Brian Yuzna continues the prolific output of his Barcelona-based Fantastic Factory production house with this artful period horror. It’s a handsomely mounted, slow-burning werewolf yarn based on the true story of Manuel Blanco Romasanta, a traveller who was convicted of murdering 15 people in the Spanish countryside in 1853. Romasanta admitted to the murders but claimed he killed whilst in the form of a wolf, a plea that led to his conviction being revoked by Queen Isabel II before dying mysteriously in prison.
Paco Plaza’s film, based on a book by Alfredo Conde, mixes fact with fiction in telling this strange tale. Julian Sands plays Romasanta as a gruff charmer who has hooked up with a woman named Maria (Maru Valdivielso), but it’s her sister Barbara (Elsa Pataky) that he has his eye on. Romasanta kills Maria and their other sister Teresa, and seduces Barbara. Meanwhile, the townsfolk are convinced that the spate of killings destroying their community is the work of a pack of vicious wolves, but investigating attorney Luciano (Gary Piquer) believes there may be more to it than that.
Elena Serra and Alberto Marini’s screenplay maintains a level of ambiguity as to Romasanta’s supposed lycanthropy, and even though we are provided with a nifty transformation sequence, the question remains: is Romasanta simple a deranged and deluded serial killer? Romasanta’s former partner Antonio (John Sharian) also claims to be a werewolf and is banged up in an asylum for his trouble, but flashbacks in which we see the pair kill together are filmed in such a way that we are never sure whether it is as wolf or man.
Most of the events unfold from Barbara’s perspective, and Elsa Pataky puts in an emotive performance (much better than her turn in Yuzna’s Beyond Re-Animator) as the besotted young beauty who slowly uncovers the truth about Romasanta. Unfortunately, Plaza tries to cram way too much into just 90 minutes – I’m all for keeping films short, but the climax here is incredibly rushed, as the director desperately attempts to tie up all the loose ends before the end credits. Especially interesting is the subplot concerning Attorney Luciano and pathology professor Philips (David Gant), and their opposing methods of investigating the crimes; shame there’s just not enough time to explore it properly.
Still, it’s good to see a serious, old fashioned Gothic tale that puts the emphasis on atmosphere and period detail without ever becoming dull. Mikel Salas’s classy orchestral score and Plaza’s stylish way with a camera make Romasanta seem a lot more expensive than it undoubtedly was, and it’s certainly one of the strongest films in the Fantastic Factory canon.
Spanish director who made a variety of short films before debuting in 2002 with the horror thriller Second Name. Followed with the period werewolf flick Romasanta, produced by Brian Yuzna. He subsequently teamed up with another Spaniard, Jaume Balaguero, for the successful REC series.