Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf (1961) was released in the United States by Universal International (UI), a studio known for a long history of well-crafted horror and sci-fi films featuring a bevy of fantastic creatures and monsters. Oddly, with the exception of A&C Meet Frankenstein (1948), UI didn’t venture into the werewolf realm. Curse opens with a bang with a werewolf howl, a spectacular closeup of the werewolf’s eyes and a brassy Bernard Hermannesque score. You know immediately that the film is going to deliver. Unfortunately, it’s not until the very end!
The movie was helmed by, arguably, Hammer’s most accomplished director in Terence Fisher. His list of horror and genre films is impressive, including such nuggets as:
- The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
- Dracula (1958)
- The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
- The Man Who C0uld Cheat Death (1959)
- The Mummy (1959)
- The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)
- The Brides of Dracula (1960)
- Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
- The Gorgon (1964)
- Island of Terror (1966) (not a Hammer film), and
- The Devil Rides Out (1968)
That list of horror films is more impressive than all of James Whale and Tod Browning’s horror movies combined! Curse is perhaps a notch or two below Fisher’s best films Dracula, The Mummy, The Brides of Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles, but it is still a taught and well-constructed entry into Hammer’s canon of horror films. I can live without Oliver Reed. Also, some moments of the film are a bit too graphic and vile for my tastes.
I wonder if this plot thread was faithful to the original story The Werewolf of Paris (1933, Guy Endore)? Of course the unholy birth contributes to Leon Corledo’s pathos.
The film is set in 18th Century Spain and stars Oliver Reed as bastard Leon Corledo, born on Christmas day. Even the Baptism goes wrong for Leon, with reflections of gargoyles rippling in the holy water. Little Leon grows up as an adopted and feverish son of the wealthy Corledo family led by Don Alfredo (Welsh actor Clifford Evans), who discovers the boy has hairy palms. A priest confirms Leon is a werewolf who has nocturnal lunar urges.Don Alfredo secures the house (Leon’s nightmares) with massive wrought iron bars.
Meanwhile the villagers are getting restless. One of the locals smelts a silver cross (blessed by an archbishop) and casts a musket ball. He kills a wolf that had been plaguing his livestock. We don’t see the adult Leon until after approximately 50 minutes of story has passed. Leon falls for local girl and at the very end of the film Leon transforms and we get to see Roy Ashton’s superb makeup. During Hammer’s monster reign in the late 50’s and 60’s Ashton created several memorable monsters, such as the Frankenstein monster (1957 and others), The Mummy (1959), Herbert Lom as The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Gorgon (1964), the walking dead in The Plague of the Zombies (1967), Christopher Lee’s Rasputin (1966), The Reptile (1966) and several others. This film is mainly of interest for Ashton’s werewolf creation.
I’m not an Oliver Reed fan. I often wonder how Christopher Lee, who was a bit too old for this role, might have handled it.
Well, February was a lot of fun and I hope everyone enjoyed Werewolf Month. I’ll likely go to a random format again in March!