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Sex, sadism and Spain: The Spanish horror film, 1968--1977

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Nicholas G Schlegel
Abstract:
This project explores how a group of films produced, distributed and exhibited under the crumbling dictatorship of Francisco Franco's Spain can potentially lead us to a better understanding of the political, social and cultural conditions during this contentious period in Spain's long history. Between the years of 1968 and 1977 Spain experienced a boom in horror movie production that rivaled other sectors of production and yielded impressive statistics. This work canonizes these films in relation to their historical genesis, aesthetic characteristics and their social reception.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Dedication…...……………………………………………………………………………..……ii

Acknowledgements………..… ………….…………………………………………………..….iii

Chapter 1 – Introduction………….………………………….……………….………….1

Chapter 2 – History………………….……………………….…………………………30

Chapter 3 – International Co - Productions..…………….….…………….……………..67

Chapter 4 – National Productions…………………….….……………….………… ...115

Chapter 5 – Conclusion……………………………….………………………………156

Bibliography…….…………………..……………….………………………………………..163

Abstract….....……………………….………………………………………………………...169

Autobiographical Statement…………………………………………………………………..170

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CHAPTER 1:

INTRODUCTION

SEX, SADISM & SPAIN: THE SPANISH HORROR FILM, 1968 – 1977

"One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for

recognition of

all that our civilization represses and oppresses."

- Robin Wood

"You do not let your eyes see nor yo ur ears hear, and that which is outside your

daily life is not of account to you."

- Professor Van Helsing, Dracula , 1897

This dissertation explores how a group of films produced, distributed and exhibited under the crumbling dictatorship of Franc isco Franco's Spain can potentially lead us to a better understanding of the political, social and cultural conditions during this contentious period in Spain's long history. The genre of horror, banned under former dictator and head of state General Franc isco Franco as a potential site of ideological subversion, ironically became one of the defining and most popular genres in Spain at the close of the 1960s 1 and dominated all other sectors of genre production in the 1970s. I offer, through close textual r eadings of representative samples, a history of the Spanish horror film, and in this regard, expose the buried strata – the cultural deposits – where I believe manifestations of Spanish national identity can be found. I also examine how these texts draw u pon both the thematic and aesthetic characteristics of pre - existing films of this type released by The United States, England and Italy (among others) as well as analyze the marketing, distribution and exhibition strategies deployed by the Spanish in both their international co - productions and national productions. By performing aesthetic, thematic and industrial analyses, we access significant layers of cultural subtext and, in some

ways, reveal the ways history can embed itself into narrative objects, es pecially in the wake of national trauma. This last point, as argued at the conclusion of this dissertation, is the case with

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The Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939) which left a nation economically troubled, politically polarized, and with a death toll of over half a million.

In like manner, post World War II Europe saw economic ruin visited upon many countries, among them Germany, England, Italy, and France. The project of slowly reconstructing their dormant, essentially non - operational motion picture indust ries would prove to be a complicated political, economic and cultural project. The U.S. involvement, though distanced, was nonetheless crucial to this reconstruction. 2 In Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953 – 1968

(2004), Kevin Heffernan presents an economic and industrial analysis of the marketing, distribution and exhibition strategies of the mid - twentieth century horror film. He explains, "American co - productions with the studios of Europe began shortly after Wo rld War II as a result of the efforts of war - ravaged countries, including Italy and England, to block theater receipts from the major U.S. studios in an effort to prevent large amounts of currency from leaving their decimated economies" (Heffernan 136). A merican companies, such as American International, were eager to secure negative pickup deals (the outright purchasing of a motion picture and its distribution rights) for importation as well as to co - finance international co - productions.

