the shared border that makes it easier to import scratchy VHS and DVD copies or the colorful nature of the Masked Wrestling films of El Santo and his cohorts or the fact that K. Gordon Murray ran dubbed Mexican genre movies through kiddie matinees like a madman who had learned there was gold in them there theaters! But it is probably also because, for American viewers, it can be difficult to distinguish a Spanish made horror film from one of Italian origin since they were all dubbed and often by the same voices. A casual fan might never notice the differences inherent in these films or even realize that these differences depend upon their country of origin. Those who are really interested do begin to pick up on the ways in which Spanish horror efforts are distinct from their European brethren and luckily we now have a book that can serve as an intelligent conversation starter.

Sex, Sadism, Spain and Cinema by Nicholas Schlegel focuses on the Spanish genre films produced during what is now termed the Golden Age of Spanish Horror from 1968 to 1977. He examines the reasons the genre was finally allowed to flower under the Franco dictatorship and the ways in which the restrictions placed on filmmakers helped shape the movies in both obvious and more subtle ways. For anyone unaware, Schlegel lays out a brief history of the Spanish Civil War, the ascendancy of General Franco, the post WWII economic problems of the country and the eventual opening of the country to tourism that saw Spain grow into a prosperous nation. These are the conditions and history that Schlegel points to as the creative seedbed that made the best of the country's  hundreds of horror films distinctly Spanish. In the largest, most fascinating sections of this book he uses several specific movies as examples of this. Dividing them into productions co-financed with money from other counties and then the completely homegrown films Schlegel describe the details that mark each as a specific product of Spain. It is in these chapters that genre fans will find much intellectual meat to tear into.

As a Paul Naschy fan I was immensely curious to see what the author would find in his werewolf and other monster efforts and I was not disappointed. When discussing one of Naschy's most famous films Walpugis Night (a.k.a. Werewolf Shadow a.k.a. The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman)  he notices that Naschy's screenplay has structured the movie monster's psyches along the lines of the classic Freudian formulation of the id, ego and superego. As I read Schlegel's detailed analysis of the creature's driving desires with this framework I was shocked to see exactly what he meant. The vampires are pure id always seeking pleasure regardless of costs while the tortured werewolf wants only to end his eternal existence because he kills aligning the ego and superego within his bifurcated body. Using this view to examine the rest of the tale opens up whole new avenues that makes thinking seriously about these movies fascinating.

Another amazing discussion is Schlegel's dissection of one of the best and best known Spanish horror films Horror Express (1972). Earlier in the book he pointed out that while American filmmakers had thirty years to refine their craft to the moment that they produced something as monumental in the genre as Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) Spanish creators had to absorb those lessons in a brief few years and synthesize them in order to compete. That they succeeded so well is a testament to their talent and skill with Eugenio Martin's astonishing film standing as the perfect example of transmutation within the confines of chosen set of limits. Part science fiction, part murder mystery, part period adventure and part EC comics horror this film - according to Schlegel - also serves as a view inside the Franco dictatorship from a Spanish citizen's restricted perspective. Indeed, he poses the bold claim that its not an alien monster that stalks the Trans-Siberian train but history itself that moves throughout the narrative. This is an amazing reading of the film's narrative that, at first I was surprised by, but eventually the author won me over with the force of his argument and some pointed quotes from director Martin. And even if this view of Horror Express doesn't jib with your own, the idea itself is fascinating regardless of authorial intent.

This is exactly the kind of film commentary book I love to read! The films examined are accepted as works of quality within their field and worthy of study because of that fact. The intentions of the filmmakers is explored, the times of the production are probed, the concepts presented are teased apart for relevance while the whole is enjoyed as an entertaining work. Nicholas Schlegel has written a fine work delving into an area filled with untapped potential for study. Fans of Spanish horror are lucky that someone has finally begun to explore the deeper aspects of this neglected field and doubly lucky that someone with writing talent has taken the first step. The fear that a book of this type might be dull or dry is one of which I can happily disabuse you. This is a book written by a man who is first and foremost a fan of these movies but has applied his academic mindset to a beloved sub-genre. I hope that he eventually explores these field further in a second volume and continues to burnish the Golden Age of Spanish Horror to a high sheen.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Women Who Kill Me - Glenda Farrell

