Thursday, July 18, 2013

Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Curse of the Werewolf is one of those movies that I remember seeing still pictures of from a book entitled Great Monsters of the Movies (Edward Edelson 1973)  I somehow came into possession of this book as a wee lad, probably somewhere around 6 years old. How I am not too sure but it was a book that would introduce me to many a classic monster. The iconic picture of Oliver Reed as the werewolf standing in a doorway with his shredded shirt and wild blazing eyes sent shivers down my spine and for many a year after that I longed to see the movie. Many years later I did, on late night television but recently I have finally been able to view this lycanthropic classic in widescreen and high definition.

Leon's mum......showing off some....

Curse is the story of Leon, the adopted son of Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans) who discovers at a young age that he is “different” from other children. He has very strange dreams and tends to leave the house on the nights of a full moon. Leon is the son of a servant girl who worked at the castle of the cruel Marquis. She resisted the sexual advances of the Marquis and was thrown in the dungeon for a night. During that fateful night she is attacked and raped by a mad inmate.
 An inmate she had come to know because she was the jailer’s daughter. Upon her release the next day, she kills the Marquis and flees into the country side. Corledo discovers her unconscious in the water and takes her in. Corledo and his housekeeper nurse her back to health and discover she is mute. Nine months later and on Christmas Day, she gives birth to Leon. This is considered a curse since he was born out of wedlock. His mother passes away shortly after bringing him into the world. Leon is then raised by Corledo and his housekeeper.

As a young man Leon leaves home and goes to work at a local vineyard owned by Don Fernando Gomez. He soon falls in love with Gomez’ daughter, Cristina (Catherine Feller) who has been set up to have a relationship with another man of an upper class family. One night Leon and his coworker Jose, go out for a night on the town since Leon is in a down mood. Here Leon is approached by a young woman of “ill repute” and while in her bedroom during the full moon, Leon transforms unexpectedly. He murders the woman and his coworker.
Reed's hands are empty......just like my caption.
 Leon is arrested the following day on suspicion of murder and jailed. Leon begs the police to execute him before he turns again but the authorities think he is mad. Leon transforms again, killing a guard and escaping into the town. The townsfolk give chase and corner him in a bell tower. His adopted father arrives with a silver bullet fashioned from a crucifix and reluctantly shoots.
Thar be bats n tha belfry.....oh wait.
Curse has all the trappings of a good werewolf story. The cause of lycanthropy is explained in this film unlike some werewolf films where someone is bitten by another infected and we take it for granted. The look of the werewolf is also a nice upgrade from the standard Wolf Man makeup of Jack Pierce and the Universal Chaney series of films. The ripped shirt, gray fur and pointed ears perched towards the top of the head give a more animalistic film. Of course don’t forget a nice smattering of the crimson that Hammer was famous for! 

Two other things that really stand out for me are the fact that Leon's transformation is curbed while in the presence of Cristina. The love of another woman has always been a factor in werewolf story lines but this is the only time I can recall that the psychical presence of that love overpowered the curse of lycanthropy.
Love conquers the animal
 The opening credits of this film is the second stand out. The entire credit sequence is presented over the image of Oliver Reeds bloodshot wolf eyes! They slow look to the left and right of the screen. A pretty shocking image but might be up on the screen for too long and almost gives the impression that the werewolf is reading the credits!
ooogiddy boogiddy!

Oliver Reed is perfectly billed as a tormented soul trying to deal with the animal within. This characterization could have been built upon a little more but Reed puts his all into the role without getting hammy. This what I like about so many Hammer films; the acting, especially in the early productions. I think my only beef with this film is the fact that it is based on the book “The Werewolf of Paris” by Guy Endore but is set in Spain? Meh…it’s a very mild beef and I can live with that.
The iconic still shot that gave me nightmares!