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Plot: the Ibéricas make a splash, but not for their athletic ability. Hilarity ensues!

There’s a lot of things you can say about Las Ibéricas F.C.. It’s probably one of Spain’s most famous ensemble comedies of the 1970s. Ensemble comedies either work, or they don’t. Las Ibéricas F.C. obviously works, but nothing of it has anything to do with the screenplay. Not only is Las Ibéricas F.C. an ensemble comedy, it is an ensemble sports comedy – which means that there’s plenty of slapstick to be had and since there’s plenty of beautiful women about, some of the humor will be derived from a dire lack of fabric. The cast comprised of some of Spain biggest stars and young talent. It had a catchy yé-yé theme song that remains popular to this day and it pushes a strong women’s lib message as many of continental European productions did in the early 1970s. However, Las Ibéricas F.C.’s reputation as some of the worst Spanish comedy isn’t unfounded…

Las Ibéricas F.C. tells, if not the true story, at least a story of the first Spanish all-women soccer team. The real Las Ibéricas F.C. was RCD Espanyol Femenino, a national all-woman team formed by Rafael Muga around 1970. The team was not recognized in official capacity as soccer was considered an unsuitable sport for women by the Royal Spanish Football Federation and the National Movement’s Women’s Section. In 1971 RFEF (Real Federación Española de Fútbol) president José Luis Pérez-Paya stated, “I’m not against women’s football, but I don’t like it either. I don’t think it’s feminine from an esthetic point of view. Women are not favored by wearing shirt and trousers. Any regional dress would fit them better echoing the patriarchal norms of the day. Contact sports were forbidden in Spain during the nearly 40-year fascist regime of Francisco Franco (from 1939 to 1975). They required a strength that was deemed masculine and thus clashed with the fragility of the feminine ideal as envisioned by government sanctioned National Catholicism. Practitioners of the sport were condemned as sinners and it was disapproved of by Franco’s Youth Front. The sports were considered inappropriate for women as under the National Catholicism guidelines their roles were strictly traditional, confined to those of child-rearing, family care, and motherhood. In other words, Iberian women’s right to self-determination were anything but common in 1970.

Pedro Masó was a Spanish director, screenwriter and producer who initially got his start as an actor in Sáenz de Heredias' El Escándalo/The Scandal (1943). He parlayed that into working behind the scenes in minor capacities through 1953. He started writing scripts and was soon promoted to production manager. In 1958 he wrote the screenplay for the Rafael J. Salvia comedy Las chicas de la Cruz Roja/Red Cross Girls which provided him with the opportunity to produce more domestic comedies for different companies. Having amassed the necessary experience Masó found his own production company Pedro Masó P.C. in 1961. Masó specialized in comedies most of which were directed by Pedro Lazaga and found great commercial success in the years that followed. One of Masó’s protégées was Javier Aguirre and he was responsible for discovering a young actor by the name of Javier Bardem. It wasn’t until the seventies that Masó sat in the directorial chair for Las Ibéricas F.C. (1971). Las Ibéricas F.C. is indeed memorable but mostly for all the wrong reasons. In the 1980s Masó’s cinematic output came to a crawl as he focused his energies on his lucrative career in television.

Ensemble casts are almost as old as Hollywood itself. An emsemble comedy will be broadly appealing to the masses, but it still is only as strong as its screenplay. Las Ibéricas F.C. is legendary. Legendary for all the wrong reasons, but legendary all the same. Where else are you going to see Rosanna Yanni, Ingrid Garbo, Claudia Gravy, Tina Sáinz, Puri Villa, María Kosty, Colette Giacobine, as well as José Sacristán, Antonio Ferrandis, and Luis Induni in the same movie? The cast is absolutely stellar and Las Ibéricas F.C. would have been a lot better had the screenplay been tighter. Whether Las Ibéricas F.C. is supposed to be protest against the patriarchal norms of the day, or a mere reflection of them, is never really clear through out. What is evident is that its legend as one of the worst Spanish comedies is not unfounded. For the most part Las Ibéricas F.C. is but a flimsy excuse for Masó to extensively shoot all of the lovely women’s legs, derriéres, and bellybuttons as its star players run and bounce around in short shorts and tight-fitting soccer shirts. The humour is seldom genuinely funny and it never aspires to anything but lowest common denominator chicanery. In its defense Las Ibéricas F.C. made Ingrid Garbo into a national sex symbol overnight. The theme song “Once Corazones” sung by Rosalía Garrido, one of the more popular yé-yé girls of the day together with Massiel and Karina, remains a staple in Spanish soccer to this day, and it was a fitting finale to a celebrated and loved yé-yé girl at her fin de carrière.

