Starring Julian Sands, Elsa Pataky, John Sharian, David Grant
Directed by Paco Plaza
Spain, 1850. Wolves have invaded the forest around the village of Allariz and terrorize the population. People disappear almost every day and the few bodies found have been horribly mauled and surgically drained of their body fat. These inexplicable facts open the way for superstition and rumour spreads fast amongst the villagers. Could there be a werewolf in the region?
Based on a true story, Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt follows the journey of Manuel Romasanta, a travelling salesman accused of murdering 13 people and using their body fat to make soap. Arrested and tried in Allariz in 1852, he avoided capital punishment by claiming that the devil had turned him into a werewolf.
Romasanta is director Paco Plaza’s second feature after The Second Name, a follow-up to Jaume Balaguero’s The Nameless. It is also, without a doubt, the best movie so far to come out of Brian Yuzna’s Barcelona-based production company Fantastic Factory, a subdivision of Filmax International that, for those who may not remember, has already given birth to Darkness, Dagon and Beyond Re-animator to name a few.
With a screenplay based on the trial documents of the Romasanta case, and making very few departures from the actual story, the movie strikes a balance between reality and superstition. The supernatural elements are rather low-key, though it is impossible not to mention a beautiful and very original transformation from wolf to man. The atmosphere is creepy and moody, but Romasanta also benefits from a very realistic focus on its historical and scientific context, such as the depiction of the works of Professor Phillips, an anthropologist who insisted Romasanta’s judges regard the accused’s allegations as signs of a curable mental disease. It is not a surprise that the ending itself leaves the story open for interpretation.
The balance between real and fantastic is also reflected in the movie’s stunning cinematography, at once beautifully gothic – which has led many to compare it to Hammer movies – and soberly realistic.
Julian Sands gives a very good and subtle performance as the cruel and attractive serial killer Manuel Romasanta; but the film’s great revelation is Elsa Pataky (Beyond Re-animator), who stays consistently convincing as her character gradually changes from admirer and potential victim to determined avenger.
However, Romasanta‘s main weakness is its pace. Too slow at times and somewhat lacking tension, the movie would have gained in density and strength by being a bit shorter.
Nevertheless, Paco Plaza’s beautifully shot gothic piece is a little gem, not to be missed.
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