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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: The Day Of The Beast (1995)

aka El día de la bestia

Álex de la Iglesia’s pitch black “comedy of Satanic action”, The Day Of The Beast, is easily one of the most unconventional Horror films of the 90s.  It cleverly subverts ideas of religion, belief and paranoia with its blasphemous tongue tucked firmly into its cheek.  The deft mix of shock value and biting humor serve this sin-tillating tale of good verses evil perfectly; moreover, Iglesia’s clever direction sharply distinguishes it from the very kinds of films it occasionally emulates.

The film's focus is on Father Ángel (Álex Angulo), who believes he has numerically decoded the Book Of Revelations to determine the day the Antichrist will be born.  He sets out on a personal mission to find the child's birthplace and destroy it before the world literally goes to Hell.  This quest puts the perilous priest through a hysterical series of events, due in no small part to his strong conviction that he must become evil to find evil.

Father Ángel travels to Madrid and the city is already on the verge of chaos with random violence rampantly on display.  He quickly requests the aid of heavy metal record store clerk José María (Santiago Segura), hoping his knowledge of Satanic music will be a useful tool.  The oafish burn-out admits he is no adept on these matters and suggests they consult a tele-psychic by the name of Prof. Cavan (Armando De Razza), who hosts an occult talk show called “The Dark Side”.

The two end up taking Cavan hostage and force him to instruct them on the proper procedures for conjuring the devil.  The spiritualist confesses that his persona is merely an act, but indulges them anyway; offering an outlandish cocktail of hocus and pocus.  After some noted and amusing difficulty, Father Ángel acquires the necessary items and he and José attempt the ritual.  Cavan initially ridicules them as they await their malign manifestation, but is shocked by the eventual appearance of an ominous black goat.  Now believing there might be truth to the deacon’s devilish delusions, he joins in on the heavenly hunt.

The Day Of The Beast is certainly an audacious offering.  The intricate farce plays with convention, while the various sub-plots and underlying social commentary are all interwoven exceptionally.  The acting is great and feels very natural despite all the extraordinary circumstances.  Furthermore, the cinematography is wonderful and full of impressive shots; plus it has its share of truly suspenseful moments helped by a dramatically effective score.  Although humor and physical comedy is prevalent, Iglesia offsets this tone with some very dark imagery and subject matter, making the experience wholly unique.

As a whole, The Day Of The Beast is a very complex but entertaining mixture of tension and titillation.  There's so much going on that you'll likely find yourself wanting to give it a repeated viewing just to catch the more subtle aspects of the impressive production.  When it was initially released in Spain it was a huge hit and it went on to capture several festival awards; however, it is relatively unknown abroad.  This is unfortunate, because it really is quite an extraordinary watch.  As José María would surely say, it's "heavy".

and the awards go to:
* The elder padre in the opening sequence who knowingly warns Ángel that “our enemy is powerful", just before being crushed by a large crucifix that topples from the church altar.
* José María's peculiar family which includes his brutish, money-hungry mother and his acid-eating grandfather who enjoys "going starkers".
* Father Ángel, who during his intended fall from grace lifts the ID of a dead man, burns himself with cigarettes, steals, kidnaps, pushes a mime into the subway and throws a woman to her death - all in the name of salvation.

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