Baroquely sinister and grotesquely funny, the latest overstimulated bout of dark comic mayhem from writer-director Álex de la Iglesia (Common Wealth, The Day of the Beast) is a stunning funhouse-mirror allegory of Franco-era Spain that makes Pan's Labyrinth look like Sesame Street. In the middle of the Spanish Civil War (circa 1937) and his own performance, a circus clown in drag is interrupted by a militia, given a machete, and unwillingly enlisted to slaughter the Nationals outside. From prison later, he commands his young son/apprentice Javier to play the "sad clown" because, robbed of his childhood, he's better equipped for revenge than making anyone laugh. In postprologue 1973, the end days of Franco's regime, a grown Javier (Jorge Clemente, looking uncannily like Judah Friedlander sans hat) has joined a Madrid big top as the metaphorically gallant common man and literally greasepaint-slathered scapegoat to a drunkenly sadistic "happy clown" boss (Antonio de la Torre, standing in for fascist authoritarianism), whose acrobat lover (Carolina Bang) would then be the masochistic motherland nursing a sick codependency. The ensuing love triangle and whimsically lurid horror eventually dilute the analogy, but the machine-gun-toting, vertigo-inducing, dually disfigured clowno-a-clowno climax alone is one of the nuttiest sequences to invade theaters this year.
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