Horror comedy is a tough genre of movie to pull off correctly. You can’t sway two heavily to either horror or comedy sides, and you need to make sure that whatever horror tropes you’re lampooning doesn’t come across as patronizing to horror fans. You also need to make sure that you aren’t spoofing the subject-du-jour, and if you are, make sure you do it well lest you get your movie lumped in with money grubbing satirists or become a parody of yourself. Most meta-slasher or slasher parody films nowadays are just rehashes of Wes Craven’s 1996 masterpiece, Scream. A couple movies put fun little spins on the formula, but for the most part, they’re becoming as repetitive as slasher flicks did back in the ’80s and ’90s.
Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi or, it’s catchier English title, Witching & Bitching, is a comedy(?) horror(?) action adventure film from Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia. This movie seems to spoof old occult and witch movies from the ’70s, but it definitely takes some pages from Robert Rodriguez and Sam Raimi’s books as well. The movie is about a couple of guys, José (Hugo Silva) and Tony (Mario Casas) who stick up a gold buying store with José’s elementary school aged kid, Sergio (Gabriel Delgado). In their getaway they team up with Manuel, a down on his luck taxi driver who decides he’d much prefer to be a gold thief than a cabbie. Police and José’s wife are in pursuit, but before they can catch them, José and his crew run into a coven of witches. Things get out of hand incredibly quickly, and hilarity(?) ensues.
I have very mixed feelings about this movie. Was it scary? No, it wasn’t, but that’s not a huge deal. Was it funny? Yes, in some parts, but the comedy for me came from most of the dialogue. José, Tony, and Manuel are all guys who are working through problems with their girlfriends or wives, and seeing them bicker back in forth while in pursuit by the local police and while trying to shield Sergio’s young ears from the adult subject matter at hand is pretty funny. While you get a good sense for everyone’s character, the problem is that everybody in this movie is a dickhead. It’s hard to care about these characters when the main conflict of the movie rolls around, because while they have relatable problems they don’t really have any endearing facets to them either. Sure, José has Sergio and wants to keep him happy, but he nearly leaves Sergio behind for Eva, a sexy biker witch played by Carolina Bang. I swear that’s her real name and not the name of a ’70s porn star. The lack of empathy the audience has towards the characters is fine to have at the beginning of the film, but presumably there should be an arc for these characters. They go through arduous conflicts and trials, and they should come out the other end as changed people. Honestly, the only one who does is Tony. He’s scared of his so-confident-she’s-intimidating lawyer girlfriend, and at the end of the movie he’s able to pull her away from a work related call. Nobody else changes, and that makes this nearly two hour movie a bit of a grating experience.
Visually the movie is all over the place. The beginning and most of the climax are incredibly well shot, with beautiful costumes (seriously, the sequence where Sergio is brought into the cave to be sacrificed is amazing), sets, and production design, but some scenes boast shoddy CGI and awkward green screening. I can understand that in some cases CGI is more cost efficient than going entirely with practical effects but throughout the movie Iglesia proved that he could use practical effects incredibly well. It was disappointing to see CG used in places he could have gone practical, like when any of the witches are climbing on a wall or ceiling Spiderman style or close ups of the monstrous Goddess the witches summon in the last act of the movie. Luis, Eva’s leperous, locked away brother (the legendary Javier Botet) had amazing makeup that looked like his skin was really falling off. Compare that to the terrible CG used for The Goddess near the end, and it looks like two different movies. The cinematography also jumped back and forth between smooth, long shots for some of the action scenes, and shaky, jerkily edited scenes a là Taken 3. I tried to figure out why, but as far as I can tell, the spastic action scenes could have just as easily been been filmed like the smooth and easy to digest ones.
Overall, I’m pretty neutral on Witching & Bitching. It starts off really promising, and a couple scenes show you how good of a movie this could have been, but overall it feels like two different directors took turns making this movie. The dialogue is pretty solid, the set design and what few practical effects are used all look awesome, but it comes across as From Dusk Till Dawn (it should seriously be ‘Til, not Till) written by Alejandro Jodorowsky and directed by a Tim Burton with split personalities. If you like kooky cult movies that don’t take themselves seriously (I usually do, but this one just didn’t strike a chord with me) or want to see a nearly naked Carolina Bang (spoilers: you do), check out Witching & Bitching. For my fellow Great White Northers, you can find it available to stream on Netflix. If you’ve seen it, let me know what you think! I’ve heard a lot of praise for this movie and since I don’t seem to be appreciating it as much as some others, I’m interested to hear different people’s opinions on it.