Under the glow of a full moon if you hear a howl, it might just be Oliver Reed taking lycanthropic form in Hammer Films’ classic 1961 film “The Curse of the Werewolf”.
Brief Description: An adopted boy terrorizes the inhabitants of his local town in 18th century Spain.
Detailed description: A mute servant girl turns down the sexual advances of a widower Marquee only to be locked in a dungeon with a beggar who rapes her. Upon her release she kills the Marquee and flees to the sanctuary of the nearest forest. Found living like an animal in the forest she is rescued by Don Alfredo and his wife Teresa. She gives birth to a boy on Christmas Morn at midnight but dies shortly after the birth. Little do Don Alfredo and Teresa know, but the boy, Leon, carries with him a terrible curse due to being born at a cursed time on a sacred day. Only love can keep the beast at bay, some Don Alfredo and Teresa do everything they can to keep Leon safe. When Leon grows into a man and moves away for work, people and cattle begin to mysteriously die. It seems there is a correlation as it only started when Leon arrived on the scene and was scorned by his love interest who already has a suitor. How long will it be before the predator that is killing everybody, and everything become the pray?
Film stuff: Directed by Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher, this 1961 Hammer Film is written by Anthony Hinds based on a novel by Guy Endore (“The Werewolf of Paris”). It has a runtime of 93 minutes and was rated as an X when it was released, but later became less off-limits. Using a set that had already been constructed for the film “The Rape of Sabene”, some things were altered to make the film work. “The Rape of Sabene” was a Spanish inquisition film which was shelved by the BBFC, so rather than being a werewolf in Paris, it made sense that the werewolf would be in Madrid.
Benjamin Frankel created a score for the film which was unique and used twelve-tone surrealism. Arthur Grant worked on Cinematography, and Alfred Cox worked on editing to ensure that the film ran smoothly. Unfortunately for the later, this film was heavily censored on it’s release, and it wasn’t until 1993 that a fully restored version came to TV screens.
A notable fact, this is the first werewolf film to be shot in colour.
Cast: The big draw to the film for me was Oliver Reed, in his first film acting job as Leon Corledo. He does a brilliant job and it is clear that he has strong thespian roots the way he delivers his lines and commands attention. He is able to portray his inner turmoil really well and adds vast amounts of pain to his performance.
Starring with him, as his adoptive father is Clifford Evans who was already a known name on TV at the time. In the film you have not one but two actors who have appeared in James Bond film; Anthony Dawson (Blofeld in “From Russia with Love” and “Thunderball”) plays The Marques Siniestro, and an uncredited Desmond Llewelyn (Q from Bond) plays one of the Marquee’s foot soldiers. Also, expect to see Warren Mitchell, Anna Blake, Michael Ripper, and Richard Wordsworth in this film, who all had illustrious careers on the small screen after this film.
Regardless of the name, the cast all do a decent job in bringing this film to life. Their performances felt a little different from what I have seen in the Hammer films because there are a lot of powerful scenes.
Wrap up: It might be dated, and the effects may not anywhere close to what delights modern werewolf films have offered, but this still stands up as a great film. Known more for Vampires, Mummy’s and other Monsters, this film was Hammer’s only foray into the werewolf theme, and they deliver a powerful and painful film. Heavy on atmosphere and with plenty of creepy visuals this is a great film complemented by a strong cast. It was refreshing to see the exploration of the curse rather than just see werewolves tearing into people because it happens to be a full moon. The make-up effects used have been copied countless times since then, so although it won’t be the strongest transformation you will see, it is still strong enough to be credible, furthermore it was probably spot-on for the time this film was released. While this is a very underappreciated gem in the Hammer library, it is one that personally I am happy to go back to every couple of years. Reed is strong, and with Terrence Fisher at the helm, this film is sure to delight fans new and old who enjoy horror, werewolves, or just enjoy random old films with lots of atmosphere.