Las Brujas de Zugaramurdi (Witching & Bitching)

Movie Information

In Brief: Alex de la Iglesia's Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi was saddled with the moronic English language title Witching & Bitching — the translation of its Spanish title is The Witches of Zugarramurdi — but don't let that put you off this magnificent mash-up of the kind only Alex de la Iglesia could provide. On the surface, it may feel a bit like Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). The set-up is similar, except that thieves-on-the-run here find themselves at the mercy of a coven of witches rather than a nightclub full of vampires. The execution, on the other hand, is very different — not in the least because the witches are about as likable as the film's apparent hero. Basically, it's an over-the-top — and patently ridiculous — heist movie that turns into a horror comedy done in what can only be called explosively bad taste. It's at once subversive and silly, funny and grotesque — and very, very strange.
Genre: Horror Comedy
Director: Alex de la Iglesia
Starring: Hugo Silva, Mario Casas, Pepón Nieto, Carolina Bang, Carmen Maura
Rated: NR



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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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