I’ve been hyping Álex de la Iglesia’s Witching & Bitching (Las Brujas De Zugarramurdi) awfully hard around these parts, so it brings me great pleasure to finally announce that I’ve seen the film, I love the film, and I no longer have to fear slinking away with my tail between my legs. Yes, once again De la Iglesia exemplifies why he’s one of the most interesting Spanish filmmakers currently churning out foreign cinema, adopting frantic storytelling much like Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez might dream up. Witches aren’t an easy cult for horror fans to fall in love with, despite being a prolific symbol for scares, but De la Iglesia thrives where most falter. You don’t name your film Witching & Bitching unless you can live up to such brazen, confident titling, and thankfully, the outlandish filmmaker does.
Many fables surround the Spanish town of Zugarramurdi, but most famous are the accounts of the little hideaway housing an entire coven of witches. While many believe the tall tales are just superstitious nonsense, a group of jewelry thieves learn that witches are actually real entities hiding among the living, and these robbers find their getaway derailed by the group of supernatural women. Stuck in Zugarramurdi, three men and a child are forced to fight off the horde of witches before they’re able to complete some type of ritual – a ritual that predicted each man’s appearance. All our thieves wanted was a clean escape over the Spanish border, but some particularly bitchy witches have other ideas on an apocalyptic scale. There’s no point in fleeing if there’s no tomorrow to enjoy, is there?
There’s such an admirable vibrancy to De la Iglesia’s filmmaking, because even when typically dealing with darker material (murderous witches/depressed clowns), characters and colors parade around with heightened exuberance. Looking only at the very first robbery scene of Witching & Bitching, every character becomes accentuated by their respective costume with energetic life. Be it José (Hugo Silva), a shiny silver street performer dressed as Jesus Christ, Antonio’s (Mario Casas) equally bright green army man paint, or the other costumed assailants (Spongebob/The Invisible Man/Minnie Mouse), immediately we’re bombarded with De la Iglesia’s lively attitude, and even though settings shift into darkness once we arrive at Zugarramurdi, we never lose that sense of bubbling excitement. Tonally, De la Iglesia favors witchy fun with a bitchin’ badassery over straight Gothic horror, which is perfectly suited for his wild stylings.
De la Iglesia’s most rewarding aspect is an undeniable attention to detail, again mimicking that of pulp filmmakers American audiences might liken to jokier mindsets, but because of horror’s ever-rewarding sense of hilarity, each moment builds a richer experiencer for it. It may sound incredibly simple and silly, but there’s a man dressed as Spongebob Squarepants who gets absolutely riddled with bullets in the opening act, and when we see cops run by the corpse moments later, there’s another random costumed person dressed as Patrick the Starfish grieving over his fallen comrade. Necessary? Certainly not. Astutely brilliant when recognized? Beyond words. De la Iglesia has this wonderful sense of pop-culture lampooning that works itself into every scene, and opportunities are not lost on the vivacious writer/director – a gigantic helping hand to Witching & Bitching‘s success.
As for the horror itself, Witching & Bitching is a sinfully sexy horror romp that shows a crisp freshness unlike the mainstream horror we’re typically subjected to. A wonderful backstory is built around a harem of female witches thirsting for recognition and a thrilling heist sequence is played out with an emphasis on excitement, yet once the true brutality emerges from the shadows (highlighted by grandma’s metal chompers), there’s absolutely no turning back. Witches start walking on the ceiling, deities show their fleshy bodies and De la Iglesia’s quirky coven ascends to horror comedy heights worthy of the darkest honors. While not overly gory, and not necessarily the scariest of horror movies, Witching & Bitching benefits from superb acting and even more lively storytelling – something typically glanced over throughout the horror genre. De la Iglesia doesn’t exactly hit the ground running where horror is concerned, but once he discovers his stride, you’ll have too much damn fun watching our bumbling criminals fight off an untimely fate.
Another extremely interesting aspect of Witching & Bitching circles on a hilarious gender battle between men and women, as each “criminal” harbors some type of resentment towards woman. Meanwhile, all the witches live in a feminine society completely despising a man’s role. While it’s not completely serious, there are some hilariously flipped stereotypes as the men struggle to overcome emotions torn apart by women, yet the witches completely command each male’s lifestyle. Where woman are usually the ones fearing men, we instead find macho bros running away from strong, dignified women capable of our worst nightmares – a hilarious reversal elevating De la Iglesia’s witches to another level of existence. I mean, do you really want to date a witch who could devour your soul at any moment? Yes, even if she looks like Carolina Bang…
Which brings me to my next point – every actor seems to be having unimaginable amounts of fun playing their characters. Carolina Bang embodies a sultry young witch named Eva who does unspeakable, intoxicating things with a broom that I can’t describe without getting flustered, but besides being a drop-dead vixen, she also plays an absolutely perfect genre role. Most of the cast are Spanish natives, with monster-man Javier Botet being the most recognizable name, but heartthrobs Silva and Casas really steal the show with their stooge-ish chemistry. Apparently they’re a pretty big deal in their home country, and I can see why after Witching & Bitching. These two seamlessly play off one another while their lives are in peril, getting some awfully hearty laughs out of otherwise grim scenarios, but the friendship shown on screen builds credibility that De la Iglesia couldn’t have dreamed up – a success that all but seals a positive watching experience.
Witching & Bitching is unfortunately the kind of watch that so many horror fans miss, only to discover years later on a random night of Netflix binging. Some of the best horror movies around must be sough out, and De la Iglesia’s latest is no different. It’s got something for everyone! Fried fingers, plenty of potions, scantily clad witches grinding lathered brooms – this is the witchy greatness you’ve been waiting for. Scares aren’t a focus here, so as long as you’re in the mood to laugh, Witching & Bitching brings top-notch dark comedy that ranks among Zugarramurdi’s finest works – now can someone please make a .gif of Carolina Bang’s broom scene for all of us to gawk at, mouths open with a puddle of drool forming underneath?
Witching & Bitching is a perfect example of how Video On Demand horror movies are making Hollywood's mainstream titles look like bargain bin garbage in comparison.