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Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – Spain: Witching & Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi)

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/07/2015 – Spain: Witching & Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi) (2013)
Directed by Álex de la Iglesia

Sorry for the brief mix-up but the movies for today and tomorrow got switched because I am apparently incapable of figuring out what day it is. At least we are finally back to a country with an established horror cinema. Even if it’s best horror movie was directed by a Mexican (The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth as some have argued though I still consider it dark fantasy/war), Spain has turned out plenty of great horror since the dawn of the century, and also dating back in the 70’s (with films such as Who Can Kill a Child). Films like The Orphange[REC][REC] 2, and The Others represent not just some of the best films of Spanish Horror, but some of the best films of modern horror period.

Today’s film is directed by Álex de la Iglesia who is responsible for The Oxford Murders (which despite having never seen, became a running joke amongst my friends due to in part to its prominent placing on Netflix for a while) and The Last Circus (which I also haven’t seen but have always meant to see thanks to its wonderfully bizarre trailer) and if there is one thing I can say about Witching & Bitching is that it is gloriously insane. Where else are you going to see Jesus robbing a gold exchange with an assist from an Uzi wielding Spongebob, Minnie Mouse, and The Invisible Man than in this film and that’s just the opening scene. The movie is pretty damn hilarious from start to finish with plenty of gore to go with it with the horror consisting of plenty of darkly funny gore and gross out gags.

I’m not going to pretend this movie is very deep, and it features a number of cheap gags and a few questionable ones (including a scene playing two men kissing for “laughs”), but it succeeds nonetheless as a modern day version of the kind of films Sam Raimi (Evil Dead 2 and especially Army of Darkness), Pater Jackson (Braindeadand Friday’s movie Bad Taste), and others were making with its combination of horror, slapstick, and insanity. The effects are solid enough and when they do fail, especially in the big climax, it merely fits with the charm of the movie (see also yesterday’s Silk).

Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #2 – United States: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Directed by John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller

Although I admit there are still a number of episodes I’ve yet to see (yes I am ashamed of myself(, I still feel confident calling The Twilight Zone one of the greatest shows of all time and a true landmark of horror television. Remaking a number of the best episodes as an anthology film (which feels appropriate for an anthology series) is a huge task as the episodes hold up to even this day, 32 years after the film version was released. Yet it is hard to come up with a more impressive early 80’s selection of directors than Landis, Spielberg, Dante, and Miller. I’ll even (and probably sacrilegiously so) take them over the other prominent collections of filmmakers in the 80’s New York Stories (Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese). Anthology films are near impossible to judge as a whole so instead I’ll judge it in parts.

First up is Landis’s “Prologue” and “Time Out”. The prologue is a bit too self-congratulatory to be wholly satisfying, but Albert Brooks and Dan Ackroyd make for an appealing team that keeps it watchable. “Time Out” is probably the weakest (and certainly most murder-y by negligence) regular segment, even if it is the most original. The film feels less like a coherent short, and more like a series of set pieces designed to show off different time periods people were persecuted in. The short would have been much better if it had focused on one time period instead of jumping around and just focused on developing a one dimensional character more. How much of the short and quality of the short can be attributable to Vic Morrows untimely death by negligence is hard to say, but as is, the segment is a failure.

Steven Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” is a bit uncomfortable with Scatman Crothers’ most magical of all Magical Negroes character who seems indistinguishable from a parody of the stock character type. The story as a whole feels a bit too Spielberg to be effective complete with perhaps the most Spielberg friendly score ever done (even though Jerry Goldsmith was more frequently a collaborator of Dante). The story feels particularly slight with no conflict as it rushes from one feeling to another. The characters are barely distinguishable from each other and there development is less than even the most simplistic of the original episodes. The original is far superior an ends almost complete opposite from this version whose ending is “justified” by such a simplistic (really the best word for both segments) change of heart after about five minutes of time in film and loses so much of the original’s emotional impact. lt’s telling that all 2.5 of these segments are over about 45 minutes into a 1 hour 45 minute movie as if to say “Let’s get the two weakest segments from the two most well-known directors out of the way so we can get to the good stuff”.

Joe Dante’s “It’s a Good Life” very quickly establishes itself in the diner but especially gets good once it gets to the house. There is much more subtlety here with the mood being conveyed with shots of the house moving between creepy and overly wholesome with just something feeling off which you can’t put into words (well aside from the girl with no mouth). The film takes its time revealing small details like the best of the original episodes as things become more and more malevolent. The child actor does a great job playing someone who is mostly externally cheerful with that unsettling undercurrent playing mostly through dialogue the way it should. The short is very Dante what with the Dick Miller, cartoons (and cartoons bleeding into the real world), 50’s aesthetic (which is possibly never more appropriate than in a remake of a late 50’s/early 60’s series), and dark humor and a great spin on the original. Also, hooray for an offhand mention of Willoughby from one of my favorite episodes.

George Miller is the most curious choice considering he is the only one without a horror movie to his name outside of this one, but it’s hardly the only time Miller stepped out of his perceived comfort zone (just try to find some thread through his career). His short also is a challenge since “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is easily the most well-known of the original episodes with William Shatner giving a hugely memorable performance. John Lithgow steps in and knocks it out of the park though with a performance that starts at manic and just goes further. Also the short is the one where improved special effects (with the gremlin surprisingly not being directed by Dante though I can’t see him directing this tone) really benefit. The quality of this short is even more impressive because of its success despite all the parodies (see also Ringu) which have happened since its release which should dull the impact of the suspense but the sequence is still just as tough to watch. There’s also plenty of visual style on display here perhaps more so than any other section. The very last bit though merely just feels tacked on to tie the film together and really detracts from the ending.

There are no closing segments for each short which oddly enough make the segments bleed together too much. This shouldn’t be an insult to a film to be too seamless, but each segment gets an opening, if a perfunctory one, and it just doesn’t feel like The Twilight Zone without one. The film is worth watching for at least the last hour, but like most every anthology it is very uneven though thankfully improving in each segment instead of the other way around.

Up Next: Kiah Roache-Turner’s Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead representing New Zealand. I mean it this time.

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