The Spirit of the Beehive (Spanish: El espíritu de la colmena) is a 1973 Spanish drama film with strong fantasy and horror elements directed by Víctor Erice. The film was Erice’s debut and is considered a masterpiece of Spanish cinema.
Made during the last few years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, and set in 1940, the film subtly criticises post-civil war Spain. Apparently Erice lacked the funds to make a “proper” horror film and instead used a gothic mood and horror elements as a starting point.
The film focuses on the young girl Ana (Ana Torrent) and her fascination with the 1931 American horror film Frankenstein as she drifts into her own private world, as well as exploring her family life and schooling.
The film has been called a “bewitching portrait of a child’s haunted inner life” by Roger Ebert and has been cited by Guillermo del Toro as a strong influence on his work. This can be most clearly seen in Pan’s Labyrinth.
The four main characters each have a first name identical to that of the actor/actress playing them. This is because Ana, at her young age of five at the time of filming was confused by the on- and off-screen naming. Erice simply changed the script to adopt the actors names for the characters.
At the start of the film, the authorities are using the Frankenstein film as a warning to the population about man’s godless creations which have to be killed for the safety of the public. This is a veiled propaganda attempt to justify the violent overthrow of the Republican government in the civil war by intimating the monster to be the “godless” socialism of the Republic. This metaphor is repeated later in the film when the hunted republican soldier takes on a role similar to that of the monster in the 1931 film.
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“The Spirit of the Beehive is a film that speaks little but says too much, as its metaphoric and haunting visuals often contain too much to handle upon first viewing. Yet, even if the film remains tough to understand upon first viewing, the weight and power of its images remain impossible to shake.” Horror Digital
“Cinematographer Luis Cuadrado was going blind at the time he shot this, so he seems to be cramming in as much optical wonderment as he can. It’s hard not to feel that this is a film where visual beauty is being indulged for its own sake, and sometimes to the detriment of the movie. It’s a mood piece, certainly, a personal collection of moments that add up into a kind of reflective – afternoon dreamscape.” Slant
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