I first learned of Miss Farrell when I saw THE SMART BLONDE (1937) at a screening in Chicago.  The movie was a smart funny crime tale and I knew I wanted to see more of the character of Torchy Blaine and more of Glenda Farrell too. She was wonderful in the role and as I've caught up with more of her Pre-Code movie I've come to love her even more. She seemed to embody the 1930's smart-mouthed, wise cracking, worldly and intelligent dame that always got what she wanted while outmaneuvering jerks left and right.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

NaschyCast #53 - ROTTWEILER (2004)

Episode 53 puts us back in 2004 to discuss a film that features Naschy in a small but impressive role as - wait for it - the bad guy! ROTTWEILER is an English language film made in Spain by American director Brian Yuzna during his short lived Fantastic Factory production company's existence. We start the conversation talking about the various film directed by Yuzna and segue into the other movies made by Fantastic Factory. There are some good films and some bad films on that list!

ROTTWEILER was based on a novel by Spanish author Alberto Vázquez Figueroa who also wrote the script. In cases like this I love to read the source work but I haven't been able to locate an English translation anywhere so if anyone out there has any information on such a thing please let me know at I'm very curious about the novel's structure in comparison to the film and how close the story stays to the details of the book. 

As usual Troy and I stray from our assigned path a few times to talk about other (possibly) related subjects but we keep mostly on target - I promise. The mailbag segment has some fun food for thought as we learn about a fellow Naschy fan that we somehow missed crossing paths with during our days living in Murfreesboro, TN in the 1990s. Strange! And Dan returns with his segment this time out to talk about Rottweiler and another horror host. Thanks for listening and please consider donating to the show or rating and reviewing us in the iTunes store.

Friday, August 21, 2015

THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1996) - posters & images

Tonight I watched this film for the third or fourth time since catching it in its original release and I'm going to have to come out and state that I like it. The recent documentary about the making of this very troubled production rekindled my interest and the new Blu-Ray proved the perfect viewing experience. I'm never going to claim it's a perfect film, but it is far from the terrible movie that it has been painted as for nearly twenty years. In fact, I think it holds together very well until Brando's exit and then it flies a bit out of control. Part of this chaotic feel is obviously intentional as it mirrors the breakdown of order on the island but there always seems to be pieces missing that would have made things work smoother. And while the CGI beasties are awful beyond words the Stan Winston creature effects are stupendous and the actors inside the suits do a magnificent job. I was disheartened to hear so many of the cast & crew referring to it as one of the worst movies of all time! No, no! As far as I'm concerned this is much better than other 1996 releases including Independance Day, The Rock or Twister. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Given a title that has very little relation to its content, Cannibal Man is not the gut-munching splatterfest you might expect. Instead it's a thoughtful, intelligent and deliberately paced study of one man's descent into madness and is much better served by the alternate title Week Of The Killer. The film bears more resemblance to Polanski's Repulsion than the gross-out cannibal movies that stampeded through exploitation theaters in the late '70s and early '80s. Rather than those movies I was surprised to find myself thinking of a line from Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt. In that movie a serial murderer of rich old ladies asks what the pleasant facades of middle class homes hide and what ugly things you might see if the fronts were ripped off those houses. In the Hitchcock story the killer is a man from modest means whose maniacal disgust with idle rich women drives his desire to kill. Here we have killer driven by fear committing a string of atrocities but silently watched through that fake calm front his house affords. But behind the walls of this poor man's home death piles up all because our anti-hero believes (probably correctly) that someone like him won't be afforded justice.

Marcos (Vincente Parra) is a man on the fringes of Spanish urban life. He works in a slaughterhouse and shares a rundown house with his older brother. Their home is in an area of the city in which expensive high rise apartment buildings are springing up and pushing out the older residents. This house is one of the last of the older dwellings in the neighborhood and looking up at the new complexes Marcos knows his place in the world as a poor man every day. He's dating the very lovely Paula (Emma Cohen) but she knows her father won't approve of Marcos and has kept their romance a secret. One night while on a date together they are insulted and assaulted by a cab driver. This older fellow is offended by their public displays of affection and in the ensuing altercation Marcos brains the man over the head to protect Paula. The next day’s newspaper reveals that the cab driver died from the blow. Paula thinks they should go to the police, explain what happened and try to put it behind them. But Marcos insists that he will never be believed and when he realizes Paula will go to police with or without him, he strangles her. Clearly puzzled by his own actions, he places her body in his bedroom and carries on with his life.

