BRIAN HARRIS: UN MOMENTO CON LA BESTIA (A MOMENT WITH THE BEAST)
By Brian Harris (*)
I’m not what you’d call your average American when it comes to my cinematic tastes; I have no problem “reading” what I’m watching when English subtitles are required. Hell, even if there are no subs—or dubs of dubious quality—available, I often settle in to watch films not understanding a word of the language being spoken. Admittedly, there are times when I have no idea what’s going on but you’d be surprised how many I do actually keep up with. Of course, down through the years I’ve done a decent job of picking up on languages such as Spanish and Italian—even some Japanese—so there are times when just a few words gives me enough insight into what’s going on. Other times, well, I just squint my eyes, sit confused while the films unfold and do my best to enjoy the ride. For most dedicated cult cinema fans with a passion for overseas cinema, this is a pretty common thing.
One such film I was able to get my sticky mitts on but was thwarted by no subtitles was visionary filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia’s darkly comedic, and quite subversive, film EL DIA DE LA BESTIA (The Day of The Beast, 1995). After having seen the insanity that was ACCION MUTANTE (Mutant Action, 1993)—thanks to a recommendation by a fellow overseas cinema fan—I knew I would have to track down and see this film. Unfortunately the taped copy I’d received, from a less-than-reputable source, had no burned subs! I watched it anyhow but had no freakin’ idea what was going on. I was totally lost! It would be a few years down the line before I was able to see it again with English subtitles and finally understand what I was watching. It was like I was seeing it for the first time.
Whether you speak Spanish or not, DLI’s (De La Iglesia) films are a visual treat; many of them (especially my favorites) draw you in with bursts of brutal, over-the-top violence and copious amounts of physical comedy. They’re otherworldly and surreal, just recognizable enough for us to invest our time and emotions into but never so much that we feel alienated. His work often speaks to and for the viewer, rather than at or over the viewer. That’s a hard balance to strike when you’re seeking to make art and entertainment, both of which DLI manages to do quite well. This has certainly worked to his advantage, placing him in the top tier of Spanish filmmakers. Is he a household name? That likely depends on whose household we’re taking about. In mine? Yes, absolutely. Keep in mind, though we have come a long way, Americans are still evolving and opening themselves up to music and cinema outside of their comfort zone and beyond our borders. We’ll get there. Until then it’s, “Remember that movie starring Elijah Wood and the old man from HELLBOY? The movie is called THE OXFORD MURDERS? Yup, that was directed by Álex de la Iglesia.” *sigh*
Back to EL DIA DE LA BESTIA. I decided to refresh my memory and watched it again last night for this article and was surprised by all the little things I missed in previous viewings, including some thoughts on the concept I hadn’t previously had. The first thing I took notice of was all of the signs, advertisements and graffiti scattered throughout the film indicating the presence of a real evil, or at the very least an indication of the decline of society in Madrid. Toys with guns, anyone? It seemed as though DLI had made sure to throw in clues letting the viewer know that the entire thing may not have been so cut and dry. You gotta love a film that provokes thought years after seeing it.
Quick aside – the remainder of this piece has spoilers. If you’ve not seen the film, you may not want to read any further.
Was it really all just the delusion of a disturbed priest with a messiah complex, a conned conman and a boorish simpleton? Sure, Angel (Álex Angulo), Jose Maria (Santiago Segura) and Professor Cavan (Armando De Razza) were on LSD, which would certainly explain the diabolical visions they were having as well as their baffling leaps in logic, but how was it that this supposedly insane, drug-fueled quest brought them face to face with the “Clean Up Madrid” killers? A coincidence, fate or the work of a higher power?
And what of the “Clean Up Madrid” killers, they were clearly not your average psychos murdering random victims but rather, by all appearances, upper middle-class guys targeting the lower-class and immigrants. Were they really just looking to rid Madrid of its problematic citizens, as good Nationalist thugs might want to, or were they clearing it for further real estate development? I got the impression by the end of the film that these men may have had some connection to a real estate sign on the side of a building as well the construction site the finale plays out in. Perhaps I’m wrong. Either way, it’s clear from the get-go that both groups’ paths were bound to cross and, in a strange way, it was Angel and his group that attracted the the attention of the killers, who in turn kill “The Antichrist.” In a way, Angel, Jose Maria and Cavan did indeed save the world. They definitely made Madrid itself a bit safer by ending the crew’s reign of terror.
By the way, has anybody else wondered if there was a significance to the “9 Months Later”? Was there a reason DLI chose to move the story forward nine months, the same length of time as the human gestation period? Was it possible that Angel’s calculations were wrong and instead of the Antichrist being born that fateful night, he was actually being conceived? Would Angel and Cavan still get the opportunity to kill the Antichrist? All wild conjecture, of course.
EL DIA DE LA BESTIA is a gorgeous film, overflowing with quirky characters and heart-stopping sequences, I cannot recommend it enough. This viewing around I took a special interest in Santiago Segura, as he’s become one of my favorite Spanish actors (VIVA TORRENTE!!), and his hilarious antics. I challenge you not to laugh out loud when he fills Angel in on Professor Cavan’s show and how it once featured a girl who claimed to have been raped by aliens. After which he states, “She looked like a slut. I bet you anything she provoked them.” Offensive, no doubt about it, but funny. I also loved how Segura’s character was constantly punching people in the face. One can imagine that each face was a surrogate for Jose Maria’s mother, Rosario (Terele Pávez). Fun stuff.
While film after film continue to be released here in the States by boutique labels, some of Álex de la Iglesia’s best work is still languishing away with no special edition HD Blu-ray releases. It’s a shame really but I’m sure time and a growing appreciation for his work will change that.
A huge, super special shout-out to Elena for hooking me up with the official 20th Century Fox release of this film. Truly appreciated. I can finally toss this bootleg out.
REST IN PEACE, ÁLEX ANGULO
Brian Harris has authored nine books, including Filmbrawl,Gimp 1-5 and Gimp: The Rapening 1-3. His work has also been featured in the horror fiction anthology Masters of Taboo: Cannibalism and magazinesExploitation Retrospect, Gorezone Magazine (UK), Ultra Violent Magazine,Serial Killer Magazine, and Hacker’s Source Magazine. He also regularly writes for the award-winning horror/cult cinema magazine Weng’s Chopand the revival of Tim Paxton’s Monster! Magazine, both of which he publishes and co-edits.