Pros: Acting, scenery, storyline.
Cons: Rough cuts and hard to follow.
I was intrigued by the concept of Werewolf Hunter. The fact that this movie was based on the true story of a man named Romasanta who terrorized Spain in the 1850s easily captivated my imagination. Romasanta believed he was cursed, as the ninth son. He believed his curse was the curse of a werewolf. He claimed he hunted with another werewolf named Antonio, but this fact was never confirmed. Rather than fitting squarely into the realm of horror films, Werewolf Hunter is more a period piece that feels like a suspense crime drama revolving around an early serial killer.
Werewolf Hunter begins by introducing us to a wave of wolf attacks happening in Spain in 1851. The attacks have become so aggressive that bounties have been issued on the head of any captured or destroyed wolf, with bonus bounties if a pregnant female is eliminated. In the wake of these attacks we are introduced to a man who is being transported back to his village following an attack. The man who is transporting him, Manuel Romasanta (Julian Sands), begins transcribing a final letter for the man as he dies from his injuries. Manuel then interjects his own introduction to the man’s family, indicating that it is the dead man’s wish that Manuel act as their protector. After briefly learning about this family something tragic happens, which we cannot see. We then find Manuel with two sisters, Barbara (Elsa Pataky) and Maria (Maru Valdivielso) and Maria’s daughter Teresa (Luna McGill).
We briefly see the four together, before Manuel, Maria and Teresa part ways for a city that has no wolves. Maria feels threatened by Barbara who is obviously enamored by Manuel. Barbara remains behind, visited shortly by detectives who ask her to identify a body. She does not know the young girl believed to be her neice, but also has not heard from her sister. Eventually, Manuel returns to Barbara and takes up residence with her. Barbara learns Manuels dark secrets and runs to the police, where she participates in 1850s "Nancy Drew" style detective work.
The screenplay writer (Elena Serra) did a decent job creating the dialogue and scenarios within which the story develops. I have not read the original story by Alfredo Conde, so I can not discuss the amount of liberty taken from the book to the screenplay. I can, however, discuss the liberty taken from the true story to the screenplay. In real life, it was never determined if Romasanta actually had a hunting partner. The alleged partner, Antonio, was never captured. The investigation never lent credence to the theory but it was never disproven, either. In the film, Antonio plays a unique role as hunter, with Romasanta the target of his hunt. Antonio feels he must kill the one who turned him werewolf in order to free himself from the curse. It was a big step for a movie based on a true story, but it added intrigue and dimension to the movie. Because this movie played more like a suspense film than a horror film, the addition of Antonio into the plotlines was a smart move.
The characters were moderately well developed. The dialogue and interactions between Barbara and Maria seemed credible. The obvious sisterly love was strained by the entrance of Manuel into their lives. The balance between their own relationship and the threat of competition made for decent drama. The film also had a decent concept for tracking the killers movements, introducing the audience first to the wolf threat, then to the concept that a human was also hunting. We follow the killer through the people he hunts which was a good way to shoot the film. The pacing was okay, leading to an ending that was acceptable. However, the flow of the movie was completely off. It wasn't the pacing so much as the choppiness. There were gaps in the story that left me constantly trying to catch up. I don't think it was done intentionally. In trying to create suspense, the Director (Paco Plaza) managed to create confusion. The rough cuts and gaps in the story left me wondering who some of the characters were and how they played into the story. It seemed like some of the story was conveyed visually, but that concept didn't seem to be fully developed either.
I had not complaints about the acting. The characters had an intensity that played well in this genre. Sands appealed to me as a suave seducer with a killer lurking beneath his pleasant veneer. He had the right combination to seem plausible in his dual role. Pataky was also captivating as Manuel's love interest. She has a beauty that easily transcended her period costumes and sparse make-up. One thing that I noticed with the women is their hair. The straw like wispiness of their hair harkened to a time before conditioner, creating a bit of realism intended or not. Pataky, flyaway hair and all, was stunningly attractive. John Sharian had the role of Antonio. He is a large imposing man whose apparent remorse was fascinating. I enjoyed his character, which he deftly brought to life. Valdivielso and McGill were also convincing in their roles. Creating characters from a time before you were alive can be challenging, but the cast convinced me regarding the period in which this film was shot.
The Spanish countryside provided an enchanting background for this film. The preserved culture appeared to be easily adapted for a transition back in time. The cobblestone buildings appeared to be authentic, making me believe that this was shot on location in an old town where the buildings have been preserved with little in the way of modern intrusion. Maybe they were sets...I really couldn't tell. And that is a good thing. The old communities seemed fresh and new, but from the period.
Werewolf Hunter was rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America. There was full frontal male nudity during a hunt scene involving the character Antonio. There is nothing hidden about this shot which lasts an uncomfortable amount of time. I might have been uncomfortable with that scene in mixed company. There was also a scene in which Manuel washes Barabaras body while she is soaking in a tub. Her breasts are fully visible, but we also see her pull Manuel's hand into the water with the implications evident. Beyond the nudity, there was some violence which included animal mutilation. Most of the violence involved the cadabers after an attack, but there was a cannabilistic attack scene that might scare younger viewers. This film deals with some disturbing ideas (like making soap from human body fat) that might be a bit much for younger viewers...I would probably suggest that pre-teens avoid this one.
I enjoyed Werewolf Hunter in spite of it's obvious flaws. The rough cuts made it hard to follow, which will definitely lose viewers who are not committed to watching. I was intrigued by the fact that this was based on a true story, so I stuck it out. I enjoyed the film regardless of the cuts. However, when the story becomes hard to follow it can ruin every other positive aspect of the film. If you don't understand what's happening then all of the artistic elements really become moot. I wish they had taken the time to go back and fill in the gaps. It would have made this movie an easy highly recommended by me. As it stands, I would still moderately recommend this film, suggesting it as a decent time passer for a rainy day. I would give Werewolf Hunter three stars out of a possible five.