The Ugliest Woman in the World Review

With its vision of a near future, killer nun (or is she?), scientific experiments and Miss Spain competition, The Ugliest Woman in the World has a number of ingredients which could add up to a cult movie. Indeed, comparisons to the works of Alex de la Iglesia have also been bandied about, yet this never feels like a piece which is self-consciously striving for such a status. Of course, in combining such elements director Miguel Bardem must have been aware of such a prospect, whilst the use of such annoying devices such as the fish eye lens and having a camera swoop into a screaming mouth do suggest that he’s screaming out for attention, but on the whole his film remains agreeable without ever having to bludgeon its audience.

Key its success is Bardem’s decision to focus on the fundamentals. The Ugliest Woman in the World is first and foremost a thriller before it even considers the schlock-ier elements. Essentially, we have a serial killer flick in which a team of detectives, fronted by Roberto Àlvarez, track down whoever has been annually slaying former Miss Spain winners. Perhaps not the most promising of setups, but then Bardem paces it extremely well, divulging relevant information only when he sees fit. Moreover, the ensuing twists and turns – if removed from the futuristic setting – could easily form the basis of a smart giallo or two. Indeed, to demonstrate just how much The Ugliest Woman… relies on its plotting, and Bardem’s handling of it, it is worth noting that once the killer has been unmasked and the motivations made clear, the film begins to seriously flag.

That said, Bardem is still in possession of a number of other tricks with which to keep his audience interested. The casting, especially, is to enthusiastically received, made up, as it is, by a number of agreeable and likeable presences, most notably Javivi who thankfully shoulders much of the humour quotient and therefore allows The Ugliest Woman… as a whole to be played relatively straight. Plus there’s a chirpy little Danny Elfman-esque score from Juan Bardem which likewise impresses for its comparative subtlety; look at the cover image, theatrical trailer or even the opening scene and The Ugliest Woman in the World certainty doesn’t look as though it is going to be in possession of these qualities.

And yet, there’s little to this film beyond its surface. Bardem may chuck in a few digs directed at Spanish politics and continually espouse some vague “inner beauty” sentimentality, but this is ultimately a rather facile affair. Of course, this isn’t to say that it also doesn’t prove highly entertaining, though it perhaps sets itself up as a potential rental prospect as opposed to being a must-own disc.

The Disc

The Ugliest Woman in the World comes to the UK DVD market in fine if not perfect form. It has been granted an anamorphic transfer (at a ratio of 1.78:1) from a mostly clean print, but is sadly lacking the requisite sharpness. Certainly, it is by no means unwatchable, but then a film made as recently as 1999 is perhaps deserving of something a little better. (Since writing this review, I've been informed that the master used for this disc was identical to that of Columbia's Spanish release.) As for the soundtrack, we are offered a choice of either DD2.0 or DD5.1 mixes. As with the image, both are agreeably clean and present no great problems – indeed, choosing between the two is likely to be down to the individual’s preference and/or method of viewing.

As for extras, these amount to a slick ‘making of’ featurette, which runs for – minutes, plus a handful of trailers, a gallery and promos for forthcoming releases from Nucleus Films. Understandably then, it is only the featurette which is truly essential and whilst it may not be the focussed piece you’ll come across it does do a fair job of covering the production’s various aspects. Oddly, this piece also highlights the trashier/campier aspects of the film rather than demonstrate that its comparative subtleties. Indeed, some of the interviewees likewise take this approach and treat the featurette with minimal seriousness.

As with the main feature, all special features, where applicable, come in their original Spanish language with optional English subtitles.

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