Wednesday, October 7, 2015

El Dia De La Bestia / The Day of the Beast (Spain, 1995)

Chirashi Movie Poster from Shock Cinema 
OK, you might not know it — particularly if you're from the US — but many countries in the world have their own version of the Oscars. Canada, for example, has the world famous (?) Genie Awards. In Germany, they have the Deutscher Filmpreis (often simply called the Lola Awards, not after the song by the Kinks but because the awards statue is modelled after "Lola", the character Marlene Dietrich plays in The Blue Angel [1930 / German trailer]); the French have the César Award; the English, the British Academy Film Award, or BAFTA; the Italians, the oft-maligned David di Donatello Award; and the Spaniards, the Goya. Of interest to us here is the last — but first, a question: Do you remember who won the Oscar for Best Director in 1995? No? Well: Robert Zemeckis for Forrest Gump (1994) — a film that also had a jillion of other Oscar nominations, and walked away with six.
Over in Spain, on the other hand, they obviously weren't interested in any boxes of chocolates. Being the good Catholics that they are, they had the devil on their mind — and nominated this flick here, the sophomore feature film of director Álex de la Iglesia, for 14 Goyas. It went on to win six, including Best Director. Somehow, we find it hard to believe that any film that includes extended scenes featuring full frontals of a relatively old, ugly, naked, pot-bellied, and uncircumcised man will ever get nominated for any Oscar at all — but, Hey! People tick differently in "Old Europe". Luckily.
The Spaniard Álex de la Iglesia, unlike the comparably unique Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, is still not really a household name in the English-speaking world, but then, unlike Guillermo, Álex has remained primarily active in his homeland. (And his only two "English-language" films to date, The Oxford Murders [2008 / trailer] and Predita Durango [1996 / trailer], while interesting, are also his among his weakest.) But as one knows, life is not fair — were it so, Álex de la Iglesia and his numerous over-the-top black comedies would enjoy a far greater international fan base than they seemingly do. We've been a fan ever since his first feature film release, the gory sci-fi grotesque Aktion Mutante (1993 / Spanish trailer). The Day of the Beast is likewise a grotesque, if in horror trappings this time around, and while it might not be quite as tasteless or gory as Aktion Mutante, it is much more tightly directed and just as entertainingly in-your-face and enthralling — providing you have a taste for extreme violence, puerile humor, blood, gore, hyperbolic acting, lots of sacrilege, and a total lack of subtlety.
The basic plot revolves around the klutzy, inept priest, Father Angel (Alex Angulo, 12 April 1953 — 20 July 2014, of Bosque de sombras [2006 / Spanish trailer], Pan's Labyrinth [2006 / trailer], Imago mortis [2009 / Spanish trailer] and Pos eso [2014 / Spanish trailer]). A bumbling but dedicated religious scholar, he has broken the code of "The Book of Revelations" and now knows when the anti-Christ will be born — before dawn on December 25 — but not where (other than, it would seem, the city: Madrid). He sees it as his duty to destroy the anti-Christ, and to find out exactly where the demon will be born, he decides to go to Madrid, become evil and sell his soul to the devil, thus entering the inner-circle of those in the know. Along the way, he first finds the assistance of a particularly brain-dead record-store clerk and heavy metal fan Shorty Dee (Santiago Segura of Beyond Re-Animator [2003 / trailer], Killer Barbys [1996 / Spanish trailer], the dud Una de Zombis [2003 / Spanish trailer], La mujer más fea del mundo [1999 / trailer I / trailer II], Airbag [1997 / trailer] and Asesino en serio [2002 / Spanish trailer]) and, after the incompetent but oddly compatible devil hunters kidnap and drop acid with him, the self-satisfied and successful TV psychic Professor Cavan (Armando de Razza) as well. And in their pursuit of the devil and his child, whether as a one-some, two-some or three-some, they leave an outrageous, burning trail of directly or indirectly caused mayhem behind them.
Has nothing to do with El Dia De La Bestia
The Killer Barbys sing Candy:
For all the frantic activity and action, Álex de la Iglesia manages to keep his film in control. He wastes little and also trims the fat; where he tosses in an aside, its scurrility only serves to underscore the movie's irreverent attitude, and many of the twisted asides — be it Father Angel putting cigarettes out on the souls of his feet or right-wingers setting the homeless on fire — also reveal themselves subsequently as being integral to the plot or character. The three main actors excel in their farcical roles, fully convincing in their three extremes, and are well-supported by a variety of secondary characters, the most-notable being a mother from hell (Terele Pavez, of de la Iglesia's Witching & Bitching [2013 / red band Spanish trailer] and La Comunidad [2000 / Spanish trailer]), who meets a blackly hilarious end, and a big-breasted caricature of a peroxide blonde (Maria Grazia Cucinotta of The Rite [2011 / trailer], Death of the Virgin [2009 / trailer], Tulpa [2012 / trailer], the Oscar-winning women's film The  Postman [1994 / trailer], Transgression [2011 / trailer] and  The Museum of Wonders [2010 / trailer]) who, regrettably, never gets naked. (A sight, unlike the other nudity of the film, which would have been far more pleasurable and far less queasily and uneasily funny — but even an extremist like Álex de la Iglesia, for all his obvious desire to shock, knows the difference between nudity that instigates discomfort and uneasy laughs and nudity that would have been only exploitive — and while he is out to shock, he isn't out to exploit.)
El Dia De La Bestia is a twisted black comedy of both farcical and uncomfortable violence that has a layer of social critique that is, of course, missed by non-Spaniards, but fans of extreme humor and irreverent violence will probably enjoy the movie anyway. Others, particularly those with a low threshold for realistic violence, might often find themselves offended by some of the more extreme, blackly humorous scenes. (Indeed, frequently the heroes almost become difficult to root for.) If there is one aspect of the movie we ourselves did not like, it was the odd insertion, during the final climactic scenes, that the whole anti-Christ aspect might be simple madness on Father Angel's part. Sure, we see Satan take shape, and yes, it is obvious that Angel sees it too — but do the others? For while the opening scene of the movie, in which Father Angel's initial compatriot in arms (a fellow priest) meets a hilarious demise, seems to indicate the battle is real, and while Satan does appear to the three heroes while they are on acid, it makes no sense that the devil, as one of the murdering group of right-wing fascists ridding Madrid of the undesirable and homeless, would, during the climactic scene at Madrid's Puerto de Europa —
Oh, wait: that would be a total spoiler and give away too much of the movie.
Let's just say, if you're the type of person who finds the concept of a movie featuring the Three Wise Men dying as collateral damage in a shopping mall shootout — one of many scenes of mayhem these three Satan-chasing stooges incite — can't be that bad, then El Dia De La Bestia is probably for you. (Of course, you do also get treated to some less-than-inviting uncircumcised chorizo more than once...) Give the flick a go — and then pick up some of de la Iglesia's other projects: it's time the man gained a wider audience.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Short Film: A Short Vision (1956)

