Cult discovers that Witchcraft is pronounced Brujeria in Spanish
Official US release Trailer
Country of Origin – Spain (Subtitled in English)
Director – Álex de la Iglesia
Writers – Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Álex de la Iglesia
Runtime – 112 minutes
Enrique Cerezo Producciones Cinematográficas S.A., La Ferme! Productions, Arte France Cinéma
Seems as I’m a sucker for foreign movies, especially ones with readable SUBS, I just couldn’t resist a view of Álex de la Iglesia’s Witching and Bitching when I happened upon it quite by accident. Having experienced his work before (Dance with the Devil and Accione Mutante) I expected nothing short of a slice of cinema that boasted fantastical elements lovingly dipped in jaded values, various nods to Terry Gilliam and Peter Jackson with smatterings of dialogue of the unexpected and eye-opening variety.
When the opening credits roll, after a brief introduction, the audience is bombarded by a cavalcade of images (in a style akin to the barrage of images in Brian Yuznas’ Reanimator credits), many of which depict those of the “fairer sex” (note I put this in quotation marks) who’ve helped shape, recorded history whilst others are ancient deities (Venus figures) whom many still worship today as an alternative to the bearded hippie icon to whom orthodox masses worldwide blindly subscribe (send your hate mail to…).
A hilarious opening scene follows in which a gaggle (the word seems appropriate in this context) of costumed characters, Jesus, The Invisible Man, Minnie Mouse, SpongeBob and a Green Army Man (of the same type recently featured in the Toy Story franchise) are entangled in a pawn shop robbery. This scenario tosses me back to scenes from a quirky British series admittedly way before its time, Trigger Happy TV, in which lovable costumed characters would beat the livin’ shit out of each other on a crowded high street bustling with bewildered and shocked everyday folk going about their days business.
One of the initial things the viewer might notice and appreciate, other than the fact that Jesus is frequenting a pawn store with a loaded firearm, is the exchange of dialogue between characters. It’s not at all typical of that found within crime dramas but rather utterly everyday based and stunningly relatable. For instance, rather than be concerned about the authorities ‘Jesus’ (played remarkably well by Hugo Silva) is more worried about his son’s (who is incidentally also involved in the ‘hold up’) mother. He is quick to justify the crime to Sergio (his son) telling him he’s suffered many injustices by way of the family courts and all he aims to do is have more time to enjoy with him. “I have to do this for my son. If I have to go to jail. I go to jail.” ‘Green Army Man’ also openly admits that he’s afraid of his spouse also as too is the cab driver who’s been pulled into the situation on account of the supposed getaway car not being used in the aforementioned capacity at all on account of it being commandeered by its rightful owner mere moments before its purpose is to be fulfilled.
Sergio meanwhile, is worried as his homework is yet to be done and he doesn’t know when his next meal will be as the collective is afraid to stop, due partly to the condition of the car (a cab with bullet holes and a smashed windscreen) and the chasing authorities. Unbeknownst to the collective is the fact that’s Sergio’s mother has a GPS on her ex-husbands phone and is in tow, incapacitated with rage, with an axe to grind, scorned with all guns blazin’ (scary enough visuals for ya?).
Chuckle worthy and of especial note is a scene in which the, now cleaned up, criminals continue to comment on their domestic abuse issues and from out of nowhere, quite nonchalantly, Sergio chimes in with ‘facts’ from Cosmopolitan. “…52% of men over 30 are unable to…” When they finally do stop they encounter oddities and strange behavior much like that witnessed in the Slaughtered Lamb (from An American Werewolf in London) but with less energy, nary a single dartboard in sight and not a single utterance (I’ve never missed that board!) from Rik Mayall (RIP). Something isn’t quite right. This is kept tightly under wraps, hinted at only by an olden drunkard talking in rhyme and riddle. However, after visiting the MENS room and encountering something he really isn’t sure how to describe the cab driver hears the name of the village, to which they are headed. He recognizes it as a location linked with ancient ceremony and whispered acts of witchcraft. Furthermore, the cab driver believes they have bad karma on their side due to the stolen gold, mostly wedding rings associated with broken promises, regret, remorse and anger residing in the coveted bag in the back seat. To which the ‘Green Army Man’ chimes in “Are you saying this is Mordor and we carry the ‘Precious’?”
An incident of highly unlikely proportions, a few scenes later in the film, reminiscent of a segment in the original Romero (RIP)/ King helmed Creepshow, opens the collective’s senses to the possibility that witchcraft might indeed be an actual thing. When all seems lost a chance encounter leads them to a place to stay for the evening. But even such (ACME) anvil heavy (not the Canadian thrash band thrashin’ dildos about on stage) hints such as this place was built on the ruins of an ancient altar aren’t enough to detract ‘Jesus’ and ‘G.a.M’ from the allures of a scantily clad motorcycle temptress. Though a scene ripped directly from the unedited tomes of The Brothers Grimm is more than effective to shatter the spell. Alas just when the group believed they are away scot free they are forced to return to the same decrepit mansion and the film’s pacing hits new heights. A chase scene around this time is deliciously O.T.T displaying comedy of a nature usually associated with the silent film genre and visuals that ooze stunning fantastical elements.
