By John A. Riley
In Alex de la Iglesia’s second feature, a priest discovers a Biblical code that prophesies Satan’s appearance on Earth. He enlists the help of an LSD-loving heavy metal fan and the presenter of a TV show about the paranormal to prevent this catastrophe, which confusingly involves the priest trying to sell his soul to Satan.
Day of the Beast is a stylish film full of well-composed shots. Its gleeful inverse theology and blasphemous imagery would appear to put it in the tradition of Luis Buñuel’s satires. However, it is also a wilfully trashy horror comedy, fitting perfectly with the 1990s spirit of Beavis and Butthead and Rob Zombie.
Sadly, after the credit sequence, in which the priest tries to commit as many sins as possible to make himself more contactable by Satan, many of the film’s set-pieces seem fumbled, or badly paced. The film seems awkwardly poised between action, horror and comedy. But the choice of Puerta de Europa as the location for the final showdown between priest and Antichrist is inspired. Still under construction when the film was being shot, these audaciously inclined skyscrapers represent a gleaming future that the film plays on (and their use recalls a similarly mythic use of the World Trade Centre in the early Tom Hanks film Monsters and Mazes).
The combination of postmodern architecture with a Satanic catastrophe suggests that we can’t really escape the past; however grand our future may seem, we can’t escape old superstitions, old mistakes. Further, the use of the towers in this context play on the audience’s fear of a different sort of “end of the world.” The fear that the promised future of globalisation will actually fail, leading to a breakdown: the contrast between the massive structure and the hapless immigrants we see throughout the film gives us a sense that this is already about to happen.
Although the film’s plot is counter-intuitively presented, the use of fascists (who have been a background element until the film’s final reel) as the harbringers of the antichrist is inspired. Astutely, de la Iglesia shows them as well-dressed middle class men in sunglasses, not caricatured skinheaded bully boys. But their crimes are no less brutal or unforgiving. It’s a shame that the nature of fantasy film (or genre and profit-minded producers) called for a CGI Satan stalking the half-constructed Puerta de Europa and menacing our heroes, because the real threat to civilisation comes from the near-superstitious ignorance stoked by fascism, a “solution” that, lets not forget, was implemented in Spain until the mid-1970s.