Re:View – ‘The Witches of Zugarramurdi’

The Arts

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From satire to the supernatural, Alex De La Iglesias is a genre director who rarely puts a foot wrong. His one real disaster was his English language film, ‘The Oxford Murders’. Here he returns to his strengths, mixing elements of earlier hits including ‘Day of the Beast’ and ‘La Comunidad’, with several members of the latter’s cast returning, including the wonderful Carmen Maura.

From the moment Jesus Christ and Spongebob Squarepants rob a pawnbroker and Minnie Mouse gets punched in the face, we know we’re in for a pleasurably naughty horror-comedy. Actually, even before that we get another of the director’s superb title sequences, this time running us through witches of the ages, up to Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher.

A hopeless bunch of robbers, with one delighted child in tow, escape a police cordon (when the mother phones her son to check that he’s getting an organic lunch she’s told ‘No, we’re doing a robbery.’) and their getaway car takes a wrong turn in deep countryside. All the men feel emasculated by their empowered angry women, which is unfortunate because they’ve stumbled into a global conspiracy of witches, about to reach its head on the night they arrive in the rural town of Zugarramurdi, on an ancient spot long associated with witchcraft. And all the witches need to kick off the proceedings is a pot of stolen gold and a small child to sacrifice…

With the police and a very upset wife/mother on the way to complicate matters, the hapless crooks find themselves caught between a very sexy broomstick-fondling witch (played by the wonderfully named Caroline Bang) and a coven whose members seem to be channeling every hag from Hansel & Gretel to the ones in Bugs Bunny and Addams Family cartoons.

This is the director in full-on Joe Dante mode, with loopy sight gags and shards of social comment thrown in. The film is rich with bizarre images, from a face inside a toilet to Carmen Maura doing her dusting on the ceiling, and if the frenetic slapstick pace is somewhat exhausting, by the time we get to the grand convention of witches awaiting the arrival of a truly monstrous Earth Mother Witch, it feels like a series of medieval woodcuts have been brought to life. Quite what the coda means in this Battle of the Sexes Heaven only knows, because there’s no English translation of the film yet (I watched it with downloaded subtitles that were largely gibberish).

However, the film is getting a limited release in the US under the awful title ‘Witching And Bitching’, and no release at all in the UK. It’s a shame because there’s no-one quite like De La Iglesias, whose films include a ‘Wild At Heart’ prequel and a contemporary remake of Billy Wilder’s ‘Ace In The Hole’, as well as a very funny Hitchcock-homage called ‘Ferpect Crime’ (yes, that spelling is correct).