Written & directed by Joan Foldes and Peter Foldes; narrated by James McKechnie.
To quote the BFI National Archive: "A Short Vision became one of the most influential British animated films ever made when it was screened on US television as part of the popular Ed Sullivan Show [on May 27, 1956]. Although children were advised to leave the room while it played, it still caused outrage and alarm with its graphic representation of the horrors of nuclear war. [...] That said, there is no explicit reference to atomic warfare in A Short Vision. The narration is calculatedly allegorical, even quasi-Biblical, talking about a mysterious 'it' appearing in the sky, terrifying animals but ignored by most humans. Not that this makes any difference, as 'their leaders and wise men', though aware of the situation, are powerless to do anything about it — since every living creature, regardless of species or age, is subsequently annihilated. The sequences of human faces disintegrating into skulls, their eyeballs popping and flesh peeling back from muscle and bone, are what gave the film its primary notoriety, as did its utter extinguishing of any hope at the end (the final images show a moth flitting around a dying flame)."
Over at the blogspot Conelrad Adjacent, they tell this urban-legend-sounding tale relating to this short's television premiere in the US, when Ed Sullivan "threw more than just a curveball: he broadcast an animated short film about the end of the world that still reverberates within the memories of an untold number of baby boomers": "[...] I met a man from Canada who had shoulder-length dark hair, but in the center of his head was a small spot where his hair grew out a silvery white color. I asked him about it, and he told me that he was a medically-documented case of a person whose hair had turned white from fright. As a child, he had seen A Short Vision while alone in a house, and he experienced extreme panic and terror for some time, and one result was that his hair began to grow out white from that one spot on his head." [Michael Mode, "Sense of Panic," March 22, 2009,, "A Short Vision Legacy Project"]
In any event, we aren't a baby boomer so we never saw the short, but when we stumbled upon A Short Vision while wasting our time on YouTube, we knew that one day we had to make it our Short Film of the Month.  And here it is.

