The Day Of The Beast

****

Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

The Day Of The Beast
"The film contains grotesque violence and slapstick humour in a nonetheless affectionate take on the horror genre."

The Day of the Beast (El Día de la Bestia) was Álex de la Iglesia's second feature film and effectively launched his career on the international stage. In keeping with the form of Spanish humour known as esperpento - in which a distorted version of reality is utilised in order to critique it - the film contains grotesque violence and slapstick humour in a nonetheless affectionate take on the horror genre. Father Ángel Berriartúa (Álex Angulo) is a small Basque priest who has spent his career applying numerology to St John's predictions of the Apocalypse. An unexpected breakthrough leads him to discover that the Antichrist is due to be born in Madrid on Christmas Day 1995 - and it's already Christmas Eve.

To foil the demonic birth, Berriartúa heads to Madrid with the intention to sin as much as possible in order to gain the confidence of the Devil and halt the Apocalypse. Heavy metal enthusiast José María (Santiago Segura, who won Best Newcomer at the Goya Awards for his performance), who has the enthusiasms and attention span of a wayward puppy, becomes the priest's faithful sidekick - a kind of Sancho Panza to Fr Berriartúa's Don Quijote. But Berriartúa is in need of an expert, and with the reluctant enlisting of television psychic - and satanic expert - Professor Caván (Armando de Razza), the film has its three wise men just in time for the nativity.

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A sequence in Caván's apartment is a good illustration of how de la Iglesia juggles the tone of the film. Caván doesn't want to co-operate with Berriartúa's request to invoke the Devil - both because he thinks that the priest is mad, and because he's a charlatan who doesn't believe in the nonsense that he spouts on his TV programme, La Zona Oscura (The Dark Zone). In desperation, Berriartúa resorts to bone-breaking violence in order to ensure Caván's help - while José María watches, munching popcorn - although the television presenter is still only humouring him when he eventually starts to give instructions for the invocation. The scene flips back and forth between squirm-inducing violence and wry chuckles as the priest's serious explanation - and brutality - is set against the backdrop of a cackhanded José María smashing various artefacts in the apartment, distracting both Caván and the audience from what Berriartúa is saying.

Likewise, the whole invocation process is a comically low-budget approximation gathered at short notice - sliced white bread standing in for the consecrated host, LSD tabs instead of psychotropic mushrooms, and a virgin's blood taken from the maid (Nathalie Seseña) at the dilapidated boarding house run by José María's mother (Terele Pávez, on barnstorming form as a genuinely frightening woman). The scene marks a before and after in the film - the moment in which all three men suddenly take Berriartúa's quest seriously - and the comedy is toned down and the horror style amped up (spooky music, camera tilts and a zoom into the priest's reaction when the invocation seems to work) in the second half of the scene. But the comedy nonetheless persists, and it seems important to note that all three have just ingested a large quantity of LSD - it's possible that everything that happens after this point is at least partly hallucinated.

Aside from the evident affection de la Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría have for the two genres they play with, the film benefits from characters who are written and performed with warmth and humour. At the centre, Angulo - who sadly died earlier this year - was never better than as the plucky and determined little priest, ready to do battle with the forces of evil on the streets of Madrid, and he's ably supported by the rest of the cast.

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2014
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A Basque priest discovers that the Antichrist is due to be born in Madrid on Christmas Day and sets out to avert the apocalypse with the help of a heavy metal fan and a television psychic.

Director: Álex de la Iglesia

Writer: Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Álex de la Iglesia

Starring: Álex Angulo, Santiago Segura, Armando de Razza, Terele Pávez, Nathalie Seseña, Maria Grazia Cucinotta

Year: 1995

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Spain

Festivals:

Leeds 2014

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