Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders (1996/7)

During the Second World War a defecting nazi has an affair with a Gypsy girl, which leads to her brother killing him and the girl giving birth to a cursed lineage. Many years later, the quiet little town of Visaria is rocked by a series of brutal murders. First is a prostitute torn to shreds, then a young couple. The police are convinced it's the work of a madman, while one deputy thinks it's the work of a wild animal. Meanwhile, local horror author Waldemar Daninsky has been having mysterious pains and unsettling nightmares lately, that seem to get worse with the full moon...

Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders was the first Hombre Lobo film for a long time, ever since 1983s Beast and the Magic Sword ended the series on something of a high. Naschy's career hit a downturn shortly after, but he never stopped working, and he would eventually return to his most famous series. The most shocking thing about us getting a new entry in a classic Spanish series like this as late as the 90s is that this isn't even the final one!

As the subtitle suggests, Lycantropus is a bit of a murder-mystery, which opens up the possibility that Waldemar may not be the killer! He's still a werewolf, so he's certainly a killer, but still. Before starting I did wonder before watching if this entry would see Waldemar as a willing murderer, and a full-on villain. Given the resetting continuity that seems like a shoe-in for one entry!

Unlike previous entries, this isn't Gothic, instead having a modern setting. Before you panic though, tit isn't about bunch of dumb sex-obsessed teens. It still has an air of maturity to it. The film has a smaller scale, with no sprawling castles or ancient monsters. Instead it's just a random guy in a modern town turning into a werewolf and rampaging through a couple of houses. It manages to work as what it is, even if it might stick out compared to other Hombre Lobo films. Speaking of the period, there's some 90s PC nostalgia, and the same for movie posters, with a prominent cameo from the poster to Dr. Giggles of all things!

Waldemar here is an aging horror author, living comfortably with his family, but plagued with nightmares that may be more real than he thinks. He's likeable enough, but is almost a supporting character, especially after a certain point.

What we hear of his parents make them sound pretty tops. They adopted the baby of a dead Gypsy found on their doorstop, treated him well raising him into a good man, and even named him as their sole heir! Nothing is made of this except in passing, but it's a detail I really liked.

Dr. Mina Westenra is a friend of Waldemar's, and the two share an unspoken affection. While there's still a differences in ages, she's not a ditzy 20 year old, but a mature woman. She's soon visited by the ghosts of the gypsies, who direct her to a hidden weapon to stop werewolves...which ends up being a surprisingly modern gun, compared to the ancient weapon we might expect!

Waldemar's family are ok. His wife and young son don't get a lot to do. Daughter Kinga gets the lion's share of time, and is a nice girl. Local boy Laurent is pretty good too, if a bit creepy in places. He clashes with a nasty bully, who somehow nabbed a good girl, who Laurent is crushing on. Surprisingly they both die very early on!

Laurent's priest father is a grade A asshole! He openly supports the killer as divine judgement for 'sinners', even though I'm pretty sure the Bible frowns more upon disemboweling people than prostitution! But worse still, the bastard disapproves of his son being a horror fan! He's also got it in for the Daninsky's especially Kinga. Really? The most demure girl in the village? He glares daggers at her over dinner, showing that godly virtue known as tolerance.

The supporting cast includes a seasoned detective Lacombe and a young inspector, who has some good theories, even if they clash with the more straightforward ones. There's also Mina's cuddly old mortician dad.

And lastly, there's Gypsy girl Czinka and clan patriarch Bigary, who regret their mistake in letting the baby live. Frankly I don't consider not killing a baby to be a mistake, even if they do grow up to be a werewolf!

Despite being a nazi, Heinrich seems like a good bloke, so in love with Czinka that he kills two colleagues, and is ready to defect...before his sudden death. Her brother Rom is a real bastard! Nevermind how quickly he murders Heinrich, who's done everything to help their community, he doesn't bat an eye at wanting to murder Czinka or her offspring, completely ignoring the wishes of their leader he claims to obey. I was glad hearing how he died.

Lycantropus takes a little while to get going as a horror, and doesn't have enough werewolf action, but it's good once it begins. The film gets a little depressing at one point, but I'm surprised it goes there! Thankfully it's not handled gratuitously. Although it does kinda leave Waldemar's character in the lurch, since after such a traumatic shock there's not really much chance for his human side to re-emerge.

