Monday, August 20, 2007

#19: The Day of the Beast (Alex de la Iglesia, 1995)

Satanism is one of the big dogs of childhood fascination, at least for those of us who were raised in Christian (particularly Catholic) homes. People were always talking about the devil in my hometown. He was referenced in Bible verse at church, he was purported to be lurking in my favorite heavy metal records if played backwards, he was definitely to blame for Ozzy Osbourne's success, and his followers were sacrificing babies in every city in the country (cities being just as dangerous and/or sinful as Ozzy). When I was in elementary school, an urban legend about a roving band of Satanists' impending visit to our hometown to kidnap and murder blonde, blue-eyed children prompted local authorities to issue tentative warnings to stay inside even though, they admitted, the story was most likely false. I remember feeling a charge of excitement that weekend, and my (non-blonde) friends and I hopped on our bikes in hopes of catching a glimpse of these mythical Satanists. We were disappointed. My youthful dreams of something, anything, of occult interest happening in my hometown went unfulfilled.
My Satanic quest was a failure, but The Day of the Beast isn't. This Spanish action/comedy/horror film scratched my Satanic itch, and then some. Padre Cura, a professor of theology and a priest, has cracked a Biblical code and discovered that the Anti-Christ's son will be born in Madrid that night (a seasonally suspect Christmas Eve), instigating the end of the world. In an attempt to get close to Satan, the naive padre decides to forsake the church and commit evil deeds in hopes of conjuring Satan and discovering the whereabouts of his spawn. Unfamiliar with true evil, the padre wanders the city knocking over mimes, buying Napalm Death, Iron Maiden, and AC/DC records, refusing to administer last rites, shoplifting books, and putting out cigarettes on his feet. While buying metal records, the padre befriends the headbanging, drug-addled record store clerk, who agrees to help the padre on his Satanic mission. He finds the padre a room in his mother's bed-and-breakfast, and the quest begins in earnest. (Side note: the metalhead's grandfather wanders the bed-and-breakfast wearing nothing but an open robe, inspiring my favorite line in the film: "That's grandfather. He likes having his prick out." He also feeds the old man LSD to "keep him moving." This doesn't seem to work.) The padre and the metalhead become obsessed with TV occultist/fortune-teller Professor Cavan and enlist him in the search, believing the bullshit artist has a direct line to the devil. From then on, it's non-stop action.
This is a ridiculously fun movie. Iglesia could have easily taken a heavily stylized approach with his cartoonish material, but wisely lets his actors and locations tell the visual story instead of fancy-pants camera tricks. The three leads--Alex Angula, Armando De Razza, and Santiago Segura--have great chemistry and comic timing, and the minor roles are all memorable as well. The actors generate a surprising amount of sympathy for their foolish characters, and the film is delightfully blasphemous while remaining affectionate toward the religious. I'm excited to see Iglesia's other films.


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