Today’s destination is Spain. Spain like most European countries had a successful and fruitful silent era. Unfortunately during the civil war in the 1930’s the industry took a hit. Only 10% of silent films made before 1936 have survived. During this period Spain most prominent director Luis Buñuel made the classic avant-garde film Un chien andalou.
After Franco came to power things started to settle down for the industry. Most films made in Spain were comedies and dramas although once the 1950’s there was a increased amount of social criticism despite censorship from the government. It’s tough to find an earlier horror, there might be one from the 1940’s but many people credit the 1960 film The Awful Dr. Orlof as the first Spanish horror movie.
Jesús Franco wrote and directed the film which kind of feels like a knock-off of the excellent French film Eyes Without a Face also from 1960. The movie stars Howard Vernon as Dr. Orlof a surgeon who is kidnapping young woman so he can use their skin in an attempt to repair his daughter’s face. This movie lead to an influx of Spanish horror movies in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Franco made several horror movies including a couple of sequels to Dr. Orlof and the entertaining The Diabolical Dr. Z, which was kind of female version of Dr. Orlof, about the daughter of Doctor Z who uses his machine to control a dancer. The dancer has long finger nails that are poisonous and the daughter uses her to kill off the people she feels responsible for her father’s death. Franco left Spain in 1970 for France and more freedom in making films but his quality control declined rapidly there.
In the meantime other horror films were making waves like the films of Paul Naschy, Spain’s answer to the Wolf Man, and Amando de Ossorio excellent Tombs of the Blind Dead. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) is about a young couple who accidentally awaken some cursed Knights Templar who are kind of like mummified corpse but without eyes who are trying to kill the couple. Because they can’t see this leads to several cool intense scenes where people are trying to not make any sound to avoid getting killed. On the random trivia side, apparently the American distributor wanted to turn the film into a Planet of the Apes “sequel” by adding some footage and having the Knights become zombie monkeys. Glad that didn’t happen.
In recent years the horror genre has really kicked in in Spain. From such films as Alejandro Amenábar’s Tesis (1996) to the excellent [Rec] and more recently Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In which is kind of an homage to The Awful Dr. Orlof.