Heffernan's use of the phrase "war - ravaged" is significant; the horrors and atrocities of World War II provided ammunition through which screenwriters, directors, producers, cinematographers, and so on, could visually tell stories that acknowledged the dismal and grue some realities of a continent left weary from post - war trauma. As such, the films of this era, horror and otherwise, tend to possess a fractured narrative logic (associated broadly with European cinema) coupled with surreal, haunting and sometimes powerfu lly disturbing imagery. Operating under a conspicuous sense of post - war disillusionment, these leading characteristics

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became the dominant mode of expression for, in particular, a genre that came to be known simply and collectively as Euro - horror. Euro - h orror is, among other things, recognized for “its assault upon traditional narrative models, its deconstruction of normative gender, sexual and racial identities at the level of character, and its emphasis on spectacle and visual excess" (Olney ii). Simul taneously, as production and distribution companies quickly realized that one of the most camera ready and potentially profitable genres was horror, a synthesis between content/product, outlet, and demand occurred and by the late 1950s and early 1960s, Eur o - horror and its continental and international co - productions were flourishing.

Initially however, Spain remained non - cooperative and non - competitive within this sector of filmmaking. Franco's solution to the national problems of post Civil War Spain and to post World War II global issues was to implement a rigid autarky based on models of European fascism and Nazism; this closed economic system later proved disastrous for Spain. Moreover, even if Spain had considered joining the European market in this respect, hindrance from The Catholic Church and Spanish Government in the form of a Board of Censorship, which rigidly controlled or restricted all manner of motion picture content made it difficult, if not impossible (these points are more fully developed in chapter two). Spain therefore preferred to sanction tame and light - hearted domestic product that tended to reinforce Francoist hegemony rather than contradict or subvert it. It was not until the late 1960s when Spain would enter the Euro - horror arena ; however, once initiated, the Spanish became competitively prodigious . Over the span of these historically significant ten years (1968 - 1977), Spain's total output reached into the hundreds of these types of films. This statistic is remarkable when compa red to the output of all the studios and production companies operating in the free market industry of The United States over the same period. The below table (which adds an additional two years for context)

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illustrates the bulge in production where numbe rs begin to double and triple during the most productive years. The yield for this span of years is 203 films.

Table 1 - 1. Spanish horror movie production totals between 1967 and 1978.

Now, within the considerable multi - national environment of Euro - hor ror, the Spanish

horror film offers a fascinating and almost entirely ignored discursive body. As part of a general research rationale, I want to briefly address the ways in which this era of the Spanish horror film has been overlooked and unjustly maligne d. Indeed, despite the existence of several works dedicated to the very subject of Spanish cinema, many of which are concentrated under the Francoist regime, most notably Marsha Kinder's misleadingly titled Blood Cinema (1993), there is an almost suspicio us vacuum of silence surrounding the Spanish horror film. Kinder, for example, writes:

Just as the Spanish Civil War of 1936 - 9 has frequently been called a rehearsal

for the Second World War, so Spain's surprisingly rapid transition from Francoism to de mocracy can be seen as prefiguring the sudden collapse of the Cold War paradigm which followed in 1945. Spanish cinema played an important role in figuring Spain's move to democracy, not only after Franco's death in 1975, but in the years preceding it. F rom the 1950s onwards a hermetically sealed Spain began to be opened to foreign influence and a new Spanish cinema emerged on the world scene. (Kinder 596)

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The problem that quickly develops here is the fact that the "new Spanish cinema" to which Kinder re fers is indeed saturated with the blood of her book's title, but it is principally the blood of the genre most associated with gut - level, visceral reactions to rituals of blood - letting, blood - spilling and blood ingestion. And yet, in what is common to boo ks on Spanish cinema, Kinder's scholarship completely ignores any mention of what, fueled by The Ministry of Culture's "Plan of Stabilization," would be collectively known as " La Edad de Oro del Fantaterror Español " or "The Golden Age of Spanish Horror." Let me be clear, Kinder's Blood Cinema along with many other scholarly books that examine Spanish cinema are undeniably valuable, insightful and necessary to advancing the agenda of global cinema studies. My bewilderment quite logically stems from works t hat examine the exact same era as this dissertation and fail to mention (in passing, or otherwise), or simply present a rationale for not

addressing, the swell in horror movie production that began in 1967 and lasted well into the early 1980s.

Because o f their extensive history with the genre, American, British and most recently Italian horror films have received greater scholarly and critical attention. In a recent example of popular criticism (as opposed to Kinder's more scholarly publication), New Yo rk Times film critic Dave Kehr acknowledges the traditions, longevity and growing popularity of Euro - horror. Kehr however, employs the more pejorative term "Eurotrash" throughout his review of these releases.

Beyond first - run films and television series, one of the fastest - growing segments in the DVD marketplace consists of the wide group of horror movies, crime films and soft - core pornography with a sadistic edge that has come to be known collectively as Eurotrash, imports without quite the cachet of Vuit ton handbags and Hermès scarves. There are now several companies catering to discerning fans of antique gore who snap up new releases of obscure Italian horror movies, forgotten French porn films and the baroque German crime thrillers known as krimi. …The heroes of this school — Lucio Fulci, Jess Franco, Max Pecas and

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countless others — are instinctive rebels, yet their revolt, possibly subconsciously, takes the form of a blanket rejection of the high - art notions of quality, consistency, intelligence, beaut y and so on. (Kehr, www.nytimes.com, emphasis mine)

Let me briefly indicate here that the social reception of these films is an important part of this dissertation and the above citation establishes significant points that require further elaboration for both mainstream and more scholarly audiences. This citation aids in priming and framing certain concerns of this dissertation. To begin with, in the case of Spain (which became a prodigious supplier of these types of films), I agree with the assertion of a "blanket rejection" but disagree with what specifically is being rejected. Kehr assumes a homogeneous mode of cultural production, akin to a Pan - European identity (hence, " Euro t rash"). This is problematic for at least several reasons; chief among them, for me, is Spain's form of government at the time of this "Eurotrash" boom - which was not a constitutional democracy or even a monarchy, but a military dictatorship. Kehr's romanticized "instinctive rebels" and their "revolt" (of which, Spanish filmmake r Jess Franco is the unrivaled emperor) would have unquestionably been imprisoned, or worse, executed for treasonable crimes against the state. 3 This helps to explain Jess Franco's self - imposed professional exile from Spain during the majority of its inhos pitable and strict 1960s. The author of this piece, the respected and admired Dave Kehr, overlooks the significant output of Spain, preferring to highlight the "low" cinemas of Italy, France, and Germany.

This disregard is arguably offset by his rather c asual acknowledgment of the abovementioned Jess Franco. However, Kehr fails to establish a connection between Franco and his nationality or country of origin. In fact, Spain is not mentioned once in the entirety of this article, titled, "Eurotrash Roundu p."

When Kehr does pause to discuss Spain's Jess Franco, his comments are apparently informed by notions of taste rather than on the genuine creative impulses of a fascinating director

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like Jess Franco. Kehr wryly summar izes Jess Franco's career below.

Mr. Franco, a filmmaker with somewhere between 150 and 300 films to his credit (no one seems to know for sure ), has no discernible talent beyond an eye for attractive young women w illing to have simulated sex with various actors and objects. What 'meaning' his work possesses lies , as his many academic defenders have claimed, in its inherent rebuke to outdated bourgeois notions of narrative i ntelligibility and dramatic coherence. (Kehr, www.nytimes.com)

While curious and problematic, it is perhaps mostly iro nic that Kehr engages in supercilious value judgments, sensational turns of phrase, and the policing of taste in an article exactly

about

the artistic reactions to, and rejections of, the politics of taste distinctions through dominant class configurations .

Kehr's review, however, is sufficiently paradigmatic regarding the aggregate view on the Spanish horror film in both popular and academic circles: it is not discussed or well known. The challenge of canonizing Spain's body of work and, as Kehr states , the "heroes" of these "movements" remains unclaimed.

This dissertation proposes to redress the silence surrounding the Spanish horror film and perhaps elevate the status of some of its key figures, such as Jess Franco, from that of "having no discernabl e talent" to that of "architects of a major cinematic movement."

