Monday, October 20, 2014

Bitches' Sabbath: Alex de la Iglesia's WITCHING AND BITCHING

FX's AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW so far has been mawkish and cliche, with harrowing brutality thrown in for 'edginess' that's as trite as it is upsetting. But if you have Netflix and need a ballsy, no-holds barred, vaguely family-friendly but brutally honest alternative, a funny slice of gonzo madness, because you can't abide any more meekly apologetic madonna-and-son worshipping /  daughter-abducting dreck, seek out the unfortunately titled WITCHING AND BITCHING (the far better Spanish title is Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi - but it's hard to spell). This ballsy 'comedy of the sexes' film bursts with mucho original ideas, carnal energy, wit, acumen, and Jungian archetypal initiatory mysticism. It's like THE MAGIC FLUTE if Mozart smoked meth and was married to a hot-tempered girl from Seville, and so knew that a hispanic woman's love is more terrifying than a dozen dragons.

The opening credits should give you enough of an idea: amid Satanic symbols in red on black background images are images of Venus of Willendorf, Marlene Dietrich, Margaret Thatcher, Garbo as Mata Hari, Medusa, Elizabeth I, Theda Bara, Morganna le Fey, strong women that devour men and do it with cinematic panache.  Having been married to a hot-tempered Argentine I can vouch that they love almost to the point of ripping their beloved to pieces and devouring their man in a maenad-style frenzy/ecstasy. And if you say that's sexist then I'd add retort: "what's stolen the balls from today's American man is people like youla puta madre!" As the great Willard once shouted, "Tear 'em up!!" 

Here's a test to see if you'd be on board with Alex de la Iglesia's vision: if you see this image below, of a pair of crooks fleeing the cops with son in tow covering their escape with his two guns blasting, and don't think it's awesome and don't think American cinema is woefully timid as far as depicting cherub-faced children as armed and dangerous felons, then this film isn't for you, flaca

I've been an Alex de la Iglesia fan since the amazing DANCE WITH THE DEVIL (another unfortunate English title, though the original PERDITA DURANGO isn't so hot neither - Alex, e-mail me first next time you need an English title, soy muy intelligente!), and I've been trying to find his DAY OF THE BEAST with English subtitles for years. His THE LAST CIRCUS which is also on Netflix Streaming, has more gonzo scary clown balls than all of AHS' FREAK SHOW and all without needing to beat a single pinhead to death. That's what you call trying to do more than shock and cloy and make excuses for anachronistic music numbers, los putos del Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk!

LAS BRUJAS' story is perhaps better experienced without any knowledge of anything coming, just roll with Hugo Silva's veering between hardened criminal and dad driven past sanity by his hyper-intense and angry nurse ex-wife (Macarena Gómez). Demonstrating a sublime antithetical deadpan comedy, he takes his son on the run following a pawn shop robbery, chased by the angry mom and two closeted gay detectives, all eventually caught up in a bizarre witches sabbath overseen by a three-generational female enclave: the older slightly senile, but always ready with her sharpened steel dentures, Maritxtu (Terele Pávez); the grand dame of the coven Graciana (Almodovar regular Carmen Maura); and the hot younger daughter Eva (Carolina Bang who, with her wild Kate McKinnon-style eyes and punk haircut, is a scary-sexy dynamo). These witches leap through the air, crawl on the ceiling, and live on a steady diet of psychoactive toad secretions and cooked children. In short, they make the WITCHES OF EASTWICK seem like a bunch of pre-toughened Robin Tunneys in THE CRAFT. Halfway between the Almodovar assortment in his best 80s work (i.e. WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN) and the Merrye Family (SPIDER BABY).

I could cite BRUJAS' similarity on some level to HANSEL AND GRETEL, WITCH HUNTERS but worlds more sophisticated and modern (and less misogynist); Bang's wild witch might be compared maybe to Sherri Moon Zombie in DEVIL'S REJECTS but that film didn't know where to go so just relied, like FREAK SHOW, on the usual grim sadism, sordid sex crimes, classic rock, and Gooble Gobble solidarity. Simply put, like his countryman Almodovar, Alex de la Iglesia doesn't need to try and be edgy or subversive, he's just calling it like it is, acknowledging that that there is nothing remotely as violent, terrifying, or devouring as a Spanish mother's love, nor as controversial as saying so. All he has to do is show how thin the veneer on reality really is, and subversion hits like a ton of bricks through a stained glass window.

I may have already talked it up too much. Maybe it helps to have some experience with this breed of women, las fuertas pelligrinas and not be from a nation where each gender tries to outdo the other in passive aggressive pussyfooting rather than fighting with open fangs and making up with crazy passion in perennial fired up yin-yang rotation. And the movie has another problem: Americans--unless they're film snobs-- tend to have a red state hatred of subtitles. But even if Alex de la Iglesia isn't as big a name here in the U.S. as Guillermo del Toro (with whom he's often compared), even if he doesn't dub his work or shoot in English (often) he should be. To see de la Iglesia's films is to see how del Toro's work suffers from John Ford-like sentiment, which Iglesia avoids, and Del Toro's first season of FX's THE STRAIN suffers from having to stop every five minutes for these soapy family moments, and the kind of dad who kneels down when talking to his kid, like he's trying to make a slightly mentally-challenged first grader stop crying, instead of talking to him man-to-man and giving him a set of loaded revolvers, like Hugo Silva does here.

I wait for the day de la Iglesia does finally break as big here as he deserves, as big as del Toro or bigger, bigger than your American Spielberg. Maybe he will, once he gets better at movie titles, and once American dads stand up to the ball-crunching tyranny of the madonna-son coalition (1). America, aren't you ready to stop growing down? Give that boy some guns and take him to the zoo! Libertad para todos los animales! 


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