Search This Blog

Monday, October 21, 2019


Oliver Reed, on any given day at the pub. 

Spain, the 18th century: On the wedding day of a cruel nobleman, a pitiful beggar (Richard Wordsworth) arrives at the nobleman's castle and begs for food. Much to the amusement of his equally assholish guests, the marques (Anthony Dawson) humiliates the beggar for sport and commands him to behave like a dog to earn table scraps. As the marques and his blushing bride leave the feast for the nuptial bed, the beggar makes a risqué comment that offends the nobleman, thus earning him a one-way ticket to a dank dungeon, where he is promptly forgotten (though regularly fed) and allowed to languish for fifteen years. In the meantime, the marquis has aged into a physical state as repellent as his overall personality and his wife has apparently died, so he sets his lecherous eyes on the mute, busty daughter of the castle's jailer, and when the girl (Yvonne Romain) rejects the vile old bastard's advances he has her thrown into the cell with the forgotten prisoner. 

The start of a VERY bad day for an innocent, mute serving girl (Yvonne Romain).

The prisoner, having been there for so long, has lost all semblance of sanity and is now a disgusting, hairy, feral mockery of humanity, and once the luscious girl is within reach he savagely rapes her — thankfully off-camera, but there is no doubt as to what's taking place — and the poor girl cannot even scream for help. His last energy spent during the violation, the beggar expires, and on the following day the girl is sent to the marquis' bed chamber, presumably chastised by her night in the dungeon. She instead gives the marquis the murder that he so richly deserved, after which she escapes into the nearby woods and nearly perishes in the elements. Found by the wealthy and kindly Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans) and his motherly housekeeper, Teresa (Hira Talfrey), she is nursed back to health and it is soon apparent that she has become pregnant by the feral rapist. Tragically, the girl only lives long enough to give birth to a son on Christmas Day, whom Don Corledo raises as his own. Since a child sharing the birthday of Jesus is “an insult to heaven” and said child is likely to be cursed as a werewolf, the boy, named Leon, is doomed from the start, and as he grows up he exhibits behavioral and physical traits that mark him as a lycanthrope in the making, and when he reaches manhood, his animal passions become ever harder to control, and he falls in love with a girl betrothed to another…

Young Leon's curse begins to manifest.

My love of Britain's wave of genre-redefining horror from Hammer Studios is well-documented and second only to my adoration of the classic Universal cycle of the 1930's and 1940's, but I only recently realized that I had neglected to discuss Hammer's sole werewolf outing in any real detail. That said, while I find several elements in the film to be very strong, I'm going to commit Hammer fan heresy and go on record to state that I find THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF to be something of a well-crafted letdown. Allow me to explain.

The adult Leon (Oliver Reed), rocking the superb work of makeup artist Roy Ashton.

Oliver Reed is perfectly cast as the brooding, tormented Leon, and the film allows us to get to know and understand him and his plight, which is only made worse when one considers the circumstances of his conception and birth. Like the best of protagonists who suffers the lycanthropic affliction, the audience's sympathy is firmly with Leon, but, like most of the rest of his accursed kind, his tragic end is pretty much a foregone conclusion and the narrative is pretty much a question of how to keep things interesting until the inevitable at the climax. The story is rock-solid up through and including Leon's curse starting to manifest, but when it skips ahead a few years to show us adult Leon, it turns into a period melodrama with no actual werewolf action until the very last reel, and what we get of that amounts to a rather minimal rampage until he's put down with the requisite silver bullet. The werewolf's mayhem is good for its era and the savage-looking makeup work on the creature itself are terrific, but it comes as too little too late, if you ask me. And as this was Hammer's sole werewolf movie, perhaps they didn't deem the werewolf to be as easily continued as the long runs of the Dracula and Frankenstein franchises.

Worth seeing, as Hammer's one shot at remaking another classic monster for the then-current time, THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF may not live up to its potential but it's certainly not a total loss. Tragic all the way and riveting during Leon's origin story, what's most interesting to me about all of it is that Leon’s troubles come not from being bitten or from some Satanic pact, but from the fact that little baby Jesus apparently has birthday attention issues.

Poster from the U.K. theatrical release.

No comments: