273. The Curse of the Werewolf (GB 1961)

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Clifford Evans, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Richard Wordsworth

Music: Benjamin Frankel

Cinematography: Arthur Grant

Screenplay: Anthony Hinds

Novel: The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore

Bit Parts: warren Mitchell (Alf Garnett!), Peter Sallis (Clegg! from The Last of the Summer Venereal Infections!), George Woodbridge (Inigo Pipkin!), Michael Ripper (The Guvnor and 'Old Soak' in this!)

Fact:: The film was set in Spain in order to use the sets for the never-made Hammer film The Inquisitor.

 In one line: after being attacked by an infected beggar, a  mute peasant woman gives birth to a werewolf on Christmas Day.

Summary

A  beggar (Wordsworth) enters a small Spanish town some time in the eighteenth century. He walks into a tavern and is told that the miserable populace are meant to be celebrating the marriage of its Marques (Dawson) and he is sent to beg at the wedding feast as a cruel joke perpetrated by the joyless drinkers.

The beggar makes a lewd comment at the Marques's castle and is imprisoned and forgotten. The jailer's mute daughter (Romain) brings him food and water every day. The beggar starts to visibly degenerate as time passes. He attacks and rapes the young woman who flees  the castle and eventually tries to kill herself.

She is pulled from a lake by the housekeeper of a local nobleman and writer Don Corledo (Evans). She tells him that the woman is pregnant and worries that she may give birth to an illegitimate child on Christmas Day - a calamity, as this would be "an insult to the Heaven".

The un-named woman dies in childbirth. Her baby is named Leon by his foster parents and he grows up to be a sensitive and caring child.  When he is eight years old, Leon picks up a dead squirrel whilst out hunting with local woodsman Pepe (Mitchell) and tries to kiss it back to life. The taste of blood is the catalyst for Leon's dreams of being a wolf and on the nights of the full moon Leon attacks and kills the sheep in the fields.

Reed - at the start of the night - charming, debonair, a good lad...

Pepe realises that a werewolf is in the town's midst and prepares a silver bullet by melting down a crucifix. Pepe informs Don Corledo and the old man sets out  to save Leon - it is the love of his own adoptive family that puts a stop to the boy's transformations.

Leon (Reed) grows older and prepares to leave home. His father realises the inherent dangers and hopes that the love of a good woman can save his son from further interludes of violence and murder. Leon finds a woman to love (Catherine Feller), but the demon drink is waiting to loosen his inhibitions and unleash his own inner demons.

The moon rises and a new cycle of violence commences. There can only be one tragic conclusion....

Reed - at the end of the night - pissed, aggressive, a werewolf

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Although well-loved and fondly remembered, Hammer films are essentially shit. All sorts of academic theories abound concerning its output, but Hammer's scary pantomimes and borderline soft-porn movies afford more respect than they deserve.

In some ways, they can be considered the obverse of the Carry-On films (and they really were shit) - a production line of ever more manipulative and cynical films aimed at attracting Joe public in ever-greater numbers.

Having said all of that, there are any number of Hammer films that I really like for any number of silly reasons, and The Curse of the Werewolf is one of them.

Un-named servant girl - mute, big 'Hammer' knockers (50% of Reed's dream woman characteristics - although he was probably a homosexual)

It's a typical Anthony Hinds (aka John Elder) script, filled with grim portents of future mayhem, figurative  Marks of Cain, and the usual rabid tee-totaller's dire warnings of the dangers of alcohol. Leon/Olly's first killing rampage occurs because he is forced against his will to go on an end-of-work, Friday piss-up with his mate Jose (Martin Matthews). Obviously, there all sorts of ironies going on here because of the nature of the central casting.

Olly is quite splendid in this film - brooding, tragic and pissed. I remember telling a not terribly brainy woman I was involved with at the time that Reed didn't wear any sort of prosthetics or use any sort of make-up at any stage of the film and she believed me, although Reed looked like this when I told her:

It didn't stop me being sordid with her, but even during the 'acts' of 'love' it did flit across my mind (I'm terrible for not concentrating, me)  that this woman thought that Oliver Reed didn't need any make during The Curse of the Werewolf, and so would I be able to respect her once the act has reached fruition? Or more to the point, would I respect her after I'd sent her out for the bread to make the breakfast the following morning? It was a tough call.

The Curse of the Werewolf is heavily indebted to Curt Siodmak's The Wolf Man (1941) in terms of its narrative, iconography and werewolf lore and was a big influence on An American Werewolf in London (SV 272). 

The film is a little more explicit regarding the werewolf's appetites being symbolic representations of the darker side of male sexuality and/or an external manifestation of the male id, and there is no doubt that it had a big influence on Angela Carter's terrible novel The Company of Wolves and Neil Jordan's far, far worse film of the same name. The girlfriend I took to see that particular bag of shite was unfortunately both very clever and also a borderline militant feminist. She actually thought The Company of Wolves was 'superb' and I'll bet that during our 'acts' of 'love' it was flitting thorough her mind that all men are essentially werewolves and that behind the mask of respectability and civilisation I was putting on, I really looked like this:

and to 'bring' herself 'off', she probably thought of me like this:

and who can blame her? Because, as she used to say (with the "present company excepted" proviso) "All men are pigs", or in this case, lions, and, I have to say,  lions wearing better undies than I was wearing that night.

So, The Curse of the Werewolf - a good performance from Reed; panto-style acting from the rest of the cast; a make-it-up-as-you go-along script from Hinds and long sequences without any action.

But I remember running home one late summer evening after a few hours of blackberry picking with the other kids from our street, and being all excited that (according to early junior school playground wisdom) "one of the scariest films ever made" was being shown on ITV. 

I can't remember ever looking forward to seeing a film as much as The Curse of the Werewolf.

It didn't disappoint.

10/10 (then - aged 8); 6/10 (now)