The set-up for Witching and Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi) sounds like the first line of a joke: Jesus, Spongebob Squarepants and Minnie Mouse walk into a jewelry store. What follows, however, is not particularly funny, although the movie makes it darkly comic anyway. Guns come out, bullets fly and bodies pile up. The three disguised robbers, along with a 10-year-old boy, hijack a taxi and make a fast getaway. But they end up in a ghost town that is the hunting ground for a pack of old witches, led by a cackling Carmen Maura, who are eager to welcome fresh meat into their coven.
Witching and Bitching was directed by Spanish bad boy Álex de la Iglesia, who attempted to cross over to the U.S. in 1997 with Perdita Durango, an English-language semi-sequel to Wild at Heart starring Javier Bardem, Rosie Perez and a then-skinny James Gandolfini. But the film’s demonic sense of humor and outrageous violence proved too much for American distributors, who chopped the film to secure an R rating and dumped it onto DVD under the title Dance with the Devil.
The disappointing experience led de la Iglesia to experiment with more respectable genres (including the 2004 comedy The Perfect Crime) and conventional, restrained thrillers (2008’s The Oxford Murders). But in 2010’s insane, nightmarish The Last Circus (arguably his best movie), de la Iglesia returned to his over-the-top tendencies. And in Witching and Bitching, he climbs an even higher peak.
The movie, co-written by his frequent collaborator Jorge Guerricaechevarría, starts out as a surreal crime caper and ends up as a supernatural monster mash worthy of Guillermo Del Toro, complete with enormous creatures. Witching and Bitching is so lively and energetic and funny, you forgive the fact that some of the characters’ motivations and sudden change of attitudes don’t always make sense, or that some of the CGI effects in the final 30 minutes aren’t quite up to Hollywood standards. This is a swift, dark and nasty horror comedy that occasionally dances into territory deemed taboo by American filmmakers. De la Iglesia’s knack for offending audiences while showing them a good time is stronger than ever: Witching and Bitching isn’t much on substance or logic, but man, is it fun.
Cast: Hugo Silva, Mario Casas, Pepon Nieto, Carmen Maura, Carolina Bang, Terele Pavez.
Director: Álex de la Iglesia.
Screenwriters: Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Álex de la Iglesia.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 104 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, violence, gore, nudity, sexual situations, strong adult themes. Opens Friday June 13 in Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.