Blending lycan legend with Spanish superstition, this 1961 color flick from Hammer Films, The Curse of the Werewolf, offers something a little different for fans of the genre.
Oliver Reed portrays a bloodthirsty man-beast who romances by day and kills by night in this gothic tale, and he’s pretty entertaining as the overwrought, wretched creature… unfortunately, it takes ages to get him. For the first half-hour of the movie we follow his parents before he was born. And we don’t actually see a werewolf till about an hour into the cinematic mire.
The fable begins when a starving beggar (Richard Wordsworth) runs afoul of the local aristocracy and is thrown into a dirty dungeon, where he stays for years on end. He’s fed only water and scraps of meat by the jailer’s mute daughter and as time goes on, his mind rots into madness. When the young girl matures into a robust and busty young woman (Yvonne Romain), she finds herself in a predicament that places her in the same cell and she becomes the object of the beggar’s lusty abuse. Cast out, the violated — and now pregnant — young woman is taken in by strangers. After she dies in childbirth on Christmas Day, her baby is raised by them.
It would appear that it’s very bad luck to be a child of rape who’s born on December 25 when your mother dies and your father was hairy… these are all, apparently, the ingredients for a werewolf recipe. But the kindly Don Alfredo Carrido (Clifford Evans) and his unruffled housekeeper Teresa (Hira Talfrey) do their best to raise young Leon (Justin Walters), despite his strange cravings for the blood of animals. Leon eventually — by the time less persistent viewers will have signed off — becomes Oliver Reed and tries to keep the beast within him tamed.
Directed by famed horror filmmaker and Hammer favorite, Terence Fisher, this slow-moving tale never quite works. Despite the change of locales (Hammer Studios doubles as Spain rather than the usual Victorian England or Transylvania) there is little to hold the viewer’s interest. The locations and sets are drab and colorless. Most of the acting is levelly competent, but there are some extremes — Walters as the young Leon is practically catatonic in his marble-mouthed delivery (you’ll need the captions for him), while Reed, playing him as a grown-up takes the performance through the roof with his howling histrionics.
When we finally get to see the werewolf in all his shaggy splendor, it’s a disappointment to say the least. Even the comparatively primitive effects used 20 years prior in the Universal classic The Wolf Man were by far better-realized. The transformation looks hokey and slap-dash here, and Reed looks more embarrassed than menacing behind the faux snout.
If you can get into the very slow groove, you might find The Curse of the Werewolf worth a peek for curiosity’s sake. Indeed, the final showdown in which the beast is bested by the Church is rousing fun.
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
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The Hammer Horror Series — A collectible set of eight classics featuring Frankenstein, the Werewolf, Dracula and more. On DVD September 6, 2005 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
Official synopses of the other films in this collection:
"Brides of Dracula" 1960
Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), a beautiful young French girl, is stranded en route to a teaching assignment in Eastern Europe. She is persuaded to spend the night at the nearly deserted castle of a mysterious Baroness (Martita Hunt), where she accidentally discovers a man chained to the wall of his room. The Baroness only explains that he is her seasick and feeble-minded son. Unable to get any further information from the maid Greta (Freda Jackson), Marianne steals a key and sets him free. Once unbound, the Baron (David Peel) fiendishly recruits the undead for his evil purposes until captured by Marianne and the indefatigable Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).
"Phantom of the Opera" 1962
Herbert Lom stars as the Phantom in Hammer Films' celebrated production of Gaston Leroux's horror classic. Mysterious mishaps bedevil a London opera house, but when tragedy strikes during an opening night performance, it's clear that these "accidents" are the deliberate work of a deranged madman -- the Phantom. When Christine (Heather Sears), the young star of a new musical is contacted by the shadowy specter, her producer (Edward de Souza) investigates, tracking the ghostly Phantom to his secret underground lair. More than an evil apparition, the Phantom proves to be a brilliant composer. Disfigured and nearly destroyed, he now demands his hellish revenge. Christine, his new star, is the Phantom's one weakness, and he pays the ultimate price to keep his love alive.
Nothing is quite what it seems in this riveting, complex tale of greed, dementia and deceit. Rescued from a suicide attempt by a man claiming to be her long-dead brother, a young heiress (Janette Scott) finds a new reason to live. But her relatives have doubts; they think "Tony" (Alexander Davion) is an imposter who's trying to get his hands on the family fortune. Everyone has their own secret reasons to suspect Tony, as well as their own designs on his vast inheritance -- especially brother Simon (Oliver Reed), a magnetic but devastatingly cruel wretch who'll stop at nothing to thwart the supposed pretender. In this flavorful feast of a thriller, "the horror-mystery elements are brewed to a fine discriminating savor."
"The Kiss of the Vampire" 1963
Lost on the way to their honeymoon, a young couple stumbles upon a mysterious family of vampires and their evil leader. A wrong turn leaves Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) and Gerald (Edward de Souza) stranded in a remote Bavarian forest where they have no choice but to accept the hospitality of the hypnotic Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman), distinguished lord of the local castle. Ravna uses his "children" to lure the newlyweds to his lair, and soon, they are plunged into a nightmare of horror and deception from which there may be no escape. Their only hope is Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans), who calls upon an ancient ritual in a desperate attempt to destroy the vampires and free Marianne from Ravna's power. A lush 19th-century-setting, masterful direction, and vivid special effects intensify this spooky Hammer Films chiller.
This thriller walks the thin line between sanity and madness, exploring the shadowy world between dreams and reality. As a child, Janet (Jennie Linden) witnessed an unbearable horror: her insane mother stabbing her father to death. Now a young woman, Janet's recurring nightmares have her convinced she'll follow her mother to the asylum. Accompanied by her schoolteacher Miss Lewis (Brenda Bruce), Janet retreats to the home of her guardian (David Knight), who has hired lovely Grace (Moira Redmond) as a companion to help calm his troubled ward. But Janet's nightly terrors, magnified by the eerie, creaky old house, bring all of her fears chillingly to life. Are Janet's problems all in her head, or is there a sinister force at work? Startling plot twists reveal that sometimes when you wake up, the nightmare is just beginning.
"Night Creatures (Captain Clegg)" 1962
In this engaging costume melodrama of skulduggery on the low seas set back in the 18th-century, the Royal Crown suspects a bit of smuggling is going on in this locale, and they send Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) and his crew to check it out. When a mysterious swamp phantom clouds the investigation, Captain Collier suspects the odd village vicar (Peter Cushing) may be hiding something. What better way to do that than by the appearance of ghosts to scare away the curious, or by posing as someone he is not?
"The Evil of Frankenstein" 1964
Peter Cushing stars in this inspired fantasy as Baron von Frankenstein, the creator of the infamous monster. On the run from irate villagers who disapprove of his unorthodox experiments, Dr. Frankenstein returns to a remote mountain castle with his assistant Hans. Caught in a snowstorm, they are rescued by a mute deaf girl (Katy Wild) who leads them to the safety of her cave home. There, Frankenstein finds his original creature preserved in ice. Resurrecting the monster in his laboratory, Frankenstein discovers the brain is dormant, and he calls in Zoltan, a mystical hypnotist (Peter Woodthorpe). But Zoltan uses the creature for his own selfish purposes, and unleashes a violent chain of events. This chiller offers all the excitement and suspense of the original with spectacular effects and blood-curdling action in vivid color.