Werewolf Hunter:
Legend of Romasanta

directed by Francisco Plaza
(Lions Gate, 2005)

Werewolf Hunter: Legend of Romasanta (a.k.a. Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt and The Werewolf Manhunt) isn't your typical werewolf movie, as it focuses more on the man inside the wolf than the wolf inside the man. It also, almost by necessity, leaves open the question of whether or not the subject is indeed a werewolf.

That's because the story is built upon the real-life story of Europe's first serial killer, traveling salesman Manuel Blanco Romasanta, the "Werewolf of Allariz," who confessed to killing 13 people and using their body fat to make soap. Strangely enough, his confession that he suffered from the curse of lycanthropy helped him avoid execution and may well have resulted in a regal pardon had he not died soon after his conviction.

Werewolf Hunter weaves a tapestry of fact and imagination, blurring the edges between the two, introducing a romantic angle to the story while also putting forth a purely fictional ending. I don't think it truly succeeds in its exploration of the mind and soul of this mass murderer, however; instead, it only muddies the waters of truth and speculation.

It's certainly a beautiful film, set against the Gothic backdrop of mid-19th-century Gallicia, and it features strong performances by Julian Sands as Romasanta and Elsa Pataky as Barbara, the young woman he grows to love. Many of the locals of Allariz have gone missing in recent weeks, and the bodies so far recovered are rather baffling, for alongside the terrible gashes seemingly caused by a wolf are disturbing signs that a human removed most of the body fat for his own reasons. After her sister and niece are killed in horrible fashion, young Barbara develops a relationship with Manuel, a well-known traveling salesman who seems to offer her security and love. Manuel has a dark secret, though, which Barbara soon discovers. As soon as she learns that her lover is responsible for the deaths of her family, her affection turns to rage as she helps authorities track down and capture this hateful man.

Pataky was excellent in her role, but the romantic spin introduced into this story just didn't ring true, especially as Manuel's emotional U-turn seemed to come out of thin air.

If you're looking for one of those famous transformation scenes, look elsewhere. The only such change in this film is a mud-covered one that may or may not have even happened, given the perspective of its presentation. You also won't see any first-hand kills; while there are a few good shots of gnawed human limbs, the vast majority of the blood and violence is implied. There is one case of male nudity that really should have come with some kind of warning, but that's it in terms of bare flesh. The film is officially unrated, but I believe there's a decent chance it might have received a PG-13 rather than an R rating from the MPAA.

In the end, we still haven't learned very much about Manuel and his motivations. We see the changes in his demeanor and hear the regrets he utters in the end, but it's impossible to determine which of his two natures is the true one. I guess that's really the point of the entire movie, to a large degree, but I would have liked to see this storyline wound a little bit tighter. I don't particularly like the "Legend of Romasanta" subtitle, either, as this film differs far too much from historical fact to deserve such a description. All in all, though, Werewolf Hunter is a darned good film that really stands apart from other entries in the werewolf genre.

by Daniel Jolley
10 June 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.