Without dipping into extreme spoiler and exhaustive narrative waters I’ll mention that from the above point until the films finale the on-screen antics transform from an oddball crime drama, heavy in dark humor with more than the occasional tip of the hat to everyday societal ills, to more of a surreal darkly fantastic/Gothic scenario complete with nods to various genre films that range from recent celluloid gems. Especially an incarnation of ‘Mother’ from Peter Jackson’s cult hit Dead Alive/Brain Dead. Although the effect looks likely a mash up of Jaberwocky (anyone remember that 70’s creature feature gem with Michael Palin) and the aforementioned. All the way through well-known and celebrated genre films of yesteryear such as Hammer’s Wickerman.
Witching and Bitching boasts set pieces of an epic scope bearing Gilliam- esque surreal cinematic fantastical qualities which bring to mind backdrops and various scenes from a number of his features namely Brazil, Time Bandits and Baron Munchhausen. It also sports a remarkable score and stunning attention to detail in both the costume and effect departments, with my only qualm being that the dialogue at times desires subtitles that require your auditory senses develop Ninja- like abilities to keep up with though, to be honest that’s always been an enjoyable part of the watching-a-foreign-film-festivities for me. Ironically with this in mind and in my opinion, it’s the small details that make the movie pop. Dialogue exchanges such as the one heard in the patrol car where long time partners argue like they’ve been married for years “A word of thanks, at least a gesture. Something affectionate”. The distraction caused by a number of arguments in the same vein leave the inspectors pondering on whether a lone figure seen roadside was a suckling pig or a hairless boar (when in fact it was Sergio). Snippets of a conversation picked up by the cars CB radio unit is also a nice touch and this makes sense as one continues to enjoy the film.
Further examples of brilliant writing and eye-opening dialogue include a discussion on how inappropriate it is that Eve, a fantastic moniker based on the characters attributes portrayed excellently by Carolina Bang, is waxing lyrical about falling in love at her age rather than doing drugs. Other notable scenes include a diatribe on commonly enjoyed sexual practices including watersports, coprophagia, fisting and sodomy but yet strangely no knowledge of something seemingly as tame, in retrospect, as bondage. This isn’t altogether shocking but for the fact that it all rolls from the mouth of an elderly wiccan with the same ease as if she was reading from a weekly grocery list. Merely another example that makes for a film that one won’t forget in a hurry.
Pea soup vomitus, a consumption to birth scene, a possessed mother hammering the head of her son’s father into the ground all the while telling him he doesn’t have the best interests of their son in mind, a huge ceremonial musical number. This movie has just about every ingredient to tickle the funny bone, no matter its placement. And just when you thought it was through, complete with a happy ending, albeit crimson soaked in this instance, there appears the possibility that everything comes full circle and happiness really isn’t a thing after all no matter the riches one has managed to procure.
Witching and Bitching subtly celebrates the power of the gender bearing the X chromosome, their often thinly veiled stranglehold over man and the captivating allure that is so often accompanying. As Alfonso, one of the inspectors so eloquently puts it “…They are spiders, they weave their web around you. Webs are comfortable, pleasing we feel safe in the botches web and then BANG! They inject you with their poison.” Topped off with “…Once she has your balls she rips them off!” Naturally he’s a tad jaded in his opinion due to spousal issues on the home front. The title, is in my opinion, a tad off the beaten path (on all accounts a horrid translation of the Spanish moniker which trying my damnedest I decipher as ‘The Witches of Zugarramurdi’) that refers to both the antagonist and the protagonist within the film. Not altogether as one might initially expect but will understand less than a third way though. A glorious slice of celluloid with role reversal front and center shrouded in amusing dialogue, a tapestry of rich characters, delightfully bizarre scenarios and an applaudable storyline that’s unpredictable and entertaining throughout to keep the audience wide-eyed and on the edge of their seats.
The only thing left is the obvious. I whole heartedly recommend this gem without reservation. Brilliance of this depth and vision showcasing excellent writing caliber only makes me ponder on the current state of cinematic affairs especially when Alex’s most notorious and most celebrated films (Day of the Beast, Accion Mutante and Commonwealth come to mind) are specifically hard to locate, harder still with SUBS and a complete package bearing an overall quality I’d subject anyone to.
Alex is also noted for producing/writing/directing a sci-fi homage series with tongue planted firmly in its cheek. As far as I can make out (tragically I can’t read or talk Spanish) it’s akin to Red Dwarf with hints to other notable films and series in the same genre. Pluton B.R.B. Nero ran on Spanish television for a very limited time (only two seasons) but also encompassed the talents of Carolina Bang (Eve) and Enrique Villén (also featured in Witching and Bitching as the olden drunkard) though sadly has yet to see the light of day in the subtitling arena.
Because I’m in a good mood and because I feel like sharing feats of European cinematic genius I’ve included trailers and IMDB pages for both movies I’ve mentioned time after time in this review; Accion Mutante and Day of the Beast.