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Promotional still for The Curse of the Werewolf, 1961

From the video case: Oliver Reed portrays the bloodthirsty man-beast who loves by day and kills by night in this gripping gothic thriller.

Directed by horror filmmaker Terence Fisher of Hammer Film fame, this atmospheric tale of terror follows Reed, the orphan baby of a maniacal beggar and a mute girl, from birth to manhood when he discovers his horrible secret.

Try as he may, the cursed youth is unable to suppress the dark forces within. When the moon is full, he becomes an uncontrollable killer incapable of distinguishing between friend and foe. (1961, color)

Mark says: This is the first and only werewolf picture produced by Hammer Studios. It’s also unusual for a Hammer film because the backdrop is in Spain rather than England.

Though Curse of the Werewolf has a lot to offer, it is hindered by a slow pace. A good portion of the film is spent on the lineage of Leon Corledo, the unfortunate werewolf (played by Oliver Reed). It’s not that the history of the werewolf’s parents (Yvonne Romain as his buxom mute mother, and Richard Wordsworth as the filthy beggar father) aren’t interesting and significant tales of their own, but it takes focus away from Leon and his own struggles with lycanthropy, especially concerning his relationship with Cristina Fernando (played by Catherine Feller).

What this movie lacks in pace, however, it nearly makes up for in originality. For example, the cause of werewolfism is significantly different from the foundation we have come to understand in such films as The Wolf Man. In Hammer’s version, werewolves are born, not made. Instead of being “infected” by the bite of another man-beast, Oliver Reed’s character is inflicted with the curse through a tragedy of birth. One explanation given is that an unwanted child born on Christmas Day is an “insult to heaven.”

Another substantial twist featured in Curse of the Werewolf, is that to cure werewolfism, all you need is love. Unfortunately, Leon discovers this bit of trivia too late.

Oliver Reed really gives it his all as the tormented man-wolf. He does sort of a Saint Vitus dance not only as he is going through the transformation, but even while he is being tortured by the thought of becoming a werewolf. We get the point that he is really tortured, but sometimes his fits seem comical.

The actual transformation scene comes late in the movie, and is disappointing after so much anticipation. The make-up is not quite convincing, but interesting enough not to be a total let down.

Overall, this is a strong effort by Hammer, but not on the same caliber as their Dracula and Frankenstein series.

Curse of the Werewolf is directed by Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula, Island of Terror).

Scene to watch for: Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans) discovers that young Leon (Justin Walters) has very hairy palms.

Line to listen for: “Nasty that is. Very nasty.”

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

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One Comment

  1. Just saw this one for the first time (it took me almost five decades to catch up with it) at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theatre, with a fairly packed house. It was very well received, and looked just great on the big screen. I personally loved the slow buildup, but could have used a bit more actual werewolf mayhem toward the end. Thanks again for your insightful remarks, Mark!


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Top 10 Werewolf Films » Top10Films on 09 Feb 2011 at 4:01 pm

    [...] without its highlights, especially Oliver Reed’s performance as the cursed Leon. Discover More: Exclamation Mark review9. Teen Wolf (Daniel, 1985)Michael J. Fox becomes a hairy beast in this family-friendly [...]

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