Don Gregorio (Antonio Ferrandis), a wealthy entrepreneur, has seen the lucrative potential of underground women soccer clubs that start to spring up across the country. Prescient of what the sport-loving citizenry wants he decides to put together his own all-women soccer team, Las Ibéricas F.C.. In order to give his newly-minted team the best chances of winning he hires trainer Bernardino (Manolo Gómez Bur, as Manuel Gómez Bur), masseur Bonilla (José Sacristán) and arbiter Agustín Miranda (Adriano Domínguez). After some selections the team consists of Chelo (Rosanna Yanni), Luisa (Ingrid Garbo), Menchu (Claudia Gravy), Julia (Puri Villa), Loli (Tina Sáinz), Piluca (Encarnación Peña Gómez, as La Contrahecha), Tere (María Kosty, as María Kosti) and unnamed supporting extras played by Colette Giacobine, Carmen León, Isabel Titilola García, and Luisa Hernán. Before long the Las Ibéricas are becoming a national sensation, and many of the girls find themselves becoming celebrities in the process. How will they deal with the success? Will they be able to overcome the patriarchal prejudices of their old fashioned parents - and will they marry the men they love? Las Ibéricas F.C. has all the answers, but none of it is particularly interesting.

In other words, Las Ibéricas F.C. features everybody that was somebody (and a few nobodies) in Spanish cinema. Rosanna Yanni was in The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) (that also featured Ingrid Garbo) and The Amazons (1973). Claudia Gravy was in Marquis de Sade: Justine (1969), Adios Cjamango! (1972), The Nuns of Saint Archangel (1973) and Kilma, Queen Of the Amazon (1976). Tina Sáinz was in The Dracula Saga (1973) (as was María Kosty), as well as Colette Giacobine from Jess Franco's Nightmares Come at Night (1972). Apropos of nothing there's also Encarnación Peña Gómez (or La Contrahecha, as she’s popularly known), one of the country’s most famous bailaoras or flamenco dancers. It's a question for the ages why Silvia Tortosa, Betsabé Ruiz and Barbara Capell weren’t given a part in this.

The humour? So juvenile and daft that it would probably make Jing Wong happy. At the first try-out game the girls find out that the shorts are really, really short and that the tops barely cover their wealthy bosoms. Chelo, the designated matriarch of the team by no choice of her own, loves smoking cigars, and is continually and relentlessly chased by press mosquitos Emiliano (Luis Sánchez Polack, as Tip) and Antolín (José Luis Coll, as Coll). Luisa always attracts attention everywhere she goes, even if she’s pretty average as a soccer player. Her mother (Carmen Martínez Sierra) doesn’t like her playing soccer, and Luisa’s seeing a psychiatrist (Pedro Osinaga) to deal with her frustrations. Menchu, the queen bee of the team, is always adjusting her make-up. Loli, the youngest of the group and something of a tomboy, loves eating candy – and her mom faints each and every time she scores a goal. Luis (Simón Andreu) takes a liking to Loli. Piluca dances (and when she dances she goes and goes). Of course her old-fashioned father (Valentín Tornos) disapproves of her new hobby. The men universally and uniformly are either horndogs and/or idiots, exactly as you’d expect them to be in a lowbrow comedy like this. Two construction workers will stop at nothing to spy on the girls’ dressing room (unsuccesfully). Arbiter Agustín Miranda will whistle at the most minor of infractions, or regardless of actual faults. Meanwhile team masseur Bonilla is always looking for any and all excuses to feel up the girls. The supposed humor is offset by a far darker, and somewhat cynical tone reflecting the societal expectations of women at the time. The girls are constantly derided, ridiculed, and castigated for their hobby by anybody and everybody, be they authority figures or members of their own family. It’s exactly as groan-inducing, tedious and terribly unfunny as it sounds.

To its credit Las Ibéricas F.C. was clear proof that Rosanna Yanni, Claudia Gravy and Ingrid Garbo were indeed leading ladies that were capable of carrying entire productions. Of the supporting cast Tina Sáinz and María Kosty are the most recognizable as they would share the screen two years later on The Dracula Saga (1973). Sáinz, apparently forever the tomboy, has her own romantic subplot with Simón Andreu and judging from her performance here it’s no wonder she was eventually given the occasional lead part. Forever exploited for her innocence and tomboyish looks Sáinz’ Loli is an endearing character in what is probably the only plot worth following besides the Las Ibéricas F.C. rise to fame and fortune. Yanni and Gravy were experienced veterans by this point and their role as team matriarchs played up to their strengths. It was obviously aimed at the broadest audience possible as the inclusion of La Contrahecha evinces. Las Ibéricas F.C. is lowest common denominator comedy swill that not even an all-star cast like this could save from the terribly unfunny humor the screenplay revels in. Las Ibéricas F.C. is unfortunately maligned for all the right reasons. Claudia Gravy, Ingrid Garbo, María Kosty and Tina Sáinz all look good in soccer uniforms – but to base an entire feature around just that perhaps wasn’t the wisest decision after all. Every one of them had had starred in far better movies before turning up here.