In the pages that follow then, I present a series of questions that interrogate the Spanish horror film and the culture that produced this cinematic movement. These questions, I believe, co ver the major and most common concerns of an historical inquiry. To begin to cogently explain the horror boom Spain experienced from roughly 1968 to 1977 one must consider the

complex factors that led to the "official" sanctioning of horror films where th ey had previously been banned and the ways (content, aesthetic) they differed from other current popular genres that were sanctioned and subsidized by the government. What were the strategies employed in financing, producing and exhibiting these films?

In producing these films, what tropes,

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conventions, iconography and thematic treatments were consistently used and in what ways are these films similar and simultaneously different from their competition? Certainly, box office earnings and reception must be considered. How were these films received with audiences and critics, both in Spain and abroad? And lastly, why is there a very rapid decline in production in the late 1970s and early 80s? What factors led to this economic shift?

If, as shown, acade mics and film critics are blasé , misinformed, or worse, ignorant regarding the Spanish horror film, at least one scholar has addressed this oversight. Peter Hutchings recognizes the above marginalization in his comprehensive survey on the evolution of the genre. In The Horror Film (2005), Hutchings observes and comments on an “overly streamlined picture of generic development, one which does not always take enough account of the range of different horror films available in any given period” (Hutchings 28). The horror movie as a hub for multicultural discourse is, in many ways, a completely new branch of studies.

The dismantling of national boundaries through late twentieth and twenty - first century global media technologies and the rise of “boutique” DVD d istribution labels such as Criterion, Casa Negra, Synapse, Blue Underground, Panik House, Image and Tokyo Shock have made the rescuing of and access to (notoriously rare) films from around the world possible and, for that matter, simple. 4 This essentially unrestricted admittance has facilitated recent trends in horror cinema research, scholarship, and mainstream appreciation. For decades however, American and British horror almost exclusively dominated all discourse. On this subject, Hutchings elaborates:

In (historically) locating the development of horror along an American - British

axis, it also marginalizes other significant areas of horror production, for instance

Italian horror, Spanish horror, and Mexican horror. A tendency to see horror

f ilms in terms primarily of American

and British production, with European

production only acknowledged so far as its 'art' or 'avant - garde' sectors were

concerned, was especially evident in writings about the horror film from the

196 0s and 1970s. […] By contrast, recent critical work on Italian horror cinema in

particular has assumed a prominence in writings about horror that reflects not

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only the sheer volume of horror production in Italy but also the quality and

distinctiveness of many of these films. (Hutchings 28)

It is precisely the volume, quality and distinctiveness that Hutchings ascribes to the Italian horror film (and its critical representations) that this dissertation seeks to similarly attribute to the Spanish horror film. The preceding examples , then, provide the fundamental justification for this study. Little to nothing exists on the subject of the Spanish horror film in the English language, and what is in print is either underdeveloped (as the following review of the liter ature shows) or engages in a form of elitism that minimizes the legitimatization of these films as an important part of Spanish history. In terms of addressing past or current academic literature on the Spanish horror film, this introduction presents all o f the current findings.

Hutchings' book, a very recent survey of the genre (2005), presents the perfect launch point from which we may review the relevant literature to this dissertation. There have been enough critical works on the subject of horror to warrant reflection and, to a large degree, this is Hutchings' principal undertaking with The Horror Film . Hutchings reviews the major theories and academic approaches to writing about the horror film, citing what he considers to be occasional flaws in th ese bodies of work, for example the "uses (and abuses) of psychoanalytic theory in horror analysis" (vii). However, Hutchings does more than reflect on other scholarly work; he contributes substantive theorizing of his own which results in a fresh and new look at common readings. Hutchings also examines specific aspects of the horror film which he considers previously underdeveloped. This is particularly evident in his chapter " The Sound of Horror" which examines "horror's use of sound and the reliance o f the genre on particular types of performance" (viii). Throughout his book, Hutchings suggests that earlier works might need reevaluation; similarly it would benefit this project to revisit the trajectory horror scholarship has taken since it first became an object of legitimate study. Horror is a particularly slippery genre

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when it comes to definition, and this may be, as Hutchings notes in his introduction by way of quoting Frankenstein (1931), because " It's Alive! It's Alive! "

The following review is broken into roughly three chronological sections. The first of these focuses on the early scholarship from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the second on the refinement stage where theory is introduced and becomes an important part of the critical agenda, and lastly, I review the relevant literature available on the global horror film.