Marcos' brother has been out of town on a job. When he returns a day early and discovers Paula's corpse he is stunned and tries to convince Marcos to go to the cops. The siblings argue and when things are done Marcos is laying his brother's body in his bedroom as well. At this point things become complicated as his brother's fiancée Carmen shows up looking for her future husband. A forceful woman with a dim view of men she can’t be stopped from searching the house and soon her body is added to the pile.

Marcos continues to go about his usual life, working, eating in a local restaurant and fielding the flirtatious advances from beautiful waitress Rosa. He seems to be trying to figure a way out of his problem but the next day Carmen's father shows up in a fury looking for his missing daughter. Once again Marcos resorts to violence and now he has four bodies in his bedroom. Finally he gets an idea about how to deal with this situation. He begins dismembering the bodies and taking the pieces to the slaughter house each day inside a duffel bag. There he feeds the parts into the machinery that processes the beef, neatly getting rid of the evidence. 

Over the course of these few days Marcos keeps meeting one of his neighbors from the nearest high rise apartment building. Nestor (Eusebio Poncela) is a polite but talkative man who lives on his own. He goes out of his way to befriend Marcos and by the time he casually says of his neighbor's unspoken problems, "You should bury them," you suspect he knows the bedroom's terrible secret. It slowly becomes clear that Nestor is a homosexual and it's his own outcast position in Spanish society that leads him to overlook Marcos' crime. Nestor might even be looking for help from his new friend but it only becomes clear what kind as the men become closer. As the smell from the rotting bodies gets to be difficult to conceal, Marcos' problem may have grown too large to escape detection. Soon the missing people are going to cause the police to investigate and Marcos has to make a decision.

One of the best surprises of this very good film is the restraint with which the gruesome tale is told. Even though this a story about a man who kills half a dozen people there is never a feeling of sleaze or exploitation. While there are some bloody moments the film is light on violence. Much more interested in studying its main character's mental deterioration than shocking an audience, the movie works its magic by drawing a portrait of a desperate man pushed by fear into horrible crimes. It's a testament to writer/director Eloy de la Iglesia's skill that we find Marcos more sympathetic as the story goes on instead of less. His acts are terrible — the most heinous act a human can do — but his reasons are understandable. He knows he'll never get justice in the repressive culture of Franco's Spain. The film shows several scenes of daily life around him that make his place in society clear — he had no real future from the moment he struck that cab driver. 

This is a dark, sad film that ultimately becomes about two men from opposite ends of society who are outsiders for different reasons. Neither man can really help the other. But they can at least find a friend — someone to talk to — before they succumb to the inevitable end the world has condemned them to.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Gravedigger - Crime Comic Book!

I read a lot of comic books both old and new each week but while I tend to concentrate on superhero books (Wonder Woman, Superman, Spider-Man, etc) and horror tales from decades past on occasion I like to try other genres to see what might be out there. I'm a major fan of crime fiction and mysteries so this often bleeds over into my comic reading. The current gold standard for this kind of comic is the fine series of Darwyn Cooke adaptations of the classic Richard Stark Parker novels. If you haven't tried them I highly recommend checking them out. Even the Parker novels I had previously read came to life in new and stunning fashion with Cooke's intelligent visualizations.

With that high quality in mind I can now recommend another great crime comic book that strikes me as being in the same league. Author Christopher Mills has been on my radar for a few years because of his various blogs. My favorite of his blogging efforts is the excellent Space: 1970 which chronicles his love of the television and film science fiction of that groovy decade. Where else are you gonna find multiple posts on Jason of Star Command or The Fantastic Journey?

So when he began to post on Facebook about his crime story character Gravedigger I wondered if his entertaining blogging style could translate into hard-boiled crime fiction. Well I'm happy to say that after only one issue I can say 'Hell yes it can'! Teaming with artist Rick Burchett they have crafted a sharp, mean spirited neo-noir tale that pulses with energy and life. They have opted to produce the comic in black & white and it immediately becomes clear that color would only pointlessly complicate the stark lines and smart storytelling of this book. I was surprised first by the fact that they have chosen to present the story in landscape page layout instead of the normal portrait format of comic books but realized quickly that this is another clever decision. Reading the book this way creates an automatic 'widescreen' feeling to the action and seems to push the tale faster in some odd way. I've read this first issue three times and I cannot wait to snatch up the second one when it hits the stands later this month and then the collected trade paperback in November that will have more tales of professional thief Gravedigger (who bears a striking resemblance to a certain awesome actor). Very cool! 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Should I?

I've been thinking of watching SHIP OF MONSTERS (1960) again. Not sure what that says about me.