Witching And Bitching (2013) aka Las brujas de Zugarramurdi; ("The Witches of Zugarramurdi")
Dir. Álex de la Iglesia
Written by Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Álex de la Iglesia
Starring Hugo Silva, Mario Casas, Terele Pávez, Carolina Bang, Carmen Maura
WITCHING AND BITCHING begins with a Jesus Christ smothered in silver body paint, a toy army man, Minnie Mouse, the Invisible Man and SpongeBob SquarePants leaving their jobs as costumed sidewalk impersonators* to pursue an armed robbery. While still in costume. (The guy in the Spongebob costume clearly didn’t think through the mechanics of attempting crime while wearing an oversized rigid rectangle, so that’s the last you’ll hear of him). Believe it or not, this is probably the most mundane twist in this refreshingly outrageous and twisty caper-horror-comedy from Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia (DAY OF THE BEAST, THE LAST CIRCUS). Heck, the witches that show up out of the blue in a FROM DUSK TIL DAWN-esque sudden hard genre pivot aren’t the most outrageous twist. Neither is the skinny guy with the skin falling off who lives in a toilet. The most outrageous might be the 50-foot tall naked… well, you’ll see.
Despite the title, the focus of the first third is definitely on the bitching, rather than the witching. Things go awry in the armed robbery because the guy playing Jesus, whose real name is José (Hugo Silva, TO THE HELL WITH UGLY), brought his young son along and mistakenly leaves his homework behind to identify them (he has custody today, and will be damned if he lets a little thing like a pawnshop shoot-up stop him from spending some quality time). Before long, the gang is on the lam, making a break for the border (with France) in a hijacked taxi. They use the time on the road to complain bitterly about the women in their lives, especially José’s ex, Silvia (Macarena Gómez, Stuart Gordon’s DAGON), who is so pissed at the poor parenting skills José is displaying that she hops in the car to chase them. José is so eloquent in his rant about how bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks that the kidnapped cab driver is inspired by the power of his words to join the gang, if only so he can share his own gripes.
Before long, though, the crew comes across a mysterious diner with a bunch of sinister carnival floats and stuff outside, staffed by an intergenerational coven of women rather significantly worse than the ones they’ve been bitching about (including Terele Pávez from EVIL EYE (1975), Carmen Maura from a ton of Almodovar movies, and Carolina Bang, who has an amazing name and rock n’ roll haircut). They’ve got some rather extravagant plans for the bumbling criminals, including but not limited to cannibalism, torture, and ritual sacrifice. Which not to be all political or anything, but I’m against, even if it is a time-honored tradition in their culture.
As a whole, this cheerful and outrageous horror-comedy probably relies a little too much on cranky banter for comedy, and takes a smidge too much time to get where it’s going, but man, when it finally gets there things get really fucking crazy. Witches are nothing new in horror movies, but as things go along de la Iglesia seems to get progressively more and more confident and imaginative, filling scene after scene with frenetic jaw-dropping weirdness and culminating in a gigantic set piece/musical number which has to be seen to be believed (and even so, you may not believe it because of the dodgy CG, not that realism is really a high priority here). For all the standard men-are-from-mars-women-are-satanic-she-devils sitcom bitching that opens the movie, the witching, once it arrives, is of absolutely top quality, delivering a suite of splendidly repugnant goods you simply aren’t going to get anywhere else.
I wonder a bit about the movie’s strange, fractured perspective on gender. I try not to bore you guys by delving too deep into the subtext of every no-budget bigfoot movie or whatever that passes by my eyeballs, but there’s no getting around it here, this is clearly the topic the movie wants to bring you to. The men here are constantly --constantly-- bitching about women, and we’re not given much evidence that they’re wrong. In fact, if there’s a problem with their complaints, it seems to be their failure of imagination on just how much trouble women really are -- José’s ex immediately sides with the witches instead of trying to free him. And the witches’ priorities read like the Gamergate guys stayed up all night getting paranoid and high with the top brass from ISIL and a couple sexually repressed Puritans, and came up with a laundry list of everything women want to ruin: they hate men, worship an evil mother goddess, fastidiously use sex only to manipulate, and want to spread mayhem and disorder and matriarchy. That sounds pretty bad, especially when we consider the long history of actual brutality against innocent women because of these very mistaken beliefs --which continues to this day, looking in your direction Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, Central African Republic, Romania, Iran, and others -- which is admittedly a problem for all Witch genre movies, but seems particularly noteworthy here, considering how outrageously they exaggerate the scale of the villainy and how inescapably the script links it to gender.
I don’t really know how to interpret all that. It’s broad enough that you could convince me that it’s more of a parody of men’s misunderstanding and paranoia about the fairer sex than a condemnation of the witches. It certainly has some parallels, both overt and subtle, with the 2006 Neil Labute/Nic Cage WICKER MAN remake, which depending on how you look at it is either the most incompetently misogynistic film in living memory (or it was until JURASSIC WORLD came out) or a hilarious parody of clueless men utterly failing to comprehend what’s really going on in the minds of women and stumbling headlong into disaster. It’s tone certainly suggests something satiric, though I’m hard pressed to identify something specific it’s satirizing. On the other hand, you could also convince me that it’s just meant to be broad and over-the-top, drawing inspiration from witch mythology and exaggerating it to grotesque and comic effect without any particular thematic intent. Either way, though, the film’s tone overall seems genial and the women playing the witches look like they're having a blast, so I guess it’s all in good fun. And even if it wasn’t, I don’t know that any amount of bad politics could spoil a cast this energetic and a vision this ceaselessly inventive and elaborate. Pound for pound, this has to be one of the most wild and brazenly entertaining efforts this whole month. Even if its provocative gender battle doesn’t quite coagulate into something distinct enough to constitute a point... like its hapless characters, you can’t help but be whisked away for a wild and unpredictable ride.
* Is there an actual title for this profession? What do they put on their taxes?
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