FX's AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW so far has been mawkish and cliche, with harrowingly brutality thrown in for a fake 'edginess' as trite as it is upsetting. But if you have Netflix streaming and need a ballsy, no-holds barred, vaguely family-friendly but brutally honest, battle of the sexes witches and robbers horror-comedy, i.e. THE RAVEN for a new generation, seek out the unfortunately titled WITCHING AND BITCHING (the far better Spanish title is Las brujas de Zugarramurdi - but it's not great either), this ballsy 'comedy of the sexes' and very Spanish film has more original ideas, carnal energy, wit, acumen, and edge than the entirety of last season's AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN, comparing more with Shakespeare or THE MAGIC FLUTE if Mozart did crank. It just showed up like sorcereress magic in the "Recommended" line, and I've spent the last two hours agog. When my girl tried to micro-manage a package I was sending tomorrow during the lengthy climax, I snapped at her, "La puta madre, soy un hombre!" And she doesn't speak Spanish, but man she got the gist. Now I'm in big trouble...
The opening credits should give you enough of an idea: Amid Satanic symbols in red on black backgound are images that alternate between classical art, including the Venus of Willendorf, Marlene Dietrch, Margaret Thatcher, Garbo as Mata Hari, Medusa, Elizabeth I, Theda Bara, and Morganna de Fete. Strong women that devour men and do it with cinematic panache are all but conjured out of the credits. Having been married to a hot-tempered Argentine I can vouch that a Latina's love is more terrifying than a dozen monsters. They love almost to the point of ripping their children to pieces and devouring them the way they already have their fathers' balls. And if you think that's sexist, then I'd add that what's stolen the balls from today's American man is people like YOU (as I write there's this guy behind me on TV whose voice is so Edward Norton high and effeminate he's all but urging me on). Here's a test to see if you'd be on board: if you see this image below, of a pair of crooks fleeing the cops with son in tow covering their escape with two guns, and don't think it's awesome and don't think American cinema is woefully timid as far as depicting cherub-faced children as armed and dangerous felons, then this film isn't for you, flaca!
I've been an Alex de la Iglesia fan since the amazing DANCE WITH THE DEVIL (another unfortunate English title, though the original PERDITA DURANGO isn't so hot neither - Alex, e-mail me first next time you need an English title, soy muy intelligente!), and I've been trying to find his DAY OF THE BEAST with English subtitles for years. His THE LAST CIRCUS which is also on Netflix Streaming, and has more gonzo scary clown balls than FREAK SHOW has so far, or probably ever will, and all without needing to beat a single pinhead to death or abduct and terrorize even one innocent girl or child (that I remember).
LAS BRUJAS' story is better experienced without any knowledge of anything coming, just trust in the genius of Iglesia and roll with it as--veering between hardened criminal and dad driven past the point of his insanity by his hyper-intense and angry nurse ex-wife (He has her as "Armageddon" on his phone)--Hugo Silva demonstrates a kind of sublime antithetical acting that is the soul of great deadpan comedy as he takes his son on the run following a pawn shop robbert, chased by the angry mom (the terrific Macarena Gómez), and winds up caught up in a bizarre witches sabbath, overseen by a three-generational female family: the older slightly senile, but always ready with her sharpened steel dentures, Maritxtu (Terele Pávez); the grand dame of the coven Graciana (Almodovar regular Carmen Maura); and the hot younger daughter Eva (Carolina Bang who, with her wild Kate McKinnon-style eyes and punk haircut, is a scary-sexy dynamo). These witches leap through the air, crawl on the ceiling, and live on a steady diet of psychoactive toad secretions and cooked children.
I could cite BRUJAS' similarity on some level to HANSEL AND GRETEL, WITCH HUNTERS but this is worlds more sophisticated and modern (and less misogynist); Bang's wild witch might be compared maybe Sherri Moon Zombie in DEVIL'S REJECTS but that film didn't know where to go so just relied, like FREAK SHOW, on the usual grim sadism, sordid sex crimes, and Gooble Gobble-style outsider solidarity. Simply put, like his countryman Pedro Almodovar, Alex de la Iglesia doesn't need to try and be controversial; he knows that nothing remotely as violent or devouring as a mother's love, nor as controversial as admitting it, and trying to challenge it.
I may have already talked it up too much. Maybe it helps to have some experience with this breed of women, las fuertas pelligrinas and not be from a nation where each gender tries to outdo the other in passive aggressive pussyfooting rather than standing tall and benefitting from one another's unique strengths. Most Americans who don't suffer from the blue state PC-kow tow disease have a red state hatred of subtitles. Even if he isn't as big a name here in the U.S. as Guillermo del Toro, he should be. Though they're compared often, to me del Toro's work suffers from a Catholic soapy child-sanctifying le Iglesia avoids, and his first season of FX's THE STRAIN suffers from having to stop every five minutes for these misery-streaked family moments, and the kind of dad who kneels down when talking to his kid, like he's trying to make a slightly mentally-challenged first grader stop crying, instead of talking to him man-to-man and giving him a set of loaded revolvers. I wait for the day la Iglesia does finally break as big here as he deserves, as big as del Toro or bigger. Maybe he will, once he gets less Herzog-level bad at English titles, and once our dads stand up for themselves against the ball-crunching tyranny of the mother-son coalition. America, aren't you ready to stop growing down? Give that boy some guns and take him to the zoo! Libertad para todos los animales!