Thursday, January 19, 2017

Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt

Romasanta was far better than I expected it to be. The acting was good, the women beautiful, and I really liked the weird anachronism of the setting (it’s set in 1851, but looks like it’s set in the early modern period...and then someone mentions genes, which is a solidly twentieth-century understanding of biology). 

That said, the poster art is massively misleading. Anyone expecting a low-budget riff on the same territory covered by Brotherhood of the Wolf is bound to be disappointed; despite the garb showcased in the above image (which doesn’t even feature prominently in the film–if at all), Romasanta doesn’t have any of the swashbuckling kung-fu of that film.

Werewolf film buffs in general are liable to be disappointed as well. By the end of the film it’s not clear that there even is a werewolf at work here. Romasanta is based on the life of a nineteenth-century Spanish serial killer Manuel Blanco Romasanta, who claimed that he murdered because he was under a curse which caused him to turn into a bloodthirsty wolf. His trial is noteworthy because it featured phrenology (my favorite pseudo-science) and because Romasanta’s sentence was commuted by Queen Isabella II. Interestingly, the sentence was commuted at the request of a mysterious Dr. Phillips (possibly the exiled hypnotist Joseph-Pierre Durand de Gros) so the doctor could study this case of "psychological lycanthropy."

So, between the real-world case and the film, what’s gameable here?

  • The tension in the question of whether a series of murders are the work of a madman or a werewolf is worthy of mining.
  • Romasanta was collecting the fat from his human victims. Why? Was the fat used in a ritual to bring on his lycanthropic transformation or to keep it at bay?
  • Furthermore, Romasanta inspired the legend of Sacaúntos, sinister men who killed children for their fat. What if these bogeymen were a particularly malicious sort of fey sent to frighten a human community away from an ancient faerie site?
  • Who was this Dr. Phillips and why was he so interested in studying this werewolf? Perhaps the crown commuted the sentence in hopes of harnessing the occult secrets of lycanthropy as a weapon against an enemy nation.