Director – Paco Plaza
Cast – Julian Sands, Elsa Pataky, John Sharian, Gary Piquer, David Gant, Maru Valdivielso, Luna McGill, Carlos Reig-Plaza, Reg Wilson, Ivana Baquero
Release Year – 2004
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Before co-writing/co-directing the fantastic REC, Paco Plaza, much like Jaume Balaguero, had already made a name for himself as a legitimate horror director with several positive efforts, one of them being Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt. Equal parts romance and horror, we are given a unique take on the werewolf sub-genre that despite heavy amounts of drama manages to deliver some good shock as well in this underrated sleeper from Paco Plaza.
The small town of Allariz is sent into uproar when the mutilated bodies of beautiful young women are found in the nearby forests, leading to a countryside manhunt for the heinous perpetrator. Little do they know, no man is committing these horrible murders, but in fact a beast in the body of a man. When Barbara falls in love with the man of her dreams, Manuel Romasanta, she sees him as the perfect fit to a happy life, but when clues arise that convince her that he is the man behind the murder of the women, some of whom were her sisters, she takes on a vengeful quest to put an end to the terror herself.
The first thing I noticed about this film, prior to actually watching it, was that it received a surprising amount of hate from horror fans. “It sucked.”, “Big disappointment!” were common remarks that I came across, and after seeing that these remarks came years after the debut of REC I see it safe to assume that those who went into this expecting the awesome execution we were given in REC were obviously unsatisfied, which is why I watched this flick with a complete open mind, and it worked for me.
This is not the first time that we have been given a werewolf film with a high love element, and it won’t be the last given we received one this year in Red Riding Hood, but I have no real problem with the idea given love can add good conflict to any story, and it does with this one. Based on the true story of Spanish serial killer Manuel Blanco Romasanta, who killed 13 people and later received a pardon from the queen after convincing her he suffered from a werewolf curse, the story is not an overly original one, but enough original elements are added to keep this from a bare bones ripoff of a historical event. The first half of the film contains a high mystery element that I enjoyed, as we are unsure who the killer is, and are thrown into the same fear and paranoia as the villagers who must go day by day knowing a savage and stealthy killer is on the loose. This was definitely the highest selling point of the story, but of course the tone had to change. The latter half of the film focuses on the manhunt and subsequent court case of Romasanta, and while the horror was almost completely abandoned during these scenes the film quality remained high and delivered an enjoyable output aided by the horror featured in the first half. I enjoyed the idea of Barbara acting on her own to catch Romasanta, which came entirely due to my love of anything involving vengeance. We do not see too much “vengeance” go on per say, but Barbara was driven by the strong emotion to take revenge, and that was good enough for me. I enjoyed the scientific element thrown into the film as well, which came into heavy effect during the chase for Romasanta and the subsequent court case, all due to the addition of a professor used to positively aid the story. Was Romasanta a man who would turn to beast, or a beast who would turn to man? The question is etched in history thanks to the case, and I was glad to see it put on screen.
Paco Plaza’s direction exceeded the film’s writing, as he expertly employed beautiful sets and superb cinematography, and when applicable: executed good horror. Most of the horror came in regards to the cadavers found, and certain fight scenes between man and wolf, and Plaza used great live-action FX and gore that aided in how well the horror hit me. We get great performances from all those involved, especially Julian Sands who has still to this day failed to be used to his true potential as an actor. In the end, Plaza executed every element to good potential, showing that he had great talent years before REC’s debut.
Overall, Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt is a positive effort from director Paco Plaza that has suffered an unfair bias in regards to the awesomeness of REC. The story is a positive one, and although it does not consist of horror throughout Plaza’s direction and great execution sell the film to the viewer, resulting in a positive experience.