BITE ME!  Adele Hartley lauds the lycanthropic humour of GAME OF WEREWOLVES

This gorgeous werewolf comedy from Juan Martínez Moreno is that rare thing – a funny genre film that doesn’t stint on either the scares or the laughs.

Opening with an exquisite animation, the background to this story goes that in the small Galician village of Arga in 1910, the Marchioness of Mariño so enraged a gypsy that she and her son fell victim to an evil curse. So here we are a hundred years later, and Thomas Mariño, the last male descendent of the Marchioness’s line, is invited to Arga to receive an honour.  He’s only written one book and it wasn’t really that good and no-one really read it, but what the hell ­ his ego isn’t remotely deterred and it’s an excuse to go back, see some old friends and be told how wonderful he is.

Arriving in town, all eyes are on him, though not necessarily for his puny literary accomplishments.  He seems to be getting the most attention from one of his uncles, who has appointed himself both mayor and priest without much of a murmur from the other villagers.  Still, Thomas has decided that the break is an ideal opportunity to get that tricky second novel underway, and is not to be put off, no matter how weird the place is getting. Arga hasn’t changed for 100 years, but there’s a reason for that, and Thomas is about to discover some unpleasant truths about his family.

First off, let me be entirely clear.  An American Werewolf in London is not only one of my favourite films of all time, but it is one of the very finest werewolf films ever made.  It verges on perfection and elegantly balances some sublimely upsetting imagery with fun dialogue and the occasional proper out-loud laugh to ensure you get to the end in one piece, never forgetting that it is first and foremost a horror film.

That said, other werewolves are available and Lobos de Arga (English title: Game of Werewolves) is an entirely different kind of werewolf movie.  While definitely erring more towards a laugh than a sleepless night, it nonetheless honours its horror obligations elegantly, peppering what is essentially a lycanthropic farce with genuine suspense and menace.

The creatures could not be more different to the work produced by either Rick Baker for American Werewolf or by Bob Keen for that other lupine romp, Dog Soldiers.  Here there is no attempt to suggest that this is flesh transformed, these are quite clearly men in suits and at first glance, they look kinda strokeable.  You can easily picture one as the perfect fireside rug (once you’ve picked out the silver bullet, obviously).  That is, until you see the teeth.  At that point, they start to feel more like bears who aren’t going home until they’ve had their fill of your pic-a-nic basket, boo-boo.

Horror audiences are hard to fool and we are all very used to seeing a monster or a scare and understanding, pretty much, how it was constructed or drawn or animated or blended.  Too much information is not conducive to real fear, and it’s maybe why we have mostly outgrown ‘serious’ monster movies, at least where the monster isn’t just some home-invading crazy with a grudge and a toolkit.

And yet we keep returning to this unholy triumvirate of vampires, zombies and werewolves and it seems to have absolutely nothing to do with fear.  Where Romero zombies were once claimed as a metaphor for consumerism, now it might as well be as a metaphor for Republicanism ­ beware, or their toxic drool might infect you too!  Vampires have been neutered – where once there was the seductive midnight beauty of Catherine Deneuve now there’s the cheekbone-delivery-system that is Robert Pattinson.   And as for werewolves, well…maybe this is just because I’m a woman, but am I really supposed to fear a creature that once a month becomes a drooling, snarling, furious, howling beast with random and excessive body hair?  Really?

So, if there is not fear, let there at least be joy and gleeful storytelling and lots of growling.

The film gets off to a stylish start, which comic-style credits from Fernando Serrano.  They are seriously lush and fans of Milo Manara will be delighted to see the kind of bouncy roundness that also makes his work so delicious.  They set a very slightly camp tone (a sexually insatiable Marchioness!  An angry gypsy!  The circus!  Knife-throwing! A curse on you and your house!) which segues well into the opening scenes of the movie.

The dialogue throughout is deft and funny, translated into English with a light touch which ensures that you’re never taken out the film by a linguistic mis-step.  There are moments of action which seem silly, but turn out to be clever set-ups for later and the action kicks in nice and fast and stays that way. Moreno directs with confidence and the end result is a thoroughly engaging way to spend an hour and a half.  It won’t leave you feeling depressed about humanity’s downward spiral towards self-inflicted oblivion nor will it make you want to lock all the doors and buy a couple more guns.   Whisper it, friends, it’s a feelgood monster flick.

There are plenty genre fans out there who think horror should mean never having to laugh, but for those of you who hold nothing against geniality, this film is a pleasure.


Adele Hartley is the Director of Scotland’s Dead by Dawn Horror Film Festival, which screened GAME OF WEREWOLVES as part of its 19th edition, March 28-April 2, 2012.

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