Plot: a school girl and her friends disturb the spirits of the dead

Verónica is last year's surprise horror hit from Spain and touted as Netflix's 'scariest movie ever' in mainstream press and social media alike, deserved or not. Released domestically as La Posesión de Verónica, but abbreviated to Verónica for international release, it was released on Netflix on February 26 with little to no promotion to speak of. No other movie in recent memory was received to such widespread response – and the general hysteria surrounding Verónica will remind the more cynical among us of two movies from the mid-to-late 90s called The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Ringu (1998) that got similar reception. Verónica was nominated for 7 awards during the 2018 Goyas and screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. Not bad for an rather uneventful little genre exercise that would’ve certainly languished in obscurity otherwise. Thankfully it is partially redeemed itself by introducing a young new talent by the name of Sandra Escacena to the world.

Spain has a long and rich history in horror and terror cinema that dates all the way back to the mid-to-late sixties. Directors as Paul Naschy, Jesús Franco, Amando de Ossorio, Enrique López Eguiluz, Javier Aguirre, Miguel Iglesias, and León Klimovsky reigned supreme during the exuberant seventies and remained active when interest in the genre waned in the eighties. As in the prior decades Spanish horror once again underwent a transformation and greeted the nineties in a new form. Spanish horror always took after its American inspirations but it wasn’t until the nineties that Spanish directors were really able to match their American peers. Álex de la Iglesia shot the genre back to relevance with his second directorial feature as did Alejandro Amenábar with his debut thriller Tesis (1996) a year later. Amenábar briefly flirted with Hollywood with the supernatural thriller The Others (2001) but returned to his native Spain after his Abre los Ojos (1997) was remade by Tom Cruise as Vanilla Sky (2001). Following soon in the footsteps of de la Iglesia and Amenábar were directors/screenwriters like one Jaume Balagueró.

The director of Verónica is Paco Plaza - a protégé of that other darling of Spanish horror cinema, Jaume Balagueró – with whom he co-directed [Rec] (2007) and its sequels. Balagueró was in no small part responsible for the resurgence of Spanish horror in the barren decade that was the nineties. While it was Álex de la Iglesia and his The Day Of the Beast (1995) that truly heralded a new age for Spanish terror, Balagueró made a name for himself with the supernatural thrillers The Nameless (1999) and Darkness (2002). That Plaza would eventually venture out on his own was expected – and Verónica is exactly the kind of horror feature he was destined to write/direct. Plaza knows his horror and Verónica borrows liberally from all the obvious sources. It’s well-made and probably better written than it has any reason to be, even if it tends to be on the anemic side in terms of actual horror and shocks.

Verónica (Sandra Escacena) is a 15-year-old adolescent left to care for her younger siblings, Lucía (Bruna González), Irene (Claudia Placer) and Antoñito (Iván Chavero) as her mother Ana (Ana Torrent) works late shifts in the local bar-restaurante to make ends meet. During a lesson about the upcoming solar eclipse Verónica and her friends Rosa (Ángela Fabián) and Diana (Carla Campra) decide to hold a séance. As the rest of the school is watching the eclipse outside the three girls convene at the basement to conduct their séance. Diana wants to contact the spirit of her boyfriend who died in a motorcycle accident and Verónica wants to communicate with her late father. The glass on the Ouija board immediately responds to the girls’ touch becoming too hot to touch while Verónica remains impervious to the heat. As the eclipse is complete the glass shatters leading Verónica to spill blood on the Ouija board which tears itself in half. The next moment the girls find Verónica lying unresponsive, until she suddenly lets out a scream and passes out as the lights start to flicker. When she opens her eyes she’s in the nurse’s office who shrugs off Verónica’s condition as a mere iron deficiency. At home paranormal occurences start to happen around her: claw and bite marks appear on her body, strange noises emit from empty rooms, objects move by themselves and Verónica starts to experience hallucinations, and the ghost of her late father starts appearing to her.

In school Rosa and Diana start avoiding her and in the basement Verónica runs into the ghoulish Hermana Muerte (Consuelo Trujillo) in whom she confides in about the séance she conducted. Hermana Muerte scolds Verónica for dabbling with something she can’t possibly begin to understand. The woman of God has had her own brush with the supernatural and advises the girl to close whatever gate she opened and to protect her siblings from whichever horror she unwillingly summoned. In the following days the hauntings continue as Verónica fights tooth and nail in warding off whatever malign entity she summoned from the shadows. She learned from Hermana Muerte that it is important to say properly goodbye to whatever she summoned and, in her darkest hour, Verónica and her sisters try to appease the spirits by performing a ritual. The situation at home deteriorates to such a degree that the kids’ mother Ana even rushes back to the house, and after an emergency call the police show up. Detective Samuel Romero (Chema Adeva) is assigned the case and when he reaches the Gomez homestead he finds a picture of Verónica, soon becoming too hot to touch, and the girl herself expired from what appears to be mortal fright. The case, of course, leaves the police puzzled.

