Wednesday, May 18, 2011

DVD Review: Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (2004)

Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (2004)

Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: Region 0 PAL
Rating: 15 Certificate
Duration: 94 mins
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English 2.0 Stereo, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: Paco Plaza
Cast: Julian Sands, Elsa Pataky, John Sharian
Tagline: Based on the true story of Spain’s most gruesome Werewolf murders.

Synopsis: In 19th Century Spain, a travelling seller with a woman in every town is the keeper of an ancient secret. This handsome, charming ladykiller may also be leaving a trail of bloody murder in his wake that the locals attribute to “the Werewolf of Allariz”. Barbara lives with her sister, isolated in the deep forest. Her happiness comes when the mysterious seller comes to call, but why has he no fear of the wolves that lurk under the darkening trees and what does he keep hidden from view inside his wagon?

Film: Paco Plaza's Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt is based on a "true story" of "the Werewolf of Allariz" a mid-1800's serial killer named Manuel Blanco Romasanta who was tried for the murder of over a dozen people. In a turn that echos elements of Perfume: The Story of Murder (2008) he would use his victims fat to manufacture soap. When tried for the heinous murders he claimed to be the victim of lycanthropy. Yup, he said that he was a werewolf. Okay, I'll allow it. 

The Romasanta of our story is portrayed by Julian Sands, an actor who comes with baggage, not all of it good either. I find him a bit much typically but fondly recall his work in Warlock (1989) and Boxing Helena (1993) but then I remember Dario Argento's torturous The Phantom of the Opera (1998) and suddenly I don't feel so charitable. Thankfully Mr. Sands is quite excellent here and tosses us a winningly restrained performances.

Romasanta is a travelling salesman who roams the countryside in a covered wagon peddling trinkets from village to village, winning the hearts of women and then tearing them out. In his wake he leaves behind a bloody trail of corpses so savaged that the locals assume it is the work of wolves and place a hefty bounty on their skins decimating the animals. Things are going well for him until the cunning Professor Phillips (David Gant) discovers scapel marks on the victims corpses and things start to fall apart. Romasanta is involved with a woman but the darkness within him consumes her as well. Afterwards he persues her younger sister, Barbara (the stunning Elsa Pataky from Fast Five) who comes to suspect Romasanta in not one but three of her sisters deaths. 

So, is this a werewolf film? Well, it's definitely not a traditional one like I've ever seen. He's a serial killer afflicted with lycanthropy, there's little doubt he believes this and while there is a pretty fantastic werewolf transformation it's something that could be left to interpretation. While it's not the most gore-tastic film it is satisfying bloody and twistedly horrific. It's tense, artfully shot and gorgeous to watch though it does stray into the realms of courtroom  thriller and romantic melodrama fear not for this is a very entertaining film. If you, like I, let this film slip by unnoticed do yourself a favor and check out this elusive Gothic werewolf flick, you can thank me later. 

DVD: The film gets a very nice 2.35:1 anamorphic scope aspect ratio transfer with great colors and black levels. This is a nice looking film with an amber hue throughout, definitely a visually pleasing film of. We get both English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 options. For the purpose of this review I did not check out out the Spanish 5.1 but the English 2.0 sounded great, no distortion and nice separation. A bit perturbed by the fact there's no English 5.1 but I digress. There's a nice selection of supplemental materials including 2 reversible sleeve art options with original artwork and new Tom 'The Dude Designs' Hodge artwork. Check out a post from the DD blog where Tom writes about the illustration HERE. There's a fold-out poster with the DD artwork plus an 8 pg. booklet with new writing from author/critic and Arrow regular Calum Waddell all housed in a white keep case. Okay, that's the packaging extras, but what do we have in the way of special features? I'm pleased to say there's a nice array of High Rising Productions features including a 20+ minute interview with executive producer Brian Yuzna who discusses the early success of Fantastic Factory and it's demise once things got rolling, interviews with the director, cast and composer, deleted scenes, and a S/FX design featurette. A very well stocked DVD.

Special Features:
- Romasanta: Lycanthropes, Lunacy and the Last Days of The Fantastic Factory (21:49) 16:9
- Making Romasanta: Interviews with Paco Plaza, Julian Sands, Elsa Pataky and John Sharian. (5:22)
- Interview with composer Mikel Salas (3:22)
- Deleted Scenes with intro/commentary by director Paco Plaza (12:25)
- A featurette on the S/FX design in Romasanta (8:51)
- Original Trailer(1:40) Letterboxed
- Booklet ‘Sex, Sun and Sinful Celluloid’ by author/critic Calum Waddell
- Reversible sleeve of original and commissioned artwork by Tom Hodge.
- Double-sided fold-out posters with commissioned artwork by Tom Hodge

Verdict: I do love a good lycanthropy film and Paco Plaza's take on the genre is fairly unique. The Gothic period setting, great cinematography, the psychological thriller elements, a very fine transformation scene and good acting really push this film along. It goes from horror to thriller to court room drama pretty adeptly and manages to be quite entertaining along the way. This is a film that will grow an audience over time, particularly after the success of Plaza's [REC] (2007) and [REC] 2 (2009). The question remains how would I rank this among my werewolf werewolf films? I'll say it's more entertaining than Wolfen (1981) while not ascertaining the glory of either An American Werewolf in London (1981) or The Howling (1981), it rips the throat from The Wolfman (2010) and howls at the moon alongside Dog Soldiers (2005). 4 outta 5

Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt is available as a single disc edition or you can grab the FANTASTIC FACTORY PRESENTS 4 DVD boxset which also includes Faust: Love of the Damned (2000), Beyond Re-Animator (2003) and Jack Sholder's creature feature Arachnid (2001).