Wednesday 31 October 2012

Attack Of The Werewolves

Hairs and Graces

Attack Of The Werewolves
aka Game of Werewolves 
aka Lobos de Arga
Spain 2011
Directed by Juan Martínez Moreno
Kaleidoscope Region 2

I first became aware of Attack Of The Werewolves about 2 months ago... but it’s only been released over here on DVD for about 2 weeks now. As usual with these kinds of films, it’s gone straight to home video over here and bypassed a cinema release, which is where I would have preferred to go and see it.

When I first read that this was a new Spanish werewolf movie, I immediately assumed this was going to be an homage to the late, great Paul Naschy werewolf movies, which he made about his famous, continuity challenged wolfman character Waldemar Daninsky in 13 films from 1968 to 2004 (I review four of them here, here, here and here). Although the prosthetic make-up on the actors playing the various wolfmen in this movie owes more to the Naschy style and look than it does to ‘the curse of CGI’, it would be true  to say that there’s not that much else that this movie has in common with those earlier Naschy ‘classics’.

In fact, this film turns out to be something I really wasn’t expecting (especially since the UK packaging makes it look more like a dark and sinister horror movie than the marketing in other territories)... it’s a horror comedy... with a lot of the emphasis on the comedy.

Now comedy horror films are nothing new and it’s a testament to how well the two genres mix that they have been around for so long. I think the reason for this is because the horror genre, in particular, is so easy to understand that the rules of the horror film need a little extra to keep the genre alive sometimes. Because audiences understand and read horror texts so well in a cinematic setting, it’s such an easy one to cross pollinate with other genres. That’s why you get horror-westerns and, especially, horror/comedies, right the way back to movies where Universal allowed their once successful back-catalogue horror icons to be used for the blockbuster success that was Bud Abbot And Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948... which brought three famous actors back to roles they had played earlier for Universal; Lon Chaney Jr as Lawrence Talbot/The Wolfman, Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster (a part he had played in the previous two Universal outings for this monster). This movie actually did much more to revive Abbot and Costello’s ailing career (and gave them a long second wind) than it did the Universal monsters, to be honest, but it does prove that horror serves the mistress of comedy well when it’s harnessed for this kind of cinema-going experience.

So back to the movie on hand... what’s this fine example of the genre about? Well...

When an unsuccessful writer returns to his childhood village, he doesn’t know that he is invited to be the main course for a werewolf in order to break the curse set on the village by his ancestors 100 years ago. Only his childhood friend, his agent and his trusty and comical pet dog are on hand to help him. There’s not much more you need to know other than that.

Bereft of any really strong female characters, until the end, the movie still managed to keep me totally entertained and even made me laugh (which is kinda hard these days) in a few places. Everybody plays the movie with a straight face but there’s also a curious, almost underplayed attitude in some of the roles which make it even easier to believe the fantastic and mostly comical ‘werewolf shenanigans’ you see on screen.

The main protagonist’s pet dog is the real star of the show and as its antics on screen get more and more Looney Tunes cartoon-like and crazy, you are willing to suspend your disbelief because everyone is buying into their own roles so much. There is hardly ever a sign of ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and the camaraderie of the characters and the way they interact carries the film through completely. There’s even a heroic policeman towards the end of the movie who works surprisingly well and has at least one surprise up his sleeve, which he blatantly states on screen before the movie makers actually spring it on you a little later in the film’s running time.

This one doesn’t skimp on the gory effects either... which is possibly why it didn’t get a cinema release over here (although the DVD carries a 15 rating so they could probably have got away with attracting the teens). It’s not excessively gory and people who are used to watching horror films won’t see anything that will in any way disturb them, but it doesn’t pull back from showing, for instance, a torn throat or a severed arm and the effects of those kinds of injuries. And there’s one instance involving severed fingers (which I don’t want to spoil here... but which was done in a US thriller in 2005 in much the same spirit of hilarity) that will probably have you laughing out loud.

What the director does, very well, is handle these gory sequences and walks the thin line between too much and too little without killing off either the light hearted tone of the overall feel of the movie or harming the sense of peril and danger you get when you are rooting for the main protagonists to survive their ordeal. It’s a well crafted little horror/comdy delight, competently shot, nicely framed and with a pacing that is just about right... with maybe a couple of false stops near the start to set up the characters a little more.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about this one really. A great little genre movie that really needs a bit more mainstream recognition, as I think it’s a film which would be hard for most people not to appreciate. Certainly if you’re a fan of either horror comedy films or werewolf movies, it’s well worth putting this one on your shopping list. It’s no howler.

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