King Sebastian, the not so dead King

MotelX  is the Lisbon International Horror Film Festival and it started in 2006. Since then, it has brought to portugal hundreds of horror movies from all over the world and some international stars like Dario Argento, “Zé do Caixão” and George A. Romero.

Close up on King Sebastion

In the recent years, MotelX developed a partnership with Take It Easy studio to produce a television promotion spot that usually turns into the festival’s conceptual image of that year. In 2016 I had the honor of being involved in the concept creation of the TV spot:

We’ve picked a Portuguese myth, the return of the promised king Sebastian, and turned it into an horror story. But to fully understand this spot, without being truly immersed in the Portuguese culture, I will have to talk about the History and the Myth of King Sebastion.

The History

King Sebastian died on the Batttle of the Three Kings in North Africa, Alcácer-Quibir . Against the advice of his commanders, he charged against an army ten times more numerous than his own, lost the battle, many of the portuguese nobilty ended up either dead or imprisioned and his body disappeared.

In the following months, several ramsom were paid and many soldiers returned to Portugal, but of the King, not even the body was ever found. And without the body, portuguese people started believing that the king would return at any moment to reclaim the throne.

Sebastian’s uncle, Henrique, occupied the throne for two years, but he was old and the Spanish King, Philip, took over, uniting all the kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula – what today would be the equivalent of Spain and Portugal together.

Several imposters appeared, claiming to be the returned king, but none of them, rightfully or not, were found to be legitimate. To make is claim for the throne stronger, in 1582, King Phillip even found the body of the late King Sebastian and performed a burial. But the body was not accepted as being the one from the deceased king. Of course, the authorities loyal to the portuguese crown would promote this conspiracy theories. Even the words carved on the supposed king Sebastian tomb say (in latin):


If the truth is being told, in this tomb lies Sebastian
Who died fighting in the shores of Africa
Don’t say that the ones who believe he is alive are wrong
If he died for God, the death will be his second life.

The Myth

The legend says King Sebastian will be back on a foggy morning on Portugal’s darkest hour to rule again. The portuguese iteration of the myth of the “king under the mountain” myth seen in several cultures.
This idea was repeated over and over again over portuguese history. Sometimes is a cobbler prophet, sometimes is one the biggest portuguese poets, Fernando Pessoa (translation author):


Nem rei nem lei, nem paz nem guerra,
Define com perfil e ser
Este fulgor baço da terra
Que é Portugal a entristecer —
Brilho sem luz e sem arder
Como o que o fogo-fátuo encerra.

Ninguém sabe que coisa quer.
Ninguém conhece que alma tem,
Nem o que é mal nem o que é bem.
(Que ânsia distante perto chora?)
Tudo é incerto e derradeiro.
Tudo é disperso, nada é inteiro.
Ó Portugal, hoje és nevoeiro…


Neither king nor law, neither peace nor war
Defines the profile or self
Of this dull flame of the earth.
Portugal is saddening –
Shining without light, without burning
An extinguishing will-o’-the-wisp.

No one knows what they want.
No one knows what soul they have,
Neither what is evil nor what is good.
(What distant anxiety weeps nearby?)
Everything is uncertain and final.
Everything is dispersed, nothing is whole.
Oh Portugal, today you are fog.

The Undead King

Well, if you endured until here, it is now obvious that we took the myth a little bit too literaly: King Sebastian is not dead, he is undead!
And he is back to rule again, covering the country in an hexed fog. On the back, he recites Fernando Pessoa’s poem above in an omnious voice. Changing the classical interpretation of a lament of hope to a dark prophecy/threat.

One of the Easter eggs in the ad is the vacant niche at the door of Lisbon central train station. In fact, in 2016, someone climbed the King Sebastian’s statue there to take a selfie and broke it. Was it really broke? Was it a sign of the return of the king?

Undead King Sebastian was protraied by the actor Guilherme Barroso (the resemblance is uncanny) and the prostetics were done by
Oldskull FX . I was mesmerized by the reproduction of King Sebastian armour the production team manage to get.

On the launch party, the undead King Sebastian was reproduced once more (bottom left corner) this time on cake form: red velvet meat with jelly internal organs and strawberry sauce by Rub-A-Duckie. An heretic cannibal holy communion that setted the tone for the festival to come.

By Carlos Silva

Born in 1989, Carlos Silva is a portuguese writer whose main interests are science fiction and weird fiction. He is also editor at Imaginauta (Indie press – and organizes several events as the Festival Contacto.

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