Curse of the Werewolf 1961 reviewed by ANDREW GARVEY
TITLE: The Curse of the Werewolf
YEAR RELEASED: 1961
DIRECTOR: Terence Fisher
CAST: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed and Yvonne Romain
PLOT: In Spain, Leon is born on Christmas day to a mute servant girl who was raped by a beggar. His mother dies giving birth and he is looked after by Don Alfredo. As a child Leon becomes a werewolf after having been taken hunting. As a young man, he works in a wine cellar and falls in love with the owner’s daughter Cristina. One full moon, he again turns into a werewolf and terrifies the town.
FUN FACT: Hammer set the film in Spain because a planned Spanish Civil War film had fallen through and they wanted to make use of the sets.
After enjoying significant box office success for their lavish re-imaginings of the iconic vampire Count Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein’s unfortunate creation and dusty-bandaged Egyptian stiff the Mummy, Curse of the Werewolf was Hammer’s stab at yet another of Universal Studios’ classic horror monsters. It was also, surprisingly enough considered how sequel-happy the studio was, their only feature length werewolf film.
Hammer’s version is loosely based on American novelist and screenwriter Guy Endore’s 1933 novel Werewolf of Paris, albeit with a change of setting and most of the book’s political content (Endore was a communist who was investigated and blacklisted during America’s ‘Red Scare’ of the 1950s) stripped away.
Curse of the Werewolf stars infamous British actor/hellraiser Oliver Reed, in his second Hammer production, as the tormented lycanthrope. After playing a thuggish bit-part in the previous year’s The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, the burly Reed takes centre stage under the direction of Hammer legend Terence Fisher in an altogether more sympathetic role.
The story begins with a travelling beggar finding himself in an eighteenth century Spanish village. He heads for the castle of the local nobleman where a wedding feast is being celebrated. A fantastically sneering pantomime bully, the Marques Siniestro (played in an all-too brief role by Anthony Dawson) thoroughly humiliates the grubby vagrant, much to the crowing delight of his courtiers.
Imprisoned and subsequently forgotten for many years for an impudent remark, the beggar befriends the jailer’s mute daughter who grows up to be played by the uncommonly exotic-looking Yvonne Romain, a former photographic model boasting the familiar heaving bosoms of Hammer horror.
A rushed series of unpleasant events involving the twisted, embittered old Marques, the young woman and the mad old beggar lead us into a slow-paced second act involving the usual Hammer fare – ghoulish imagery, superstitious peasants, ancient curses, tragedy and unexplained deaths which various characters spend a lot of time pontificating and jibber-jabbering about.
Reed finally makes his appearance over halfway through the film as grown-up boy werewolf Leon, the son of the jailer’s daughter. His adoptive parents think Leon has been cured of his moon-related affliction thanks to their care, love and attention. Yes, really, the fools! The sluggish pace starts to pick up as things get bloodier and more desperate for Reed’s romantic, conflicted, confused and increasingly dangerous shape-shifter.
Playing with, and creating its own rules of werewolf film mythology, this is a high quality horror film of its era. Although also containing some almost certainly unintentionally hilarious lines, there’s also – eventually – a decent transformation sequence and a great, truly memorable final scene that by itself ensures a strong recommendation.
For all its hammy acting, lack of much actual horror and complete absence of the true stars of Hammer – Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing – Curse of the Werewolf is almost, but not quite, up there with the studio’s best films of the 1960s.