Barely a few minutes on the HBO MAX series 30 coinsViewers have already seen a cow give birth to a human baby. This eight episode show is clearly about malevolent Christian forces trying to take control of a remote Spanish city and eventually even the Vatican itself. Christian mythology meets Lovecraftian terror in the latest genre bend that entertains the Spanish iconoclast Álex de la Iglesia endlessly. It’s a series of many treasures.
De la Iglesia has been producing cult genre films for nearly 30 years since its science fiction comedy debut in 1993 Mutant action on his 2017 claustrophobic thriller The bar. His cult work is very different in tone and theme: the Christian adventure at the end of the world The day of the beast Spanish genre cinema has been redefined and remains a popular horror curiosity. The comedic love letter to westerns 800 bullets explored the era of Spanish and spaghetti westerns in a fun, heartfelt way. And the weird, dark action dramas The last circus and Witches and bitches showed the world how effortlessly he can combine an increased genre tariff with a nerve-wracking emotional core. His filmography has become a rich carpet of subversive comedies channeling his favorite genres to challenge the expectations of his audiences in Europe and abroad.
30 coins, or 30 coins In the original Spanish title, the focus is on three main characters: Father Vergara, exorcist and ex-cheater; Elena, the accomplished and resourceful veterinarian; and Paco, the cautious and unwilling mayor of the city. This ensemble represents different areas of society: politics, law enforcement, religion and so on. They quickly combine the personal with the universal, thanks to perfect performances that never lose sight of the intimate motivations of their characters.
The pilot episode slowly builds up an atmosphere to eventually fill up Xtro Route, with a shot by Larry Cohen It lives! This opening season is full of cult horror cinema recalls that are built organically into the narrative. A character is sucked into the ground while dreaming, as in A nightmare on Elm Street. The city is surrounded by eternal fog and suffers events reminiscent of older horror stories from Europe and other countries (The vampire night orgy, the films by Paul Naschy etc.). John Carpenter’s The thing is an obvious influence on some of the phenomenal monster designs. Despite all the horrors, the director casts doubts: Are the series’ events the result of fear and paranoia, or are they actually one of the most terrifying incarnations of evil the horror genre has to offer?
Never during the course of the show do the writers suggest that God or the devil are not real. On the contrary: they invite viewers on a journey to find out where the battlefields of good versus evil could lead. The show’s premise is simple: some believe that the truth was always in the Gospel of Judas, an apocryphal, forbidden Gnostic text that calls for a complete reassessment of the Christian faith – namely, that Judas never betrayed Christ but acted exactly the Son of God instructed.
in the 30 coins, the Gnostic sect of the Cainites have become more powerful than ever and are looking for the 30 coins that were paid to Judas for Christ’s betrayal. They believe that whoever manages to find it will possess the ultimate power, which makes it a more coveted price than the Spear of Longinus or the Sacred Chalice. This premise could have unfolded in many ways, and most writers would likely have gone the Dan Brown route. But de la Iglesia and his long-time screenwriting partner Jorge Guerricaechevarría obviously have other plans.
30 coins is set up like a tabletop RPG, with subplots following each other in a narrative that eventually reveals their close connections. The director said it himself
And each episode draws on an extensive network of influences. Since his debut film Mutant actionde la Iglesia has repeatedly demonstrated his extensive knowledge of classical literature and cinema – which he expressly avoided in his early works – and of popular alternative cultures such as comics and exploitative cinema. His new series is a once in a lifetime opportunity to retool some of his greatest influences and give them new meaning, or at least give them a new flavor. Christianity shapes everything on the show, from the landscape to the characters’ mindsets and behaviors. It deals in particular with Spanish religiosity, but also with the way in which people incorporate an inextricable network of mythological excesses into their beliefs.
The stakes are high because they go beyond the physical realm. The series deliberately questions the idea of what constitutes evil and questions the future of belief and spirituality. Although de la Iglesia left its first season open, even though it could have benefited from a more concrete conclusion, the images should delight horror enthusiasts. Genre courts rarely dare to go that far in search of universal, existential substance.
From the church Day of the beast deals with the often diabolical misinterpretation of signs and the misinterpretation of diabolical signs. 30 coins It’s about learning to reread these signs. They are everywhere: the way people pretend to care for one another, the way they use faith to turn it into fear, the way people try to understand the inexplicable rationalize to avoid facing their deepest fears in the way that they won. ‘I confess their close relationship with evil itself. Father Vergara’s journey takes him from asking what God’s plan is to understand that if he wants to find God, he must find God in himself.
But not how Day of the beast – and most of the work of de la Iglesia – 30 coins is by no means a comedy. His 2006 TV horror film The baby room was a rare exception, however 30 coins goes further in scope and ambition and is probably his most discursive horror project.
While the existing sacred texts are put to excellent use by turning them into mythology, the show goes far beyond that: it recovers Christian horror through pop culture Lovecraftian imagery, atmosphere, and euhemerism that add new lore to Christianity. For example, Father Vergara learns that the often mentioned but never described gifts that the biblical kings brought to the newborn Christ were magical scrolls that impart the power of miracles to anyone who uses them, thus explaining the power of Christ by give it a shine in the fantasy genre. The Lovecraftian dimension given in to evil 30 coins is one of the greatest and most satisfying re-appropriations and trivializations of classical myth in modern storytelling. It is an exercise to bring the most influential cultural creation of yesteryear into our deformed, ugly, fear-inducing present.
But it is also not a dry sermon or a means of lecturing on religion. All in 30 coins was designed for maximum audience enjoyment, from blockbuster styles to images like a priest wielding two cannons and walking away from a fire in slow motion. It’s a pop reinterpretation of Christian horror on a scale that is rare for Spanish entertainment. And with it, de la Iglesia can satisfy some of his most nerdy filmmaking desires while conjuring up creatures straight out of mankind’s worst nightmares.