I don’t really understand why Alex de la Iglesia isn’t as well known among Spanish filmmakers as, say, Pedro Almodovar. He’s clearly as distinctive, but he’s failed to gain that kind of recognition. He’s more often included in the group of Hispanic filmmakers that includes Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, who are in the same age group, but again he’s not anywhere near as well known. Where their films get American distribution through the more high-profile art distributors, Iglesia’s work only seems to attract little companies like Magnolia and IFC. My best guess is that he’s just too strange, too hard to peg. His work is at once playfully comic in tone and…well, more than a little grotesque. It’s also less universal and more specifically Spanish — and not always easy to get ahold of. (I think I’ve seen six of his films at this point.)
Las Brujas de Zugaramurdi is his most recent feature and it is never going to put Iglesia in the position he seems to dread — “I wouldn’t want the kind of movies I do to become trendy. I’ve always hated trends and I would feel quite uncomfortable creating one.” The chance of anything this outrageous creating a trend is in the range of nil. This is a movie that starts with a robbery committed by characters masquerading as street performers dressed up as Jesus Christ, a soldier/statue, the Invisible Man, Minnie Mouse, and Spongebob Squarepants. And “Christ’s” little boy is an accomplice, because “Christ” — or Jose (Hugo Silva) — isn’t giving up his visitation rights for the day. Naturally, things go wrong — this is probably your only chance to see Spongebob shot down by the cops (and believe me, it’s satisfying). Come to that, you don’t see all that many shotgun-toting Jesuses.
All this, however, is just to get our main characters — and their taxi driver and some poor boob of a passenger — on the run. And on the run is what brings them to Zugaramurdi and a witches’ sabbath. Need it be said that they — along with two bickering detectives and Jose’s ex-wife — become an integral part of the sabbath? I didn’t think so. But none of this really conveys how exceedingly strange it all is. Strange doesn’t really cut it here. I think “batshit crazy” is nearer the mark. It’s all played for dark comedy, but it should be noted that the comedy and the details are often just plain gross and sometimes disturbing. It doesn’t all work. Iglesia’s insistence on a big, action-packed ending becomes a little repetitive and the grotesque giant witch mother is a little too like the giant zombie mother in Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. Still, it mostly works — and it’s all in good unwholesome fun.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi (Witching & Bitching) Thusday, July 30 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.