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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Dancing With the Devil: The Biting and Macabre Horrors of Alex de la Iglesia

Recently, Sony Pictures International Productions and Amazon Prime Video closed a multi-picture deal for a new horror feature film anthology, The Fear Collection, with distinguished Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia at the helm. That deal touches upon distribution in Spain, with details still yet unannounced for plans to release in the U.S., which seems fitting in that it appears to mirror Iglesia’s level of fame stateside. He’s amassed a devout following for his distinct, twisted sense of humor and unique ability to blend genres, from comedy to downright dark horror. Iglesia’s films tend to be festival darlings that develop cult followings, but on a mainstream level, he’s still a bit of an undiscovered gem. Like the announcement of The Fear Collection, anything with Iglesia’s name attached should receive more attention than it currently does. For that very reason, we’re spotlighting his boundary-pushing work.

Iglesia’s breakout hit, El Dia de la Bestia (The Day of the Beast) made significant waves in his native Spain. Released in 1995, this delightfully demented take on a Christmas movie tells of a Catholic priest convinced the holiday season will bring about the advent of the Antichrist. He teams up with a Black Metal aficionado and an Italian occultist to commit as many sins as possible, to thwart the apocalypse. The priest concludes that if he can gain Satan’s trust through sin, he can learn where the Antichrist will be born, then slay it. It’s every bit as diabolical and hilarious as it sounds, and quickly demonstrated Iglesia as a radical filmmaker. The Day of the Beast earned major critical acclaim. More impressively, it received six Goya Awards – Spain’s equivalent to the Oscars- for Best Director, Best New Actor for Santiago Segura, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Special Effects, and Best Makeup and Hairstyles.

Meaning that the film’s success was impossible to ignore and put him in demand internationally. His immediate follow-up to The Day of the Beast marked his English language debut, Perdita Durango. Also known as Dance with the DevilPerdita Durango blends crime thriller with occultist horror and is based on Barry Gifford’s 1992 novel 59° and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango, the third book in the Sailor and Lula series. Meaning it’s loosely connected to David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, whose version of Perdita was played by Isabella Rossellini. For Iglesia’s adaptation, Rosie Perez portrayed the eponymous character, and Javier Bardem as her lover, Romeo. Romeo, who’s a Santeria priest and drug dealer, gets involved with a gangster’s scheme to transport fetuses across the border to the U.S., prompting Perdita and Romeo to embark on a crime spree as they kidnap a young couple, rape them, and plot to sacrifice them. In other words, they belong in the same conversation as Natural Born Killers Mickey and Mallory. It’s violent, uncomfortable, and disturbing, much of it was edited down for various releases across the globe. That it never received a proper theatrical release in the U.S., either, further relegated this feature into obscurity.

Perdita Durango is also an outlier in Iglesia’s body of work, especially in tone. His subsequent return to the genre, 2000’s Common Wealth, proved to be a return to form. When a real estate agent finds a hidden fortune in the apartment of a deceased man, she discovers his neighbors have been biding their time to get their hands on the money. Blending crime, horror, and comedy, Common Wealth gets downright macabre without ever losing its comedic edge. The precise thing Iglesia does so unnervingly well. 

With The Baby’s Room, Iglesia opted for more straightforward horror. Part of the Películas para no dormir (Films to Keep You Awake) made-for-television anthology film series, it follows a sportswriter, Juan, that’s just moved in to an old fixer-upper with his wife and newborn baby. Juan starts to hear strange noises and voices over the baby monitor at night, but can’t find the source. A mystery unfolds, and it’s a bit more involved than your average haunting. 

2010 saw the release of one of Iglesia’s most highly regarded films, The Last Circus. Biting social satire meets brutal violence in this dark horror-comedy, where a young trapeze artist is torn between her lust for Sergio, the Happy Clown, or her affection for Javier, the Sad Clown. That both clowns are disturbed individuals means an explosive love triangle with catastrophic casualties.

Perhaps his most widely known genre film among fans is 2013’s Las brujas de Zugarramurdi, which translates to The Witches of Zugarramurdi. However, it was released in North America under the catchier title Witching & Bitching. The plot sees a group of armed robbers go on the lam after a robbery turns deadly. They wind up in a secluded village inhabited by cannibalistic witches. Subversive, demented, and insanely zany, Witching & Bitching won eight Goya Awards out of ten nominations. Makes you wish our award ceremonies were as kind to genre fare, too.

Iglesia’s most recent genre effort is The Bar, one nasty, mean little film. When an unseen sniper opens fire in downtown Madrid, a diverse group of people takes refuge in their local bar. The longer they’re trapped there, the more paranoia and suspicion threatens to usurp civility. Throw in a possible viral outbreak, and viciousness ensues. I should also mention, this movie isn’t afraid to get gross. It features a cast of unlikable characters, only balanced by Iglesia’s sense of humor. But this comedy is of the darkest, pitch-black variety.

While Iglesia’s long-established himself as a filmmaker with a penchant for the weird, grotesque, and macabre, it’s not exclusive to directorial efforts. In recent years, he’s turned to producing as well. He produced Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel’s 2014 agoraphobic thriller The Shrew’s Nest, currently available on Shudder, and Netflix’s fantasy horror film Errementari

The recent announcement of The Fear Collection means it’s still a long way away from release, giving plenty of time to catch up on Iglesia’s oeuvre. Even better is that much of it is accessible through streaming platforms. The Bar has been hiding out on Netflix. Perdita Durango (Dance with the Devil) and The Baby’s Room are currently available on Tubi. The Day of the Beast can be streamed through Kanopy. If your local library doesn’t offer access, it’s available through FlixLatino on Prime Video under its Spanish title. The remaining films can be rented on VOD. The filmmaker is a huge deal and in constant demand in Spain, but seems only to have a cult following stateside. 

Álex de la Iglesia employs schlock horror and caustic humor to undercut the bitterness of his films. His characters are deeply flawed, and he tends to explore the ugliest aspects of humanity. But Iglesia manages to infuse even the most cynical and macabre of stories with oddball empathy. This is a contemporary filmmaker who pushes boundaries with a strange tonal blend and voice that’s uniquely his own. Now is a great time to get on his peculiar wavelength.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3619434/dancing-devil-biting-macabre-horrors-alex-de-la-iglesia/

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