Title: The Curse of the Werewolf
Distributor: Hammer/ Universal
Writer: Anthony Hinds
Director: Terence Fisher
Producers: Michael Carreras, Anthony Hinds
Starring: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Michael Ripper
Release: June 7th, 1961
As I continue to cut a path of movie madness through the Hammer Studios catalog, there are still a few that stand out to me. One of them is definitely The Curse of the Werewolf. It’s the only Hammer werewolf movie to my knowledge, and why that is can’t be explained rationally to me considering how good this film portrays the monster. He’s a tortured soul (maybe even more so than Chaney), and really gets you to feel sorry for him by the end of the flick. So, without anymore interruptions, let us forge ahead with this classic!
The movie begins with a beggar (Richard Wordsworth- image below) making his way through a village. He notices that there is no one in the streets, and that the church bells are ringing. He knows that it’s not Sunday, so this is very puzzling to him. He asks the one passerby that he sees about this situation, and the man directs him to a poster hanging on the side of a building. Since the beggar cannot read, he keeps moving until he finds a pub. Once inside, the “gentlemen” that are drinking tell him that the local marques (nobleman) is getting married, and the reception is taking place at his castle. They instruct him to go there in search of food and money.
The beggar makes his way to the castle, and inside we see the marques and his new bride. The marques (Anthony Dawson) is an evil and vicious man, and treats his servants like dirt. As the beggar knocks, a servant answers, and tells him to go away, but before he can leave, the marques tells him to come inside. He tells the beggar that he’ll give him food and wine if he’ll sing and dance for it. The beggar complies, and then after more of the shameless behavior from the marques, he intends to “retire” for the evening with his new bride (who appears to be half his age). On their way out, the beggar makes a snide remark, and the marques has him thrown into the dungeon. The only people he ever sees, are the jailer, and his mute daughter. Years pass, and the jailer dies off, but his daughter (Yvonne Romain), continues with the work load. One day, the girl is serving some food to the marques, and he attempts to assault her in his chambers. She bites his hand, and she is then thrown into the dungeon for her acts, with the beggar. The beggar then rapes her, but later, when she makes some commotion, and the guards take her back to the marques for a lesson. As he turns his back on her, she stabs him, and runs away.
Months later, after living in the forest, a man, Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans), sees the girl, and she’s on death’s door. He brings her back to his home, and his wife takes care of her, but they also find out that she’s a few months pregnant (from the rape). She eventually gives birth to a son, but dies shortly after delivery. Corledo and his wife then take the child as their own. As the baby is being baptized, the church rattles from a thunderstorm that’s raging outside. Corledo’s wife is very upset, and thinks this is a bad omen. Time passes, and in a nearby village, dead animals are being found with their throats torn out, and a wolf is blamed. The farmers have a hunter in their employ though, and he vows to kill the predator. He waits up one night, and hears a wolf howl. He sees something in the brush close by, and shoots.
The next morning, Corledo and his wife are stunned to see that their little boy has been shot. The two of them are at a loss on how the boy got out of the house without them knowing about it, and, why he was shot. Corledo questions his son, and he learns that his son has had bad dreams lately. He notices that his arms and hands are hairy, and he gets a worried look on his face. Corledo talks to his local priest about his son’s issues, but gets little help. The priest does explain however that sometimes demons can gain entrance to a soul, if the person is weak (or young).
At the local pub, a man (Michael Ripper), is going off about the full moon, and evil things being abroad during the night of a full moon. Corledo is next seen putting bars on the windows of his son’s room. The hunter is trying to figure out what to do, and then sees his wife’s crucifix on the wall. He then melts it down, and makes a bullet out of the slag. He now believes that it’s a werewolf doing these killings and that there is only one way to stop it from continuing. Again, he waits up for the beast, and is ready to shoot. He hears something close, and fires. As the gun goes off, we switch scenes to the Corledo home, and young Leon is struggling to pry open the bars and get out into the night (image below). Back outside, the hunter sees that he shot a dog, and believes it was responsible for the killings.
More years pass, and Leon (Oliver Reed) is now an adult, and leaving home for some work in another village. He seems to be cured, but there is an uneasy feeling from his surrogate parents. As he enters the town, a carriage splashes mud on him, but he seems to get over it quickly. A man then approaches him about work, and he gladly accepts. He’s shown a wine cellar, and then meets his workmate, Jose. The two bond quickly, and then one day, they hear a carriage approaching. They see a beautiful young woman (Catherine Feller), who’s the daughter of their boss. Within days, Cristina is running to the arms of Leon (after her boyfriend drops her off from their date), and the two kiss passionately.
After a long work week, both young men decide to go out to a seedy pub at the edge of town. A couple of prostitutes are showing them both a good time at the bar, and then Leon begins to feel queasy. One of the hookers takes him upstairs to “lie down”, and we now see that it is a full moon outside. As the young lady begins to do her tricks, she quickly finds out that Leon is more than meets the eye. In the next scene, the woman is lying on the floor, eviscerated. Jose comes to find his friend, and gets throttled for his trouble. Before the night is over, there is one more killing, as a drunk leaves the pub, and gets jumped by the werewolf.
The next morning, Leon awakens in his bed back at home. He’s covered in sweat and there is blood on his hands. His father sees the bars on the window have been broken. His parents and a priest attempt to tell him about his affliction, but he’s in denial. He runs off, and when he reaches the village, the police are waiting there for him, to question him about the murder of his workmate. He doesn’t give them anything to work off of, and they let him go. Later, Cristina visits his room, but Leon shouts at her to get away. She stays with him, and for some reason, his change doesn’t occur. He realizes this, but then her father intervenes, and keeps her away from him just as they are about to run away together. Leon is then imprisoned and under suspicion of murder.
As the moon rises, Leon gets that funky feeling, and transforms into the hairy beast once again. He kills the guard, and goes on a rampage throughout the village. Leon’s father feels as if it’s his responsibility to stop his son, so he grabs his rifle, and heads over to the village. The two then have a showdown in a bell-tower, Quasimodo style! Two enter, only one leaves!
OK, here are my thoughts:
This is one of the best werewolf movies of all time. It ranks right up there with the Wolfman (1941), no joke. Oliver Reed is a superstar in this film, and really steals the show. He’s strong as Leon, and even more dramatic when he’s the werewolf. The supporting cast really doesn’t add too much though, and other than Yvonne Romain (who dies 1/3 of the way through the film), most aren’t that memorable. A love story that has tragedy in it is very Shakespearean, and a lot like the 1941 Universal film, but this version was more vicious, and more exciting.
Of course, the sets were incredible too, and are a staple with Hammer films. The music score was quite good too, and lent some atmosphere to the film. The running time of the movie is standard for its time, but it just felt too short. More screen time for the monster, and more mystery about who the real monster was would have been better. Overall, those few things are more a nitpick than anything, and should never discourage anyone from seeing this Hammer classic! After viewing this film again, it seems to me that if the female lead roles would’ve been reversed (Yvonne is the love interest, and Feller the mother), things mat have been quite different. Not trying to downplay Feller’s contributions, but Yvonne Romain was definitely a better actress.
Get out there and look for this movie. I’m sure it’s available online or grab the Hammer Horror Series DVD set, and be ready for a Hammer marathon! See you next week!