Cult director Alex de la Iglesia's latest movie, "The Last Circus," opens with dizzying montage that includes shots of Spanish dictator Franco and clips from the notorious 1970s exploitation flick "Cannibal Holocaust" before settling into the movie's prologue. Set in 1937, during the height of the Spanish Civil War, a militia of rebels coerce a clown midperformance to fight for their cause. Armed with a machete and still in costume, the clown charges straight into a platoon of government troops and manages to single-handedly dispatch all of them. There are few images more unnerving than a close-up of a clown in the thrall of pure, unadulterated bloodlust.
De la Iglesia's work has always navigated the sadly underexplored cinematic territory between Luis Bunuel and Monty Python. His Spanish-language work -- like "800 Bullets" and "The Day of the Beast" -- are chock-full of exuberant violence, pungent imagery, and delirious story lines. His attempts at crossing into English-language cinema, like his last film, "The Oxford Murders," felt leaden, as if the challenges of working in a foreign language had sapped the crazy right out of him.
In a recent interview, however, the director admitted that "I totally let myself go in this film." Considering that his 1992 debut, "Accion mutante," featured, among other things, an aerobics-class massacre at the hands of a terrorist group populated by handicapped people, that says something.
The meat of "The Last Circus" plays out in 1973 during the waning days of Franco's regime, when Javier, son of the aforementioned clown killing machine, joins the big top. He soon finds himself in a spiraling battle to the death with a fellow clown for the affections of a beautiful acrobat. What follows are some of the most lurid and bizarre acts of clown-on-clown violence you're likely to see this year.
Also opening this week: "Mozart's Sister," Rene Feret's biopic of Wolfgang Amadeus's frustrated and overshadowed sibling; John Sayle's drama "Amigo," about America's colonial war in the Philippines; and a quirky Aussie superhero spoof, "Griff the Invisible."
See the trailer from 'The Last Circus':