Farewell to the Last Fantaterror Hero
As the title states, last Monday, January 23rd, the last director from the Spanish Fantaterror generation, or also affectionately known as "sunflower seed horror", left us: Eugenio Martín (Ceuta, 1925 - Madrid, 2023).
This Ceuta-born filmmaker, like other now deceased professional colleagues, Amando de Ossorio, Javier Aguirre, Carlos Aured, Jordi Grau or León Klimovsky, adapted and made, being a good student, a style of filmmaking based on enthusiasm and effort, where the prevailing industry marked the styles to be used, in doctor-patient mode, in each respective decade. And here Martin knew how to pull out all the stops: horror, spaghetti western, comedy, science fiction, musical... a master and artist of co-production! A regime, by the way, that was in vogue back then during those decades.
Eugenio developed a career with an auteur character, moving through genres and subgenres with excellent results; as a result, a large part of his filmography still endures, is enjoyed and defended (although its defense in our country took a little longer to arrive, let's just say it was a little more difficult.
My relationship with his work came at a very early age; the personal one would arrive later.
I owe my first contact to my father and, more precisely, to a 1978 book that was part of his library and that I skimmed through very often because of its striking images: El Cine Enciclopedia Salvat del 7º Arte (Cinema Salvat Encyclopedia of the 7th Art), volume 1. In this volume, and with its full page size, there was a photo of actress Silvia Tortosa being stalked by those red-eyed, possessed soldiers, commanded by Telly Savalas in Horror Express (1972). That illustration was so incredibly powerful! That instant giant for a young child, as in my case, was decisive, among many others, to feed my fascination for horror films.
That book was full of shocking and legendary pictures from fantastic films and, specifically, Fantaterror (I must confess that the most terrifying one was from Javier Aguirre's film El jorobado de la morgue  and the moment where Maria Perschy, horrified in the underground, comes across a disfigured man and a dead man strapped to his back). In addition, another one that also caught my attention: that of a baby who, seemingly, is attacking a woman. It was from It Happened at Nightmare Inn (1973). Years later I would discover that this sequence was entirely different…
After being mesmerized for a long time with those images, and thanks to my love for exploring, as a young boy I would begin to seek out those films that would mark my future as a fan of made in Spain horror.
The 1996 edition of the SITGES - International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia would be decisive to see Eugenio Martín in action, alongside other illustrious artists and auteurs of Spanish fantastique, forming an extraordinary hand of four aces: Javier Aguirre, Paul Naschy, Jordi Grau and the aforementioned Eugenio. They were presenting the -shunned- book The Spanish Fantasy Pictures Show and an amazing retrospective that allowed me to see big screen showings of some of those feature films that, until then, I had only been able to enjoy on the small screen at home thanks to videos or TV broadcasts.
Unfortunately, they didn't attract the media attention, that both the event and the cycle well deserved, and which was given to an American filmmaker who, at that edition, and due to the quirks of life, was also at the Festival: Quentin Tarantino. An avowed fan of the western directed by Martín, The Ugly Ones (1966). That's what he said years later in an interview. He most likely didn't know that its director was also there... coincidences of fate. By the way, if you haven't seen the film, watch out for the Blu-ray edition, restored in 2K by Artus Films in 2019, under the title Les Tueurs de l’Ouest. Truly astounding!
Years later, and with the fanzine El Buque Maldito underway, I dared to call Eugenio Martín at his home in Madrid. A call that ended in an invitation to his home to chat and, in the process, have the chance to invite this craftsman to Barcelona for the screening of Horror Express at the Espai Jove Garcilaso. After several calls to finalize details, and the collaboration and skill of his wife and actress Lone Fleming, on Friday September 19th, 2008, they arrived in Barcelona to spend the weekend. We spent the day touring the city like crazy, I can assure you. I remember that when we arrived at the port after a long walk, Eugenio asked Lone and me to take a cab back to the hotel.
The next day, the screening was a huge success and Eugenio was able to enjoy the moment, so much so that after presenting his cult movie, he stayed to watch the film surrounded by fans, when his intention had actually been to go for a drink during the screening. Undoubtedly, he found himself surrounded by fans of his filmmaking, an audience that renewed him that evening and offered him an injection of passion and friendship. And the most beautiful part of that evening: his encounter 36 years later with actor Victor Israel. They hadn't seen each other since the movie was shot in 1972. Unbelievable!
Today, you can enjoy this colloquium on the excellent Blu-ray edition of Horror Express released in Spain by Ediciones 79.
Two years later, I was inclined to award Martín the Nosferatu Award at SITGES 2010. He deserved it! Besides screening the Spanish Gothic masterpiece It Happened at Nightmare Inn at the Prado Theater, a version restored a year earlier by the Retroback: Granada International Classic Film Festival (which he attended to receive a tribute, in the city where he had grown up as a filmmaker), Eugenio and I spoke about screening other works from his filmography related -or adjacent- to genre in the Brigadoon section. During that conversation, The Fourth Victim (1971), Aquella casa en las afueras (1980), Hypnosis (1962) or Sobrenatural (1981) were all mentioned.
The result: he was fine with Hypnosis, presented it in the theater with great devotion, and asked me not to select Sobrenatural, since he didn't really have a very fond memory of it.
By the way, he enjoyed Sitges so much that, the following year, he called me to see if we could invite him back to spend a few days with us again. Needless to say, we did invite him, and he returned to enjoy the Festival and the town of Sitges.
Years went by and our relationship continued, we would see each other in Madrid when I visited the capital, we would meet at some national festival or talk over the phone, because he would call me from time to time to see how I was doing and, incidentally, to ask me about foreign companies that contacted him for releases of his films or for the preparation of special features.
And still, in 2018, together with Ferran Herranz from La Aventura, we started working with Eugenio for the 2K restoration of It Happened at Nightmare Inn and its subsequent physical format release. Several documentation problems, related to the film's rights in our country, paralyzed the project. It was precisely because of these tasks that I visited Martín for the last time at his home in May 2019. It was our final in-person encounter.
Shy, reserved and a close friend of his fans, he was always very affectionate when someone approached him to ask for an autograph or a photo (although on one occasion he casually confessed to me that he didn't quite understand the passion that his films aroused in them). Modesty, without a doubt, was certainly what characterized him.
Until we meet again, Eugenio.