Its fangs may be bloody, but “Game of Werewolves” has its tongue planted firmly in its hairy cheek. A fun retro parody about a rural Spanish showdown between wimps and wolfmen, Juan Martinez Moreno’s lively third feature is sometimes rather desperate in its pursuit of laughs, but is rescued by a clutch of solid perfs and the all-important sense that helmer and cast are treating the genre they’re spoofing with the respect it merits. Sales have been brisk for an item that proves Spanish horror can deliver more than just gore, and further offshore territories could bite.
The pre-credits sequence convincingly sets up a century-old tale about how a bit of intermingling between an aristocrat and a gypsy led to a curse being placed on the remote Galician hamlet of Arga. Onetime Arga resident Tomas (Gorka Otxoa), a writer, arrives back home for a ceremony in his honor. He is met by former schoolmate Calisto (the reliably amusing Carlos Areces, sporting a ridiculous mustache and an over-the-top regional accent), and they’re later joined by Tomas’ brutish agent, Mario (Secun de la Rosa).
The fact that Tomas’ unhinged uncle Evaristo (vet Manuel Manquina) is up to something untoward becomes clear when the three hapless chums are tied to crucifixes and dropped into an underground labyrinth, where they disturb a dozing werewolf. Unfortunately for Tomas, it emerges that the curse on Arga can only be lifted by having the werewolf eat him.
The rest of the pic mostly offers lively cat-and-mouse fare as the boys try to escape the attentions of the increasingly enraged populace. The curse doesn’t state that all of Tomas has to be eaten, suggests Calisto, but when they chop off his finger, Tomas’ dog makes off with the digit and devours it, requiring a second attempt.
There’s absolutely nothing new here, but “Game of Werewolves” delivers many of those 1980s horror-comedy pleasures, a la “An American Werewolf in London,” that younger auds will have missed the first time round. As with Martinez Moreno’s debut, “Two Tough Guys,” there is much straight slapstick, but also a subtler vein of comedy and even unexpected notes of tenderness, galvanized by some wonderful perfs, particularly from Areces and Luis Zahera as a constable who’s part hero, part psycho.
On the downside, the character of Mario adds little but crudity, while there are a couple of twists too many over the final 30 minutes.
Technically, the film is convincing on its own level, with the wolves scary enough in closeup, if a little too cuddly-looking in long shot. Maximum atmospherics are squeezed from the rural Galician pueblos where the pic was shot, with their rambling old mansions and rundown graveyards. Music mixes standard chiller fare with heavier rock from the likes of 1980s Spanish band Sex Museum.