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Day of the Beast, The
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by Jay Seaver

"25 years later, it looks a bit rough but still impresses."
4 stars

I don't know how many extra sales of their new 4K "The Day of the Beast" disc Severin got from folks who just discovered Alex de la Iglesia with "30 Coins" and wanted more in the same vein, but it's the sort of happy coincidence that many labels re-releasing cult cult classics must dream of, even if it does make it hard to view the movie from 1995 outside the context of the recent TV series. It's a very different thing, of course, and not just because it's the work of someone young and rebellious as opposed to a seasoned veteran.

As it opens on 23 December 1995, Jesuit theology professor Cura (Álex Angulo) has made a horrifying discovery - the hidden numerology in Revelations that the Antichrist will be born on Christmas Eve, in Madrid. He sees only one way to forestall the Apocalypse - renounce God, commit enough sins to be accepted by the area's Satanists, and prevent the rise of evil from within. How to do so? Maybe José María (Santiago Segura), the metalhead he meets at a record store, can provide some leads; there's also "Professor Cavan" (Armando De Razza), a bestselling author and television personality who is the area's foremost expert on the occult.

De la Iglesia and writing partner Jorge Guerricaechevarría start the film with dark slapstick, and while they seem to figure that material wouldn't be able to actually sustain an entire movie and move on, there's something almost wholesome in the way the opening scenes play out, because despite his deciding that sin is the only way to greater salvation, Cura doesn't come by cruelty naturally, and it highlights the absurdity of his quest while giving Álex Angulo a chance to establish his lower-key personality before bringing the broader characters and performers in. There's something both very funny and slyly satirical about this un-worldly man comically trying to transgress and how he goes looking for sin in heavy metal music because the idea is only theoretical to him and that's what he's heard is evil.

Eventually, there's got to be some sort of story, and it's the sort that can feel kind of like a mess 25 years later and an ocean away - I found myself wondering if the building that plays a large part in the last act was considered noteworthy or controversial at the time - with the satire often seeming scattershot, especially when combined with some misdirection and ambiguity. What to make of how José María only seems to take the blasphemous imagery in his "heavy" music seriously when Cura validates it, or the irony of how the film seems to revel in this transgression while also mocking the media that sees it as merely "something different". There's sometimes a sense that they've hedged their bets - the spree-killers who are coded as monsters with money attacking the lower classes are probably more horrifying if they're just selfishly evil as opposed to being in league with the devil, and de la Iglesia seems aware of that, playing much of the movie's back half as if it could be genuinely supernatural or a delusion brought on by the psychedelics used in a ritual. The filmmakers seem to have some strong ideas about how violence and selfishness have become mainstreamed but sometimes struggle making a story out of it that involves Cura searching for the literal devil.

That the writing gets messy often highlights that there's more to a movie than just the script, because de la Iglesia and company get things to move, mixing stone-faced absurdity with amusing slapstick, making hard turns into and out of darker material as the central trio is pulled in deeper. In addition to Angulo's good work, Armando De Razza and Santiago Segura have entertaining and complementary comic personae here (though it's a bit of a shame that out of the three main women in the cast, only Terele Pávez gets to be active, and that's as a fairly stock pushy-landlord character). The film manages to make its class distinctions sharp enough to be important but also able to bounce between them without a stop to resent, and de la Iglesia's team does a nice job when the time comes to shift into bigger and more elaborate action.

There's a scene or two at the end where the new 4K transfer winds up highlighting the messiness of the original effects work, but that's fitting - it reveals the film's age and rough edges, but also how well it's put together despite that. It's otherwise a very nice package, and an interesting one to catch after "30 Coins" (though more flippant in their younger days, the team always took the idea of the battle between Heaven and Hell seriously); 25 years on, it's still got the ability to shock, thrill, and even surprise.

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originally posted: 04/14/21 01:09:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/08/06 Reklc Funny as Hell!!! 5 stars
3/19/06 Justin Ward Totally metal, totally blasphemous, totally brilliant! 5 stars
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  23-Dec-1998 (R)



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