Doe-eyed Sandra Escacena is the biggest surprise in Verónica. With talent to spare she embodies the titular character with every fibre of her being. Escacena has the same disarming innocuous demeanor as Tina Sáinz in 1971 and that sizzling Mediterranean sense of sensuality that legendary Spanish cult actress Soledad Miranda (or, more recently, Paz Vega) had. Escacena might very well become the next Spanish superstar if her performance here is anything to go by. Hopefully she'll be able to choose the right roles and projects in the wake of Verónica's overnight success. The sparse few scenes she shares with Ana Torrent, the star of Alejandro Amenábar’s chilling Tesis (1996) 20 years before and the prerequisite veteran of the cast, are among the strongest moments Verónica has to offer. The other child actors acquit themselves admirably considering there isn’t much meat to any of their parts and they exist largely to amplify Escacena’s role. Ángela Fabián and Carla Campra fill out their supporting parts as Verónica’s school buddies well enough but that’s the extent of their importance. Here’s hoping that Sandra Escacena turns into the next Cristina Galbó, Penélope Cruz or Ivana Baquera.

What would Spanish horror be without its sturdy reliance on Judeo-Christian symbolism and iconography? Nothing and Verónica is no different in that respect. Verónica is a Catholic schoolgirl and the nuns that run the school conform to the usual clichés. There are a multitude of crucifixes (brandished either by the nuns or by Verónica) and at one point a halo is projected onto Verónica. Hermana Muerte is probably the single best character next to Verónica herself and the ominous warnings she utters make the tension tangible. Hermana Muerte is as ghoulish, sickly and ashen as the apparitions and shadows that haunt Verónica and her siblings. Hermana Muerte’s cynical remarks help drive the point home that secularism will be punished. Dabbling in the occult for selfish reasons will get you killed. Of course Verónica is a completely different kind of possession movie than the Spanish productions that flooded the market in the wake of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). Verónica draws from a whole different set of influences but it preys on the same Judeo-Christian fears and superstitions like its ancient predecessors in decades past. Verónica is clearly for the Hong Kong ghost crowds.

One of the greatest strengths of Verónica is that it aims to be more than just a horror movie. It uses the trappings and conventions of the demon possession and haunted house subgenres to tell a completely separate and more dramatic tale. Underneath Verónica is about a current-day dysfunctional family unit wherein a hard-working mother and her children mourn the loss of their father and come together through hardship. It’s a coming-of-age story wherein Verónica’s first period coincides with the height of the hauntings and where demonic possession is a thinly-veiled metaphor for puberty. Verónica liberally borrows from Poltergeist (1982), The Craft (1996), Ringu (1998), The Eye (2002), Dark Water (2002) and Paranormal Activity (2007) among others. The framing device that bookends the main portion of the story merely exist to tie it to a story torn straight from the headlines. The basis for the screenplay was the ‘Vallecas case’ where teen Estefania Gutierrez Lazari died a ‘sudden and suspicious death’ in the Gregorio Maranon Hospital in August 1991, two months after allegedly having had a brush with the supernatural. The result of having a séance with friends interrupted by a woman of the cloth who broke the ouija board during the summoning. It’s the oldest marketing trick in the book, but one that admittedly still works. Verónica has atmosphere in spades, but its scares come across as telegraphed and obvious to anybody with a passing familiarity with the horror genre. That doesn’t make it any less effective – and like a seasoned pro Sandra Escacena owns every scene she’s in.

It stands to reason that Verónica is the single most talked about Spanish horror movie as of right now. Its cultural importance is as significant as Álex de la Iglesia and his The Day Of the Beast (1995). Whether or not its reputation as Netflix's 'scariest movie ever' is deserved is another matter entirely. Verónica is an effective but hardly riveting example of the form. As a genre piece it pushes all the right buttons and it certainly is atmospheric enough considering its low-key locales, but that alone is hardly worth more than a passing viewing. For novice viewers there’s a good chance that Verónica indeed will be the most scariest thing they’ve ever laid eyes upon. More experienced viewers will find a beautifully lensed and well-written little genre exercise to sink their teeth into. Verónica is only a horror movie if that’s all you expect it to be. It works by the genre’s conventions but at heart it’s actually a heartwrenching drama. Therein lies the strength of Paco Plaza’s directorial debut feature. Like the ghosts it portrays Verónica becomes what you want it to be.