DAY OF THE BEAST, THE

R
Reviews

A resolutely blasphemous black comedy, The Day of the Beast won several Spanish awards when it was released in 1995. Now it seems unlikely to attract anything more than cult attention. When it's not trying to shock viewers with blood and gore, the film strikes some amusing blows at easy targets like television and consumerism. But its uneven tone could leave viewers more confused than entertained.

In a deceptively solemn opening, Father Angel Berriartua (Alex Angulo), a college professor, tells an elderly colleague that he has decoded the Book of Revelation. When the colleague is immediately crushed under a toppling crucifix, Berriartua leaves for Madrid. He tries to commit as many crimes as he can to attract attention, but the timid, balding priest knows nothing about true evil. After mugging a mime and stealing luggage from a hotel, Berriartua befriends record clerk Jos Maria (Santiago Segura) in a store that sells fake satanic paraphernalia. The two decide that Cavan (Armando De Razza), a TV psychic and the author of books of pop prophecies, has the necessary knowhow to contact the Devil.

Berriartua believes that the antichrist will be born that night, presaging the end of the world unless the priest can summon and defeat the Devil. Cavan helps with an invocation that includes procuring blood from a virginal chambermaid, ingesting drugs, and beating or killing several bystanders. After further misadventures, Cavan brings Berriartua and Jos Maria to a construction site where a homeless mother has just given birth. Here, the three battle the Devil and his emissaries in a climax filled with blood and special effects.

The opening scenes are the most accomplished, with Angulo's deadpan demeanor a good foil to the surreal events surrounding him. He has the right blend of sincerity and naivete to give his quest a kind of crazy logic, while De Razza is slyly amusing as the bogus psychic. Segura is also effective, finding the warmth and humanity underneath his character's tattoos and piercings.

As the story proceeds, director Alex de la Iglesia starts to pretend that the priest's quest is serious, giving the film an unwelcome note of pretension. The light touch used in the opening gives way to an odd mix of broad slapstick and grotesque bloodletting. Unfortunately, de la Iglesia misjudges the timing and impact of the big set-pieces. A scene in which the three heroes hang from a giant neon Schweppes sign, for example, stretches on far too long. Special effects are consistently disappointing by Hollywood standards, and drain the film of realism and tension.

The Day of the Beast (Spanish title: El Dia de la Bestia) had a successful run in Spain, but did less well in the rest of Europe. Its mildly blasphemous subject matter, weak special effects, and at times murky storyline make it a tough sell to mainstream audiences anywhere.

--Daniel Eagan