Very little to recommend this week. A lackluster biopic on the creation of David Bowie’s character, Ziggy Stardust, and the bizarre title Three Pints and a Rabbi involving three strangers that wake up in a pub to find a dead woman missing chunks of flesh. I swear I’m not making that one up. So, I’m stepping out of the comfort zone and doing something I have never done, recommending a series that had me at the edge of my seat and blew my mind with only eight episodes. HBO Max unveils Álex de la Iglesia’s horror/fantasy/mystery/drama, 30 Monedas (translated – 30 Coins). Perhaps the most outrageous story put to screen since Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead franchise, but sans the humor. That means hours of nail-biting intensity.
The title refers to the thirty pieces of silver that Judas was given to betray Jesus. The opening credits portray the insanity and gruesomeness of both the demise of Jesus and Judas that will probably have you decide whether or not you want to put yourself through this ordeal of intense awe and terror that only de la Iglesia and his writing partner Jorge Guerricaechevarría can conjure. Basically, this is Warner Brothers/HBO Max’s apology for the disappointing last Conjuring movie.
This is not the first time I have praised Álex de la Iglesia’s vision. The man is like an insane combination of a hardcore Guillermo del Toro and Ken Russell (Altered States, Tommy) with dizzy nightmarish visuals and an odd sense of dark humor, displayed from the very beginning with his first film, The Day of the Beast, that he collaborated with his writing partner Jorge Guerricaechevarría.
They went on to even more impressive fare with Perdita Durango (Dance With The Devil) starring a young Rosie Perez and Javier Bardem, their first American film, The Oxford Murders with Elijah Wood and John Hurt and the funny and subversive Witching and Bitching, along with an impressive line up of other oddities that are well worth checking out.
But, nothing these two have done can compare to 30 Coins, which had me gasping at times at what I was watching. This tale of an exiled priest, boxer and ex-convict that flees to a remote village in Spain to escape his demons is a must for fans of horror and suspense. From the opening shot of a cow giving birth, and the entire village rife with rumor as to what was delivered, to demon possession, Ouija boards and cursed mirrors.
What some could easily turn into a pedestrian affair, de la Iglesia and Guerricaechevarría weave a tawdry tale that is both fresh and frightening while littered with great characters. Eduard Fernández is an actor with nearly as many transformations as a young Robert De Niro. Fernández plays Padre Vergara, who at one time was involved in an exorcism that went drastically wrong and left him with an unusual souvenir from the demon that challenged him…a silver coin that may date back to the crucifixion.
As mentioned, he has made the village his home to escape his past. But, that history may be catching up with him with the strange birth of a child, a missing young girl and the reappearance of the same ancient coin to haunt him. People in the village begin to die mysterious deaths and paranormal sightings only get stranger as time goes on. What makes the whole affair more interesting is those that end up helping him. The mayor of the village, Paco, and the town veterinarian, Elena, who helped deliver the mystery child.
Paco is a sensitive soul who tries to have time for everybody, which puts a strain on his marriage, not mention the obvious attraction he has for Elena, but he tries to keep his relationship with her professional. As they continue to delve into the mystery surrounding them, their affinity for one another becomes progressively stronger. That mystery involves the coin which could be one of the 30 coins given to Judas to betray Jesus which may lead to a conspiracy revolving around the Holy See also called the Sea of Rome involving the Bishop of Rome, the Pope and Vatican City.
Some may find this show blasphemous and that’s understandable. Others will be captured by its mystery and marvel at its dynamic visuals while in awe of the effects and intrigued with the story and its characters. The whole production has the look of a high-budgeted feature film thanks to cinematographer Pablo Rosso, known better in the states for his eerie lensing of the rec franchise and Netflix’s fright flick that some viewers insisted they could not watch all the way through, Verónica. Also, over 70 effects crew members deliver visual scares that consistently catch us by surprise with cliffhanging horrors.
30 Coins is only eight episodes and each one of them bears one surprise after another. Some may take issue with the subtitles, but that should not stop you from viewing one of the most visceral and terrifying experiences in a long time. Álex de la Iglesia and Jorge Guerricaechevarría could very well prove to be the new masters of the macabre. If you’re looking for real frights and don’t have HBO Max, now is the time to subscribe.
Visit Ray’s blog at themonsterinmyhead.com.