Color, 2013, 114 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Álex de la Iglesia
Starring Hugo Silva, Mario Casas, Pepón Nieto, Carolina Bang, Carmen Maura, Macarena Gómez, Terele Pávez, Jaime Ordóñez, Gabriel Delgado, Santiago Segura, Secun de la Rosa
IFC Midnight (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Universal (Blu-ray & DVD) (Spain RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
The career of wildly inventive Spanish filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia has taken some very unexpected turns over the past fifteen years or so, never quite hitting a breakthrough but maintaining a steady cult following after his attention-getting The Day of the Beast, Perdita Durango, and La Comunidad. An attempt at mainstream English-language success misfired with the strangely muted The Oxford Murders in 2010, but otherwise he's been reliably turning out wonderfully eccentric and energetic films that usually defy the limits of genre conventions. After his very dark satire As Luck Would Have It in 2011, he unleashed one of his wildest visions with Las brujas de Zugarramurdi, which was snapped up for limited U.S. distribution from IFC under the sillier title Witching & Bitching. Again it's a film that should have been a bigger crossover hit than it turned out to be, but anyone lucky enough to stumble across the film has certainly never forgotten it with a narrative structure that feels like From Dusk Till Dawn on mescaline.
While dressed up in silver body paint as a street-performing Jesus, José (Silva) leads a pawn shop holdup with his cohort, Antonio (Casas), and José's young son, Sergio (Delgado), along for the ride. Though they escape with a stash of loot, the robbery turns fatal and sends the trio off to hijack a taxi driven by Manuel (Ordóñez) out into the countryside. Meanwhile they're being pursued by two policemen and Sergio's mother, Silvia (Dagon's Gómez), only for all of their paths to cross at different points with a coven of flesh-eating witches in the town of Zugarramurdi. Graciana (Maura) and her fiery mother, Maritxu (Pávez), and daughter Eva (Bang) are the leaders of the clan, which has a diabolical plan in store for Sergio as part of their big upcoming ritual.
Wildly unpredictable and sporting insane gender politics you'll be trying to untangle for a while, Witching & Bitching doles out its supernatural shocks in steady doses after a wild but relatively grounded opening sequence with the robbery pulled off it broad daylight. Along the way it also turns into an interesting and compassionate look at different aspects of parenthood, showing how parents' flaws can take on a different form in their children and even get rejected and turned against their elders along the way. Most of de la Iglesia's films are impeccably cast, and this one's no exception with Maura clearly enjoying her reunion with him after her spectacular leading turn in La comunidad; Bang, the director's real-life wife, also gets some juicy showcase moments here, while his longest-running repertory member here, the wild-eyed Pávez, makes such a strong impression she was a key fixture of most of the key art. The film won't necessarily be to all tastes and indulges in a couple of CGI flourishes that didn't even quite cut it at the time, but it's such a giddy blast of monster movie fun that anyone who enjoys de la Iglesia's style -- or is curious to try him out for the first time -- would be wise to check it out.
The first home video release of this film came in early 2014 in Spain from Universal on Blu-ray and DVD, albeit with Spanish-language options only and a trailer as an extra. IFC originally released the film on DVD back in 2014, a puzzling decision that left us all high and dry for an English-friendly Blu-ray release for seven years. Fortunately that long wait has been rewarded with a U.S. Blu-ray from IFC Midnight through its deal with MPI and distributed in a limited slipcover edition via Diabolik. The transfer looks like what was on the Spanish Blu-ray, which is good news as that was already a solid presentation that preserved the film's stylized and sometimes extreme color schemes with an emphasis on gold throughout. Audio is presented in Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo options; stick with the former as it's way more dynamic and has lots of fun channel separation, with optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles included. Though it isn't designated on the packaging, the disc also features three promotional featurettes: "The Story" (2m44), essentially an EPK-style collage of production footage and an interview with the director; "The Characters" (4m6s) featuring de la Iglesia chatting about his conception of the protagonist and the conflict he finds himself in, again with some behind-the-scenes footage; and "Heist in Puera del Sol" (2m59s), covering the filming of the insane opening robbery scene. The subtitled IFC trailer is also included.
Reviewed on June 2, 2021