Published on July 24th, 2015 | by Rob Mammone
The Curse of the Werewolf Blu-ray Review
Summary: The Curse of the Werewolf thus remains a striking example of this strand of horror, replete with an excellent script, apt direction, and a tragic undertones
Featuring Oliver Reed (Gladiator), 1961s The Curse of the Werewolf is a delightful little melodrama featuring well drawn characters which is at odds with the usual Hammer fare of vampires, vampires and yet more vampires from this era in its production history.
A long, discursive opening section (which today would’ve been dispensed with in three minutes) outlines the sad background to cursed Leon, bastard child of a mute jailer’s daughter (did I mention it was slightly complicated?) Raised by his foster father, Alfredo Corledo (Cliff Jones) Leon as a young boy struggles to overcome the instinctive bloodlust that overcomes him with the full moon.
Transitioning to adulthood, Leon (as played by Reed) moves home and finds work in a vineyard, where he befriends the cellar manager Jose Amadayo (Martin Matthews) and inevitably falls in love with Amadayo’s daughter Cristina (Catherine Feller). Will the love of a good woman hold off the werewolf transformation, or will Reed fall prey to circumstance and the curse and revert to his animal instincts?
The barebones description does little to convey the richness of character, plot and setting on display in this film. While other Hammer films have plenty of tragedy, a great deal here is tragic. The rape of Leon’s mother by an unjustly imprisoned beggar, her death in childbirth, Leon’s curse and the fact he almost but not quite finds redemption with Cristina all colour the viewing of this movie. Terence Fisher, Hammer’s stalwart and talented director, brings a sensitive touch to a movie that could easily have descended into brutality and blood. The final ending, where someone close to Leon delivers the coup de grace, is particularly moving.
Of note in the movie is some overt Christian symbology. Leon is born on Christmas Day, which invites an obvious link to an earlier, more famous birth. The water in the baptismal font boils in his presence, and there is a striking image of the baby Leon being held up in the church while Christ on the cross looks down on him. Given the tenor of the times, where Christianity still maintained its old influence over society (before everything fell apart in the latter part of the 60s), the appropriation of these symbols in this manner is almost daring.
On the same level, this is a surprisingly moralistic movie. Those who sin, suffer. The sins of the father (in this case the Beggar) literally, are visited upon the son. When Leon gives in to temptation and spends a night drinking and wenching, his sinful ways manifest in his lycanthropy and death quickly follows. John Elder’s script is matched perfectly by Fisher’s direction, expressing the themes of the movie – Christian morality versus man’s primal desires in a way that is unusual for similar genre fare.
As always, these early Hammer productions are well lit, shot and designed. While most of the work is interior, some of the exterior shots, particularly the seemingly abandoned village, add to the atmosphere. Inside, the furnishings are sumptuous, and the costuming is of the usual high standards for this time. Your reviewer has covered this aspect before in his reviews of Hammer films, but it’s worth mentioning again as they help the viewer submerge into the milieu depicted more effectively.
The acting in this movie is worth mentioning. Of note is Anthony Dawson as the despicable Marques Siniestro, whose cruelty at the beginning of the movie in jailing the Beggar (Richard Wordsworth) is the catalyst for the tragedies that ensue. He plays the role with glee, and his later depiction of an older, even more lecherous man is a great deal of fun.
In terms of quality of the print, the movie has undergone extensive restoration and in its blu ray incarnation is a fine viewing experience, and isn’t marred by any scratches or blemishes. Suiting the sombre mood of the story, the colours are subdued. The audio quality comes across well in both speakers of your reviewer’s set up.
Two final points – Reed comes across a little stilted in what some consider his first starring role. He comes late to the movie, and spends most of it wrestling with his true nature, so the one note performance is perhaps forgivable. The other aspect is the fine werewolf makeup that features in Leon’s full transformation. While the crossfading special effect is understandably basic, the bestial nature of the makeup is truly striking.
Hammer Productions never revisited the werewolf myth in its movies again. The Curse of the Werewolf thus remains a striking example of this strand of horror, replete with an excellent script, apt direction, and a tragic undertone that lingers in the memory after the last sad tragic scenes.
Director – Terence Fisher
Actors – Clifford Evans/Oliver Reed/Yvonne Romain/Catherine Feller/Anthony Dawson/Josephine Llewellyn/Richard Wordsworth/Hira Talfrey
Film Genre – Horror
Label – Hammer Horror
Audio – English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
Running Time – 93
Aspect Ratio – 1.85:1
Region Coding – B (Blu-Ray)
TV Standard – PAL
Rating – M
Year of Release – 1961
Primary Format – Movies/TV – Blu-Ray