Twelve Days of Axe-mas: The Day of the Beast (1995)

I am taking part in The Chicago Creepout’s Twelve Days of Axe-mas holiday viewing event. This is my day eleven.

Álex de la Iglesia is one of those directors whose ideas have always been just a little too clever for the films he builds around them. With The Day of the Beast, he couched an angry screed at the Catholic Church within a dark comedy of errors that eventually was unable to reconcile the darker elements of its plot with a goofy tone. But quite frankly, the fact that the film was unable to pull together as a complete piece of storytelling does not matter. What does matter is what the film has to say about religions stuck in the middle ages while the world faces very modern perils.

I’m not going to review the film or give a plot synopsis. What I am going to do is spoil the hell out of certain plot points to make my case. I encourage everyone to check out the film and come back to read my view of what the film is actually about, when you look past the slapstick fights, obvious media satire, and juvenile laughs gained through unnecessary nudity. You may agree with me and you may not, but I would love to hear the opinions of those who have seen the film.

The film gives us a protagonist in Father Cura (Álex Angulo) who is the embodiment of the out-of-date Catholicism. Outside of the university where he teaches, he is clueless about how the world works. He is so concerned with a supposed code hidden in the Bible that reveals the Antichrist will be born on Christmas, he fails to notice true evil in the form of cruel people torturing and killing homeless people on the streets of Madrid. That a member of the clergy would be more concerned with supernatural bullshit from the dark ages when faced with the evils of the modern world is the strongest attack in the film.

But there are other, more humorous ways that de la Iglesia shows the Church to be out of touch. As part of Cura’s convoluted conspiracy theory and his efforts to stop the birth of the Antichrist, he feels he has to meet with Satan. To summon the Devil, he seeks out people who have been made scapegoats over the years by religious figures trying to drum up publicity, specifically a long-haired, tattooed clerk (Santiago Segura) in a heavy metal record store and a sham television psychic (Armando De Razza). Even more ridiculously, Cura believes he might be able to divine a message from Satan by playing metal albums backward, a goofy notion that all but the most hysterical of religious nutjobs have rejected. That Cura thinks he has contacted Satan after dropping acid also points out how ridiculous his beliefs are.

Even with the vicious glee that de la Iglesia sends up Cura and the church he stands for, the film never is openly mocking of faith. Instead, it mocks the misguided nature of taking ancient scripture literally. This is shown through the affection de la Iglesia shows to Cura. He’s never portrayed as a malicious person. He’s merely a dope who thinks he has all the answers when he doesn’t even know the questions.

Of course, the sympathy that de la Iglesia shows to Cura eventually extends to allowing the man to stumble his way into being a hero in the end. Does Cura believe he has killed the Devil, or does he realize he simply eliminated a sick man who was murdering homeless people all over the city? The point is never made clear and the dark turn in the climax that finds several innocents being murdered takes away from much of the fun on display, but the film remains a relentless indictment of a religion that has failed to evolve and understand the true evils in a world that is full of them.

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