The Day of the Beast [El Dia de la Bestia]
by Del Harvey
This campy Spanish import has a twisted sense of black comedy and wit that make it fun to watch and a “classic,” of sorts.
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I can’t quite get a handle on Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia. I’ve seen his perverse tale of two highway bandits, Perdita Durango (Dance with the Devil, 1997), starring Rosie Perez and Javier Bardem as her demonic lover who needs humans to sacrifice before he can go on a mission for his mob boss. It is a very strange film with excessive violence and gore, black magic, kidnapping, criminals double-crossing criminals, and a nice supporting turn by James Gandolfini. But it is very different from Dia de la Bestia, a horror film which is really a tale of theosophical conjecture told via black comedy. There really is more to this film than what first meets the eye.
The film opens in a church, where the bashful Padre Angel Beriartua (Alex Angulo) tells his colleague that he’s deciphered the Revelation of John, which tells of The Apocalypse. He believes that The Apocalypse is but a few days away. Instead of surrendering to prophecy, he tells his compadre that he must do evil, so that he may call up the Devil, sell his soul to him, and stop The Apocalypse. No sooner does he say this and turn away than a massive crucifix topples over and crushes his partner.
This decision seems silly at the time. But soon the priest is wandering the streets, doing evil. He starts out small, at first, and then works his way up the charts, carrying out his acts in simple but effective ways. Such as pushing a mime off a news rack with his finger, as though testing out the possibility of the thing while actually doing it. He is quite serious in his convictions, and it soon becomes apparent that his decision is not only unusual but also insightful to the deeper religious questions underlying the theme of the film.
The priest picks up two accomplices along the way, and calls the trio “the three wise men.” The first is a heavy metal record store clerk named Jesus - Santiago Segura, a popular actor in Spain and recurring favorite of de Iglesia’s. He takes an immediate liking to the unassuming little priest and sends him to the boarding house where he lives with his mother Rosario (Terele Pavez) and the live-in cook/cleaner, the attractive Mina (Nathalie Sesena). The third member of their trio is a TV celebrity named Cavan, who sells sensationalism under the guise of the occult. He has also sold his soul to the Devil, so he’s a prime candidate for their little sojourn. Although, he does take a lot more convincing than Jesus did.
The film follows the priest’s attempt to raise the Devil, so to speak, and Jesus’ helping him out along the way. There is a subtle shift in the tenor of the film which leaves the simple guise of horror film behind at about the halfway mark, and evolves into a very real rite of passage as the trio bonds in their pursuit of this noble mission. One of the most interesting aspects in the whole endeavor is that they do become genuinely noble in their effort, and yet they cannot tell anyone the truth of their quest because no one would believe them. And, if they do succeed, there would be no proof. So even though they might win, they will only have their own feelings of accomplishment to appease them. All in all, this is a very intriguing conundrum, and elevates the film beyond the limits of the average horror flick.
There are thankfully few effects in the film, which really helps the believability factor. The action sequences and the gore are also kept to a minimum; but what little we are shown is respectable. Director de Iglesia’s direction is good, and I have to wonder what I may have missed though a subtitled version.
Even so, Dia de la Bestia is a lot of fun while still being a little deeper than most of the Scream’s and I Know What You Did’s. It’s campy fun that makes you think. And that ain’t bad.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and lives in Chicago. He is a survivor of the Directors Guild of America, the Walt Disney Company, and Lucasfilm.
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