The film builds up to the climax well, with the human killer targeting Kinga, before the werewolf comes too. It's great fun seeing the two 'monsters' dueling, and the man doesn't stand a chance! Unfortunately we're left with a werewolf that doesn't give the slightest shit about killing innocent people. It's up to Mina's timely arrival to save the day, in a really nice conclusion. Previous Hombre Lobo entries tried convincing us these girls who've known Waldemar a day love him enough to end his curse. But here we believe it, not only because of the established history of these characters, but the emotion felt during this scene. It's not even romantic love, but that of friendship, yet it's enough, and I feel this is the best the series ever tackled this concept.

The solution to the killer's identity is satisfying, but it is the obvious one. But then again the movie was building up Laurent as a bigger suspect, so I suppose it not being him is less obvious. I do wonder if there was some kinda last minute rewrite or if the actor just got sick, because Laurent completely disappears. It reminded me of the ending to Sweeney Todd, where the young couple just completely vanish as to not spoil the sombre note of the ending.

I do wonder what will become of Waldermar's reputation after these events. The authorities won't be ready to admit the existence of the supernatural, and since Waldemar was a good guy, and only the werewolf inside him was bad, perhaps they could just pin all the killings on the one culprit? After all, he was already a serial killer roaming around hacking innocents to death. Does it really matter if he 'only' butchered two instead of five?

I also wondered about Waldemar's latest novel, and if he ever finished it before he died! It doesn't seem like it. But perhaps Kinga can take up the mantle. Goodness knows the poor girl will need something to keep her mind occupied after all she's gone through!

The werewolf mythos here is fairly basic. No witches, vampires, or yetis. It's a little vague, really. I'm not exactly sure why this random girl can't have babies or else they'll become monsters. Waldemar's werewolf origin is a bit less involved since it doesn't involve him directly. I also wondered where this curse has been all his life. It doesn't pass on to Waldemar's kids either. Or at least the film never delves into it.

I liked the scientific touch to some scenes. Don't worry, it doesn't try and explain away the magic as just advanced science. That's boring! Instead it's a mix, like seeing how science analyses magic.

Something I liked here is the Gypsy representation, even showing their sometimes overlooked nazi persecution. We also get negative remarks from some characters (like the psycho priest) that made me think "What is it with bloody Europeans and Gypsies?". I know as a group they definitely have serious issues they've gotta work through, but still! Thankfully this movie is clearly on the right side of the divide.

Lycantropus is directed by Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo. I've read that he apparently didn't like horror films and cut more graphic footage. Yeesh, poor Paul just can't catch a break with asshole directors, can he! If this is true (and I'm unconvinced), that's really shitty of him to tinker like that, especially to an older gent with his potential comeback! But in terms of how the film itself looks, it's very good! There are really well framed shots, some gorgeous flashes of orange, and deep blues. The lighting is dark in places, sometimes too much, but we get good highlights to separate the colours.

The effects here are good. There's some decent violence, and a few ok death scenes. They might not show enough carnage for some some peoples' liking, but it's not totally bloodless. The werewolf make-up is a highlight! It's simpler and more human, which I find an interesting and not oft seen portrayal (akin to Werewolf of London). No doubt a simpler design would be easier on the older actor too. The transformations are alright, and I liked the distorted cries and roars. There's some CGI near the end, but it's non-obtrusive.

I really liked the music in Lycantropus! There's a neat score that combines choral melodies with melancholy electric guitar twangs. It creates a nice atmosphere, and provides some neat tracks. They're moody without ever being depressing.

The cast here is a good one. Naschy is a fine lead, delivering a more emotional performance, in a low-key way. After seeing him remain fairly youthful during the 80s, age has finally caught up with him, but he's still up for some action. The glance he gives in the ending is really good, and one of his finest moments as an actor!

Amparo Munoz does well, and it's nice seeing an older lady as the lead(ish) in a horror film. Eva Isanta gives a nice enough performance as the daughter, as does Jorge R. Lucas as the mysterious Laurent. And Luis Maluenda gives a good performance as the diabolical priest. Interestingly Lycantropus contains more pronounced Spanish lisps than other films I've seen. I guess it was shot more regionally.

Lycantropus is a pretty neat example of late Spanish horror, when the genre had slowed to a crawl, before finding new life later on. As a Hombre Lobo film it's different for sure, but I honestly found it to be one of the better entries! I recommend it...

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