Friday, 22 April 2011

Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt

2004
Dir. Paco Plaza

Spain, 1851. The inhabitants of a small village are terrorised by a savage serial killer. Ravaged corpses bear both animalistic mutilation and precise surgical incisions. As the village is plunged into panic-ridden chaos, travelling salesman Manuel Romasanta eventually confesses to the crimes, but claims that he is not responsible for his actions because he is a werewolf…

Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt is a sensual, unusual, boldly original and at times rather uneven take on the werewolf film. It is based on the true story of Spain’s first documented serial killer, Manuel Blanco Romasanta, who confessed to thirteen murders in the mid-nineteenth century. Writers Elena Serra and Alberto Marini (who specialise in lo-fi, brooding horror such as Darkness, The Machinist and The Fragile) have written a screenplay that concentrates more on presenting the story as a historical drama allegedly based on facts, than a typical monster movie, while director Plaza adopts the slow-burn approach to tease out the story. Before he upped his ante and co-directed the startlingly effective and terrifying camcorder horror [rec], Plaza made the subdued, moody psychological thriller The Second Name, co-written with British horror writer and MR James enthusiast Ramsey Campbell, and Romasanta’s low-key execution shares more in common with that film than the former.


While an interesting take on the genre, Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt is nowhere near as full-blooded as it could be and sadly it eventually just runs out of steam. In place of what should have been a feverish denouement, it just trails off, resulting in an effect akin to someone relaying an intriguing enough story, but just trailing off mid-sentence.
Lush photography and elegant framing techniques ensure the film is always beautiful to look at, and a number of striking moments such as the flaming carriage rushing through the forest at night and the expertly realised and disturbing reverse transformation sequence will sear themselves onto the viewer’s retinas for some time to come. The period setting lends proceedings an irresistibly gothic atmosphere, and events languidly unravel in dark forests, quaint peasant villages and isolated farmhouses.
It’s all just too subdued though; while story development and characterisation are a welcome aspect, the sluggish pacing does have a negative impact on the film.


Leads Julian Sands and Elsa Pataky carry the film, and Sands in particular ignites the screen whenever he appears. The classically trained theatre actor has often been accused of hamming it up in much of his film work. Here however, he plays it straight and never once resorts to histrionics. He is equal parts charming and sinister – a part he is more than able to play considering some of his past roles, such as The Phantom in Dario Argento’s dire Phantom of the Opera and the dashing but deadly Yves Cloquet in David Cronenberg’s queasy Naked Lunch.

Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt is an interesting and beautifully produced, though ultimately quite flawed and rather beige film. While it takes its time to build story and character, it cheats by not providing a fitting pay-off to equal the carefully sustained anticipation.

Romasanta was produced by Brian Yuzna’s Spanish film company Fantastic Factory, a company set up with Julio Fern├índez to produce modestly budgeted genre films for the international market using international genre talent as well as local talent. The lovely folks over at the ever-amazing Arrow Video have gathered together a collection of Fantastic Factory’s output in one beautifully packaged boxset. It serves to highlight the work of an interesting production company and often overlooked filmmaker, Brian Yuzna, whose work, while sometimes uneven, could never be accused of not being interesting.

The Arrow Video boxset was released on 18th April 2011. It includes Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt, Beyond Re-Animator, Arachnid and Faust: Love of the Damned.

Special features on the Romasanta disc include:

- Reversible sleeve featuring brand new and original artwork
- Romasanta: Lycanthropes, Lunacy and the Last Days of The Fantastic Factory
- Making Romasanta: Interviews with director Paco Plaza, stars Julian Sands, Elsa Pataky and John Sharian.
- A featurette on the S/FX design in Romasanta
- Interview with composer Mikel Salas
- Deleted Scenes with introduction and commentary by director Paco Plaza
- Original Trailer
- Double-sided fold-out poster featuring new artwork
- Collector’s booklet ‘Sex, Sun and Sinful Celluloid’ by author and critic Calum Waddell

2.35:1 (16x9) Anamorphic
English Stereo/Spanish 5.1 with optional English subtitles
Region 0 PAL

6 comments:

Aaron said...

This one is known simply as WEREWOLF HUNTER here in the U.S. I agree with you completely on this one. Flawed and with not a lot of substance, but decent quality otherwise. I liked how well shot it was and I pretty much fell in love with Elsa Pataky after seeing this. I didn't notice it before, but both of the leads are connected to Argento. Speaking of which, coincidentally, I just watched his PHANTOM OF THE OPERA earlier and now I get to finally go back and read that entry in your book!

James said...

This, Giallo and Beyond Re-Animator are the only films of Ms Pataky's that I've seen, and I really like her, too. She was very good in this - as was Sands. I like that Romasanta has such has connections to Argento!
Alas, Phantom of the Opera is, in my own humble opinion of course, Argento's least successful film. It LOOKS fantastic; all those sumptuous costumes and that lavish production design. But it's a mess of a film, really. It's all over the place. All that stuff with the rat catchers just seems so inappropriate alongside the melodramatic romance and ultra-violence. Take it away! ;)

Aaron said...

Is it just me, or did she look different in GIALLO, like she got plastic surgery or something? Don't mean to get all gossipy in your comments section. :-)

And yeah, I completely agree with you about PHANTOM. Hopefully I can get a review of it up in the next couple of days when I get back into writing mode (that top 13 list I posted kicked my butt). Have a good weekend, James.

James said...

Um, I like totally don't know and stuff, dude! She changed her hair colour, I know that much! ;)

Looking forward to reading your thoughts on Phantom! Hope you have a nice weekend too, dude.

maren said...

A rather narcisstic film.
Good camerawork, historical setting, the beauty of northern Spains´nature( its galician forest reminding me of Malicks New World)the burning carriage and transformaton scene images....and not much of a story.Wasn´t slow-burning but more like waiting for something that didn´t come
Good to see Julian Sands again, liked his characters low-class background and the absence of.....castles,fog, bogs,dark forests ,american tourists and cursed nobility ´.. but this could have been so much better
Thanks for all the background informations.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I had totally forgotten about this film until I read the press release for Arrow Video's Fantastic Factory collection. I actually caught this at my one and only visit to Frightfest in 2004. I had travelled the 3 hours from Herefordshire to London for the express purpose of seeing the premier of Argento's latest film - this turned out to be THE CARD PLAYER, so you can imagine how disheartening that was. However I did get to see PROFONDO ROSSO theatrically projected. Apologies for this anecdotal digression - I thought ROMASANTA was quite good, even though it did suffer from the presence of the repugnant Julian Sands.