Through single - authored volumes and edited anthologies, many academics have thoroughly engaged and embraced the horror film in efforts to elevate its status from what fil mmaker Wes Craven aggregately described as "One notch above pornography" 5 to that of a force that needs to be acknowledged in art, and hence society, while further allowing people simple and primal access to experiencing their own humanity. And, while h or ror film scholarship initially struggled to find a suitable niche, it wasn't long before major works began to see publication. During the initial waves of film criticism, the first "serious" work to address the horror genre was Carlos Clarens' Horror Movi es: An Illustrated Survey (1968). Clarens, a film critic and historian, presents a chronological portrait of the horror film, from the Weimar Republic through the late "golden age" of Hollywood studio production, roughly 1948. Clarens' book offered some synthesis and context but could best be considered an articulate "appreciation" of a genre that was laboring to find acceptance as a site for legitimate discourse. As an historical investigation, Clarens' book shows remarkable durability and has recently seen a chapter reprinted in Stephen Prince's edited volume, The Horror Film (2005).

Clarens' only comparative equivalent at that time was William K. Everson's Classics of the Horror Film (1974). Everson, (then a professor of cinema studies at New York Un iversity) covers essentially the same terrain as Clarens. He analyzes lost or neglected films from the

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identical pool as Clarens; his insight is astute and intelligent, but he more or less opts for "capsules" directed at each specific film he analyzes ins tead of weaving a more "grand narrative."

This is not the case with the next two major entries of this period, David Pirie's A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema 1946 - 1972 (1973) and Lotte Eisner's The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the Ger man Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt

(1973). With these two publications, horror studies began to look at specific cultures in relation to eras and cycles of production (as does this dissertation). For example, Pirie writes that "It certainly se ems to be arguable that on commercial, historical and artistic grounds that the horror genre, as it has been developed in this country by Hammer and its rivals, remains the only staple cinematic myth which Britain can properly claim as its own… in the same way as the western relates to America" (Pirie 9). And this is Pirie's principal thesis despite having almost no critical analogues and a relatively small canon of films to analyze. For this reason alone, Pirie's work was particularly welcomed. His exc avation and archaeology of the English Gothic as a transmitter of national identity through the apparatus of cinema was, and remains, a compelling study of national character. Similarly, Lotte Eisner surveys and discusses aspects of Germanic culture in re lation to post World War I war trauma. She writes:

Mysticism and magic, the dark forces to which Germans have always been more than willing to commit themselves, had flourished in the face of death on the battlefields. The hecatombs of young men fallen in the flower of their youth seemed to nourish the grim nostalgia of the survivors. And the ghosts which had haunted the German Romantics revived like the shades of Hades after draughts of blood. (Eisner 9)

Eisner examines, in depth, Germany’s alleged predisposition with these “dark forces” and the links created between Romanticist art and the later Expressionist movement with the emerging cinematic media of 1920’s Berlin. The work is influential for its scope, depth and national spirit .

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Eisner’s effo rts to "bind" a national identity to a cinema produced a valuable reference point where we can, if we like, easily trace the cross - cultural influence German Expressionism held over The Universal cycle of horror movies and the subsequent RKO

- Val Lewton pr oduced films of the 1940s. 6 Eisner, a close friend to many German filmmakers, among them, Fritz Lang, has been criticized for being biased in reference to the common and aggregate opinions held by her famously opinionated friends. There is the possibility that "influence" was exerted on her by figures like Lang and Pabst. This purported bias does not, in my opinion, damage the validity of her overall arguments, claims, or findings. In my estimation, Eisner's work may be guilty of lionizing certain aspect s of her stated goals, and like Kracauer, conflating Expressionism with the more mainstream genre cinema of 1920s Berlin (especially comedies), but the value of The Haunted Screen together with A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema 1946 - 1972

cann ot be overstated. Eisner and Pirie provided a new stimulus for film scholarship precisely when it was most needed, thus inaugurating, in the decades that followed, a methodology that many historians and scholars have followed.

