The Curse Of The Werewolf (1961) – Review


Can you believe that in all the years that Hammer paraded out all manner of bloodsucking beasties and reanimated rampages, they only made one werewolf movie? It’s a statistic that beggars belief, especially considering how many vampire movies they made, however, if you want a bright side, take solace in the fact that their sole excursion into lycanthope territory proved to be something rather special.
While their adaptations of other, classic monsters such as Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster were sexed-up reworkings that updated the icons for less stuffier times, The Curse Of The Werewolf radically alters the lore behind turning all fuzzy and gives us a bewitching lead performance by a suitably feral Oliver Reed. However, the most intriguing aspect of of the movie is the fact that it rewrites standard horror tropes by taking in the titular curse and focusing on it like no other film before or since.


In Spain, in the 18th century, a young man named Leon leaves home to seek his fortune by finding work at a vineyard. As he toils away in the wine cellar and makes friends with fellow worker and spirited drinker Jose, the rather intense young man falls in love with the vitner’s daughter, Cristina and finds that those feelings are reciprocated – however, while many movies would paint this affair as something sweet, a peek at Leon’s messed up past hints that only disaster can lie on the horizon.
You see, even before Leon was born, fate seemingly has chose to make him its personal whipping boy that has set him on a path that will only bring death, blood and a shit-ton of animal hair on his cot.
His phenomenal back story is thus: a beggar finds himself in the halls of a sadistic nobleman who has him imprisoned for some imagined slight and then promptly forgets about the poor sod, leaving the hapless transient to slowly go mad over the next few years. His only contact with the world is a mute serving girl who similarly finds herself at the receiving end of the nobleman’s unchallenged douchebaggery and is also locked up in the dungeons and is quickly raped by the animal-like beggar before he suddenly keels over and dies. Seeking revenge, the servant girl stabs multiple holes into the twisted old nobleman and flees, carrying a baby in her womb from her recent rape, but finally finds some peace when she’s rescued and taken in by the kindly Don Alfredo Corledo. After she finally dies in childbirth, Corledo and his wife raise the child, Leon, as his own – but his tumultuous conception is a harbinger of doom as a child born exactly on Christmas Day with a history such as his, means that he is an easy target for wolf-like demons to corrupt his soul.
Lo and behold, little Leon takes to taking little feral rampages, but after taking a bullet, Corledo tries to help his adopted son try to get control of his personal demons.
It worked before, but now that Leon is grown, will he have the same success once he finds himself in the thrall of the curse of the werewolf?


Director Terence Fisher was usually Hammer’s go-to guy when it came to the bright, colourful and rather salacious reduxes thecstudio performed on some of Horror’s best loved monsters, but of all the films he lent his classy sensibilities to, The Curse Of The Werewolf is arguably the most striking.
Seeing as the lion’s share of werewolf traditions had been invented in Universal’s The Wolf Man back in 1941, the filmmakers obviously chose to play fast and loose with the rules, thereby creating a whole new origin for the slathering creature. Gone is the story of a chronically depressed man contracting lycanthopy via a wolf bite and in its place the movie takes us through the entirety of Leon’s life as the curse manifests itself before the poor little fucker was even conceived, which throws in some intriguing nature vs. nurture themes to chew on.
Like many a hairy tale before or since, the werewolf-in-waiting has to be an appropriately fucked-up individual before the poor swine sprouts fur and claws and starts howling like Ric Flair after a cocaine pick-me-up, but Curse takes this to a whole new level.
Leon’s path to an upsettingly hairy back and an appetite for very rare meat is a perfect storm of terrible coincidence, shocking happenstance and sexual assault that damns our poor lead the second he forms in the womb and we see him literally struggle with the bestial nature of himself for the entirety of his childhood with only love stopping him from continuing to race out into the night and rip the throats out of goats.


It’s a genuinely intriguing premise that leads to some slightly off-beat story telling – it’s well over the half hour mark before torrid backstory is told and Oliver Reed finally gets to show his sweaty face – and those expecting a more traditional story might be fairly confused. However, despite this and some of the most comically English sounding Spanish people you’re ever likely to hear (trust that you’ll be hearing “señor” spoken in clipped, upper class accents more times than if you were lost in an ex-pat section of Benidorm), Curse’s plus points borderline on iconic. The casting of Oliver Reed may be the most spot on piece of werewolf casting until Jack Nicholson sprouted fur in Wolf and the young actor’s naturally animalistic demeanor fits the character and his plight magnificently as he throws himself into his sweat-drenched role completely. Even better, his barrel chest and famously unpredictable manner means that once he finally changes into something more uncomfortable, he is literally one of the most imposing Wolf Men to ever appear on film. Dribbling blood from his fangs and glaring at his prey from under a heavy, latex brow, he is literally a juggernaut of suppressed rage as he leaps from rooftop and he’s nothing short of awe inspiring – especially when he’s lifting a blazing bale of hay about his head with the intention of slam dunking it on the crowd below (Dicking around with fire while coated in flammable yak hair? Someone call that stuntman a lawyer!).


While the rather unique hook of telling the entire story of Leon’s sorry tale in sequential fashion may feel a little too radical for some people’s tastes, it’s truly great to see Hammer continuing to think outside the box instead of just trying to copy the success of Dracula and Frankenstein. Unfortunately, this was the only time the studio would dabble with silver bullets and full moons, which is inconceivable considering they made four Mummy movies during their tenure and the mind boggles when you think of what else could have been done with horrordom’s hairiest, howling anti-hero.
A Wolf Man movie that shoots for the moon while it bays at it.


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