Alex de la Iglesia is a relatively unknown filmmaker in the United States, which is sad considering the number of marvelous horror pics he has helmed. Yet for some reason or another, only a handful of his films are available in the U.S. and most have received little acclaim. The Baby’s Room (quite possibly one of the scariest films I’ve seen) was given a bulk release on 2008’s 6 Films to Keep You Awake. Perdita Durango was given a quick and dirty release under the title Dance with the Devil in 1999, but few people saw it or remember it. But the prime tragedy is that The Day of the Beast has never been released in the U.S. beyond its initial VHS release back in 1999. Now, almost sixteen years later, The Day of the Beast is undeniably one of the top films I hear fans talking about being in need of a Stateside release.
El dia de la Bestia (aka The Day of the Beast) may have the greatest opening of any movie ever: A priest walking down the street punching people, shopping lifting, pushing people over, and generally causing chaos. After he crushes someone with a giant cross and goes shopping for death metal CDs, the reason for his behavior is revealed – the priest is on a mission to commit as many sins as possible so he can become close to the devil, attend the birth of the anti-Christ, and kill it before it causes the end of days. The priest teams up with a metal head sales clerk and a wealthy occult TV show host to stop the end of the world.
The Day of the Beast is by far one of the best horror comedies out there and also one of the best character pieces in the horror genre. The first 15 minutes alone are a better example of character introduction and development than anything I learned in film school. And though this film presents itself as a dark comedy, it does have some remarkable chilling moments as well. THE GOAT. The goat will stick with you. Supposedly the majority of the rituals used in the film are real and taken directly from satanic doctrine adding a nice tone of mystique.
Considering the low budget of this film (approx 2.5 million according to IMDB), The Day of the Beast has a much larger feel with grandiose cityscapes, complicated camera maneuvers, beautiful production design, and even a final scene that feels Ghostbusters-esque with an end of days creature arriving atop a tall building. The FX are stellar, and though this film contains some decades old examples of CG work (made in 1995), it is well-blended.
Before I send all of you diving head first into Iglesia’s tomes of work, I will say that there is something strange at play in many of his films…something inaccessible. It is hard to decipher, but many of his films have a unique quality that keeps the viewer at arm’s length, never allowing them to become totally absorbed in the film. Perhaps the absurdist elements sprinkled throughout pull the viewer back into reality momentarily. I feel this is the case with Perdita Durango (in addition to all the uncomfortable rape scenes). But even if we look at Iglesia’s more commercial U.S. releases like The Oxford Murders and The Last Circus, there is still a peculiar sense of distance.
It could be larger than life acting or perhaps the unique and often illogical story elements. Regardless, it just makes Iglesia’s work all the more alluring and desirable in my eyes, but just don’t be expecting a commercial-grade perfectly cohesive and logical story…you won’t find it here.
Sadly, I too had overlooked Day of the Beast until just a few years ago. I was combing the bootleg DVD tables at a horror convention when I stumbled upon a burned DVD of The Day of the Beast and another Iglesia film Accion Mutante (also a horror-comedy). While I was standing there holding the DVD, a number of horror fans around me began making comments. “Oh my god! They have The Day of the Beast!” “Whoa! That is an incredible flick!” Okay, I was sold. It is depressing that the prime way to obtain this fantastic flick is illegally!
Luckily, it is not that pricey to get a legitimate copy of the film; you will just need to open your format-mind a bit. The VHS release from 1999 will run you about $15 on Amazon, well worth it, even for a VHS tape! The film is available on DVD in many other regions starting at about $10. A regionless Blu-ray player will cost about $100 for a mid range one and will open up your viewing options substantially.
In addition to having a segment in the new ABCs of Death 2, Iglesia has a new movie out now, Witching and Bitching, another fun and biting horror comedy. This one is currently available on VOD and will be releasing stateside to DVD and Blu-ray in mid October (though I must say the German steelbook Blu-ray release looks mighty fancy!).