Pirie and Eisner present cu ltural histories of cinema that are, in many ways, analogues to Siegfried Krakauer's From Caligari to Hitler (1947), which should be briefly acknowledged. 7

This viewing of cinema in a nationalistic framework originates with Kracauer, although Pirie and to a lesser degree Eisner are the first to frame this sort of critical attention within the genre of horror. And while Eisner is more concerned with, more or less, an art history, Krakauer presents a psychological (hence ideological) history of the German ci nema from Weimar Republic to the rise of the Nazi Party Congress . From Caligari to Hitler is an influential and systematic work and certainly the first to view cinema in direct relation to the culture producing it. Fellow Frankfurt School colleague Max H orkeimer wrote to Kracauer in 1937, requesting that he

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consider evaluating a nearly complete collection of films, recently acquired by The Museum of Modern Art in New York. This collection was a nearly complete record of the entire German film industry, e specially the works created under the Weimar Republic. The commission would call for a "studying, on the basis of the available materials, the relationship between social development and cinema in Germany" (Quaresima xix). Kracauer undertook this massive

assignment and labored obsessively, in exile, for nearly a decade, ultimately delivering what has become a standard text. As shown, generations of film historians (Eisner, Pirie, and many others) owe a debt to this work, from 1947 through today and presu mably into the future.

However, there were many criticisms leveled at Kracauer's work. Scholars have complained of: a priori assumptions about the middle class, rapid movement from levels of analysis – from individual or small groups to aggregate views, a pushing of an agenda at the expense of certain analyzed texts, excessive favor of narrative over aesthetics, and a lack of objectivity but not of oversimplification. There have been advances made to the methods for writing cultural histories since the la te 1930s; many scholars have used Kracauer's template as a source for structuring inquiry while simultaneously addressing the perceived flaws of his methodology and embracing intersubjectivity.

Pirie and Eisner published their works at the end of this fir st wave of scholarship at approximately the same time secondary approaches in evaluating the horror film were also emerging. Like other burgeoning schools (for example, early feminist scholarship), these efforts were comprised of image studies and reflect ion pieces. Works like Ivan Butler's Horror in the Cinema (1970) or Les Daniels' Living in Fear: A History of Horror in the Mass Media (1974) are similar in scope and approach to Molly Haskell’s From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (1974) or Marjorie Rosen’s Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies & the

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American Dream (1973). The promising dawn of film studies, then, which saw a major turn towards historical scholarship , observes little theoretical development or interdisciplinary broadening until 1975.

It would seem that at this critical point in Anglo - American film studies, these primary and secondary approaches to reading the horror film (surveys, histories, and appreciations), while important, stimulating and certainly catalysts for furth er scholarship, were considered by many to be limited in their application for lack of a theoretical grounding. Notwithstanding the enormity of the contributions made by Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Bazin and the contributors to Cahiers du Cinema , and so on, the central question and/or problem of the mid - 1970s appeared to be "what has been written lately with a theoretical grounding?" Despite film theory and criticism's developments in refining new vocabularies for film and new ways of thinking about film, as col leges and universities adopted formal film curriculums – the body of current literature only addressed film insofar as a field to be appreciated (film appreciation) or excavated (film history). In effect, Anglo - American film studies and by extension, horr or scholarship, basically stagnates until the arrival of the provocative works of figures like Christian Metz, Roland Barthes and Laura Mulvey for her famous "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema " (1975).

Full document contains 176 pages
Abstract: This project explores how a group of films produced, distributed and exhibited under the crumbling dictatorship of Francisco Franco's Spain can potentially lead us to a better understanding of the political, social and cultural conditions during this contentious period in Spain's long history. Between the years of 1968 and 1977 Spain experienced a boom in horror movie production that rivaled other sectors of production and yielded impressive statistics. This work canonizes these films in relation to their historical genesis, aesthetic characteristics and their social reception.