Between 1812 and 1815, The Brothers Grimm published two volumes of collected tales titled: “Children’s and Household Tales.” One of the stories inside was an old European fairy tale commonly known as The Smith and the Devil. Usually the Faustian story involves a blacksmith who makes a pact with the Devil, death or a genie—selling his soul for some kind of power only to trick the wicked spirit out of the prize. The blacksmith throughout folklore is often considered a motif for malevolence noting that the medieval imagery of Hell may be drawn from the enflamed nature of the smith at his forge.
I recently watched the 2018 Spanish film “Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil” that comes from director Paul Urkijo Alijo in his feature film debut. The script was written by Paul along with writer Asier Guerricaechebarria. Looking at the filmmaker’s past work in short films it is pretty evident that Urkijo Alijo loves monsters and fairy tales. He pulls his version of the old tale from an anthropologist priest named JM Barandiaran, much like the Brothers Grimm, spent his life recording legends from the Basque Country—located on the border of France and Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. The story was one of his favorites as a kid and the director wants viewers to understand that this film is meant to be taken in as one of those movies we watched as wide-eyed children in the 1980’s. Titles such as The Dark Crystal, Legend and the work of Terry Gilliam. Though he isn’t interested in mimicking anyone else’s work but wanting to let us know that this is a children’s fairy tale with touches of darkness.
The film begins during the first Carlist War, a series of civil wars that took place in Spain during the 19th century. We meet a blacksmith fighting in the war named Francisco Patxi (Kandido Uranga) who has been captured by government soldiers and is to be executed with several other prisoners. But the Smith makes a pact with a demon so that he might see his wife again and the two slay the soldiers. The film then moves ahead 8 years where we meet a government investigator named Alfredo Ortiz (Ramon Agirre) who is searching for Patxi, now a hermit blacksmith living in a fortified forge in a small village where the locals fear the smith, believing him to have murdered his wife.
The villagers don’t trust the investigator and believe he is only there to steal gold he suspects Patxi has. A young, disfigured orphan girl named Usue (Uma Bracaglia) is bullied by a local boy who tears her doll in two and tosses it over the barrier to the Smith’s forge. Usue manages to sneak into the blacksmith’s home only to find a young boy locked up in a cage claiming the evil blacksmith has been torturing him. Usue releases the boy who turns out to actually be a demon named Sarteal whom the Smith has kept locked up. Believing the smith has kidnapped the little girl, Ortiz rallies the villagers to go rescue her.
The first thing to note about this film is it’s incredible art direction and production design. The film was made for about 3 million dollars but it looks like it cost four times as much. The art direction is attributed to Izaskun Urkijo while the stunning set decoration credits go to Paula de Granvar Palomares-Martinez. I must also note cinematography duties went to Gorka Gomez Andreu. This film is so beautiful, filled with vivid colors and expert world building with endless details within. The cast is outstanding but the film is definitely stolen by actor Eloi Ruiz De Erentxum in an award-winning performance as the demon, Sartael.
Now we get into the character design and make-up fx. Simply wow. Sartael’s full body demon costume is jaw-dropping. I wish I knew who to credit so I’ll mention everyone listed under the positions of make-up and special fx: Cesar Alonso, Beatriz Lopez, Tono Garzon, Pedro Rodriguez, Daniel Vidal, Ignacio Miguel, Mikel Herrera and Jon Serrano. Eloi Ruiz’s performance in the film is simply marveling. You will be literally blown away by the amazing work the filmmakers achieved in bringing this fairy tale to the screen.
So much of Old-World folklore can be found within the story. One of my favorites being that if you throw chickpeas on the ground a demon must count them. The design of the demons in the film and beyond are straight out of the works of Dutch/Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch and other depictions of hell and it’s dwellers found in medieval paintings.
“The Blacksmith and the Devil” was produced by film director Alex de la Iglesia who you should know from his outrageous films like Witching & Bitching, The Last Circus and 800 Bullets. And if you haven’t seen his filmography I highly recommend you dive right in and get very dirty. This film has a lot of what filmgoers come to expect from Spanish fantasy and horror filmmaking—beautiful production value and design with magical visual sets and character designs with dark fairy tale horror painted with a touch of humor and heavy emotion. In Spain it takes a lot to get a feature film made. It took Paul seven years to bring Errementari to the screen and he spent 15 years prior learning his craft making short films. The time paid off as this is one stunning feature film debut that deserves your attention.
Check it out now on Netflix. Sadly only in a dubbed version though the dubbing I will add is some of the best Ive heard. The voice actors put a lot of effort and depth into their performances.