Hungarian-born  Peter Foldes (1924 — 29 March 1977), by the way, went on to make a number of other shorts of varying interest, including Hunger (1974), our Short Film of the Month for March 2014.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Misc. Film Fun: Three Dance Scenes

Another Thin Man 
(1939, dir. W.S. Van Dyke)
Trailer. The third of the six Thin Man movies, which were based on the writings of Dashiell Hammett and star William Powell and Myrna Loy as the eternally tipsy sleuthing couple, Nick and Nora Charles. This time around, the Hammett story used was The Farewell Murder.
Here, in the midst of their investigations, Nick finds himself at the West Indies Club enjoying his companions more than the dance performance of René y Estela (otherwise known in real life as René y Estela la Hermana de Arsenio Rodríguez). Stella does all the work, but the dance is smooth.

(1941, dir. H.C. Potter)
A Faux Trailer. According to imdb, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin cited this movie as the main inspiration for the style of their comedy show, Laugh-In (1967) — completely believable, if you've ever seen either the long-gone TV series or this underrated and mostly forgotten movie.
Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings explains the film: "Any movie this wild is bound to slip over into fantastic cinema territory a few times before it's all through [...]. Try to imagine Busby Berkeley, Spike Jones and Tex Avery all pooling their talents to put together a live-action movie, and you might have an idea of the mayhem in store. Once again, there are so many gags that the bad ones don’t count [...]"
There are also some pretty wild dance scenes, like this one here (beginning at around 2:45) — which, though the music is very much of its time, seems extremely contemporary in its physicalness. Breakdance Swing, anyone? 

Cien muchachas
(1957, dir. Jaime Salvador, writ. Fernando Méndez)
Director Jaime Salvador (4 Nov 1901 — 18 Oct 1976) went on to do the John Carradine cheapies La señora Muerte (1969 / full, subtitled film) and Pacto diabólico (1969 / scene), not to mention the yet-to-be-rediscovered slice of Mexican psychotronica, The Terrible Giant of the Snow (1963 / scene). Scriptwriter Fernando Méndez (20 July 1908 — 17 Oct 1966) went on to direct a number of notable Mexican horror films: The Vampire (1957 / trailer) and its sequel The Vampire's Coffin (1958 / trailer), The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959 / Trailer from Hell), Ladrón de cadáveres (1957 / full film while it lasts) and The Cry of Death (1959 / trailer).
Cien muchachas is obviously not a horror movie, but we know absolutely nothing about it. Nevertheless, we love this dance scene featuring — we think — Alfonso Arau and Sergio Corona. We also love the music, too. But then, we're major fans of mambo... and cumbia, for that matter. And of the tango, bolero and vallenato, too, actually, though our true love remians milango...

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