Academic journal article Romance Notes

Voracious Vampires and Other Monsters: Masculinity and the Terror Genre in Spanish Cinema of the Transicion

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Voracious Vampires and Other Monsters: Masculinity and the Terror Genre in Spanish Cinema of the Transicion

Article excerpt

VAMPIRES, werewolves, and other monstrous beings abound in Spanish cinema of the late 1960s and 1970s. Though they appear almost exclusively in what has been marginalized as a fringe "sexploitation" genre, horror films constitute a significant contribution to the Spanish cinematic tradition. They represent a face and a voice that have often been neglected in discussions of Spanish cinema of the highly politically and socially volatile years of the late Francoist dictatorship and transition to democracy. Rife with images of sexism and violence--and often made quickly on very small budgets--horror genre films have been lauded for their ability to speak that which cannot otherwise be spoken and in turn to set about "blasting open the continuum of history" (Lowenstein 16). These genre films were relatively unregulated and, according to Andrew Willis, they "offered a space for directors to find a way of articulating challenges to the dominant ideas and beliefs of Francoist cinema and its celebration of family values" (167). Along these lines, Robin Wood states that "the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses, its reemergence dramatized, as in our nightmares" (4). Like dreams, they contain images unsettling to behold yet fruitful to contemplate for their insistent and problematic focus on gender relations, consumption, and identity.

By placing three representative films of this genre, La noche de Walpurgis/Werewolf versus the Vampire Woman (Leon Klimovsky, 1971), El retorno de Walpurgis/Ourse of the Devil (Carlos Aured, 1974), and La semana del asesino/Cannibal Man (Eloy de la Iglesia, 1972), within their larger cultural context, this study demonstrates how recurrent themes, motifs, and symbols link them despite their disparate styles, and indicates a profound ambivalence over the phenomenon of consumption--an ambivalence from which monsters emerge. Through representation of the most prevalent monsters that appear during this period, the werewolf, the vampire, and the cannibal, these films blur the line between human and beast, and this ambiguity can be seen to represent anxieties produced as the body was caught within a web of both consuming and being consumed during the period of Spain's rapid modernization.

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed dramatic economic and social changes in Spain causing a radical change in attitudes and behavior: migration to cities, the encounter with foreign tourists, and the rise of television advertising "estimulaba a los espanoles al consumo y al bienestar, identificado con automoviles, vacaciones al sol, viajes, electrodomesticos, aperitivos internacionales y perfumeria de lujo" (Jover Zamora et al 755). This period saw "the most accelerated, deep seated social, economic, and cultural transformation in Spanish history" (Graham and Labanyi 259). From 1961 to 1973, Spain's economy grew by 7 percent a year, outpaced in the developed world only by Japan (Tremlett 53). Suddenly driven to an encounter with that which had been forbidden during much of the dictatorship for economic or cultural reasons such as consumer products, sexuality on display, and omnipresent advertising, the individual finds her/himself subject to an order in which one's "consumer power" is required and exploited by the system, and one's body, male or female, is presented as an object for visual consumption.

It is within this changing order that anxieties, or that which Spanish civilization "represses or oppresses," surfaced as the viewer confronted her/his role in the new consumer context. Jean Baudrillard defines "consummativity" as "an indefinite calculus of growth rooted in the abstraction of needs" (83), and describes how the individual, who considers himself as an autonomous consumer exercising his power of choice, becomes caught up in a system which compels him to consume: "there is a compulsion to need and a compulsion to consume" (82). …

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