Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Curse Of The Werewolf (1961)

The Curse Of The Werewolf is, surprisingly, the only werewolf movie that Hammer ever made. You might be about to argue with me on that point, but I assure you it is so. The Beast Must Die was an Amicus release and Legend Of The Werewolf was from Tyburn Film Productions Limited. Nope, I can't remember hearing of them either, but they existed long enough to release a few movies in the 1970s (and some TV stuff in the 1980s). Now that I have digressed, let's get back to discussing the only werewolf movie that Hammer ever made.

Directed by Terence Fisher, and written by Anthony Hinds (based on a novel by Guy Endor), this is a tale that begins with the mistreatment of a beggar (Richard Wordsworth). The mistreatment of the beggar leads to the mistreatment of a young woman (Yvonne Romain) and the mistreatment of the young woman leads to the birth of a child, Leon (played by Justin Walters). Leon is looked after by kindly guardians (Clifford Evans and Hira Talfrey), even when it becomes apparent that he has some dangerous nocturnal habits.
Fast forward a decade or so and Leon (now played by Oliver Reed) is setting out to make his way in the world. His inner beast seems to be soothed and all is well. Sadly, it may not be a permanent respite for the young man, especially with new experiences to try that will appeal to his baser urges.

Set in some Hammer universe idea of Spain, this isn't up there with the best examples of cinematic lycanthropy, but it's a decent, handsomely assembled piece of work. The opening section is a lot of fun in the typical Hammer mold - the inn full of unhappy locals, the nasty marques (Anthony Dawson), the lust and bloodshed - but then the movie dips slightly while showing moments in the life of young Leon. Thankfully, the appearance of Oliver Reed signals a return to better form as his charm and brooding good looks are put to great use. Reed is joined onscreen by a cast that includes Warren Mitchell as a watchman who once, unwittingly, shot Leon, Michael Ripper as a drunkard, Ewen Solon as Leon's employer, Martin Matthews as a buddy and Catherine Feller as a woman that Leon falls for. Mitchell and Ripper are both great, the rest do what's asked of them, but not much more.

The script by Hinds is a bit flat, as is the direction from Fisher, but all is saved by the wonderful third act, featuring a number of scenes allowing Reed to really gain sympathy even after viewers have seen the hairy incarnation of him covered in make up based on the classic look created for The Wolf Man by Jack P. Pierce.

It's certainly worth seeing if you're a fan of werewolf movies and, of course, if you're a fan of Hammer horrors, but it's more interesting than actually impressive. I have a soft spot for it (I saw it on TV when I was very young thanks to a babysitter who let me stay up late), and I'm sure that many others feel the same way, but I don't know how anyone would react if coming to view it for the first time in adulthood. Give it a watch sometime and find out. Then you can let me know.


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