Scary thought: Horror does big biz

Killer b.o., sales increasingly draw Spanish filmmakers to genre

Scary movies provided one of the few bright spots at the Spanish boxoffice in 2007 for local filmmakers, and frighteners are fast becoming the country's easiest cross-border sell.

After the success of Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" and Juan Antonio Bayona's directorial debut, "The Orphanage,"  which not only racked up accolades on the global festival circuit last year, but topped the Spanish boxoffice ticket sales with more than 23 million euros, there's a raft of new scary products on the market.

"Spanish horror is more than just a few scares strung together. The thought-provoking genre is what we're doing in Spain," Morena Films producer Juan Gordon says. "I don't think that's being done anywhere else."

Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero's "Blair Witch"-style "{REC}" was the second-top-grossing Spanish film last year. It caused a buzz during the Venice Film Festival last year, and Screen Gems recently finished the U.S. remake named "Quarantine," directed by John Erick Dowdle.

Italy has seen "{Rec}" earn 1.4 million euros  on 100 copies in two weeks, and Odeon Sky Filmworks is set for a U.K. release in April.

"We sold '{Rec}' as more of an experience than just a film," Filmax marketing director Rafael Cabrera says. "It involves the audience through the hand-held camera that makes you the eye. The fresh approach makes you really feel fear."

Many point to cult director Alex de la Iglesia's 1990s black comedies such as "Day of the Beast" as a turning point in Spain's relationship with a complicated genre and the international market.

"Alex renewed horror by mixing it with comedy in an intelligent way that spoke to international audiences," says Tomas Cimadevilla, head of movie production with content label Vertice 360.

Others highlight Filmax president Julio Fernandez's foresight in launching the Fantastic Factory label in 1999, designed to create internationally targeted genre fare with fresh-faced Spanish directors.

Filmax certainly pioneered Spain's image as a go-to industry for quality horror. Balaguero alone has directed three of Spain's most international horror films: "{Rec}," "Darkness" and "Fragile: A Ghost Story," for the Fantastic Factory label.

While Filmax's biggest upcoming genre project is Brad Anderson's suspense thriller "Transiberian," its Fantastic Factory label is also in preproduction on Daniel Benmayor's "Paintball" and Paco Plaza's "Circus."

Barcelona-based production giant Mediapro has teamed with Warner Bros. Entertainment Espana and commercial broadcaster Antena 3 to co-produce "Sexykiller," directed by Miguel Marti, about a medical student's gruesome activities.

"There's a wave of filmmakers, like Balaguero who have come of age with genre and have experienced how cult has become mainstream," Gordon says.

Morena is set to release this summer Paco Cabeza's "The Appeared," a horror road movie through Patagonia that already has sold in more than a dozen territories and is the second feature produced through the production house's genre label Trauma.

A string of production houses,  including Morena and Vertice,  have created specialty labels focusing on horror films.

"It's a good moment for Spanish horror. It's obvious that it works abroad and that distributors want it. And circumstances are such that it's easy to find good projects," says Cimadevilla, who starts shooting Juan Martinez Moreno's 5 million euro-budgeted "Wolf Party" at the end of this year.

Other promising terror films coming up include: Tinieblas Gonzalez's "Underground," set in the 1970s and centering on an urban legend born of hyper-industrialization, and Guillermo Groizard's directorial debut, "Project Two," screening at the Malaga Film Festival in April.

"There is so much genre out there. You go to the markets and it all looks the same. But these guys, the Spanish directors, have a fresh take on genre, and it shows," Enrique Posner, partner of Madrid-based 6 Sales, says.