Curse of the Werewolf (1961) 

Oliver Reed plays the doomed Leon Corledo in this classic Hammer Horror from Terence Fisher. From Universal R1 Hammer boxset.

The Film

In 1960, Hammer were on a roll, their gothic horror titles, including their most recent production Brides of Dracula (1960), had met with massive audience success. Granted full access to the Universal Horror library for remakes, they looked a the company's famous Wolf Man (1941) film, but instead chose to option the rights to a similar Universal property, the Guy Endor novel Werewolf of Paris (1933) - a very different werewolf film set in France. At the same time Hammer were scripting a semi-horror title, The Rape of Sabena, based on the Spanish Inquisition, and planning to shoot the films back-to-back, they changed the setting of their werewolf film to Spain. However, the British censors objected heavily to the latter film, and not wanting to risk any more money on a title that might never get to be shown in Britain the studio, and their American backers Columbia Pictures abandoned production - instead Hammer put all their efforts into the werewolf film...

In rural 18th Century Spain a lonely beggar arrives into a small town; finding it closed up, he learns that the townspeople are "celebrating" the marriage of the cruel Marques to an unfortunate local girl. Hoping to find money or food, the beggar heads up to the Marques' villa, where the huge wedding celebration is taking place, but when he is seen by the Marques, the beggar finds himself ridiculed in front of the guests, and is later thrown into the dungeons and forgotten about. Years later he is still there, being fed and looked after by the gaoler's daughter, but when she accidentally offends the now widowed and lonely Marques, she finds herself thrown into the gaol, and is raped by the now animalistic beggar. Later fleeing into the forest, she is found by the kindly Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans) and he looks after her until she dies giving birth to a child. Named Leon, he soon grows up into a young man, but shows some unusual habits, and when he is older, Don Corledo discovers the horrible curse that has befallen Leon...

The script, the first of many for Hammer written by producer Anthony Hinds (under the alias of John Elder), is only loosely inspired by the Guy Endor novel - although Endor had written scripts for Universal back in the 1930s, they had not used his novel as inspiration for their own Wolfman films, finding the story of a man born to a women raped by a priest and possessing sadistic sexual fantasies, responsible for several brutal murders and meeting his end caged in an asylum, to be rather too strong for the still very conservative 1940s. Despite the considerable liberalisation by the 1960s,
Anthony Hinds still had to make major changes to the novel to allow it past the censors. The script retains the rather grim originals of the titular creature (although having the father as a Priest might well have alienated the film in the European export markets and was removed) - and distinct to most other genre films, it shows how a werewolf is born, rather than just created. In contrast to Hammer's earlier, Jimmy Sangster scripted gothic horrors, there is a lot more focus here on characterisation and background to the story - it is a full 45 minutes (half the runtime) before the fully grown Leon appears. Unfortunately the film does suffer from a rather clichéd conclusion, that belies the otherwise very original storyline, and certainly fails to compare to the dark emotional climax to Endor's novel.

Compared to the distinctive auteur direction present in a lot of the European gothic horror films during the era, Terence Fisher's work on the film here is notably simply for its understatement - taking a back seat to the on screen action, it never draws attention to itself and lets the storyline take the fore. Hammer's make-up expert Roy Ashton had worked on most of their gothic horror productions, and painstakingly researched lupine characteristics to make Hammer's werewolf look both realistic and scary - fortunately we only see the werewolf towards the film's climax, making its appearance all the more shocking. As usual the sets look fantastic, with a very good Spanish atmosphere, that sadly the English language and cast of the film never quite capture. The soundtrack, by composer Benjamin Frankel is a bombastic and quite modern orchestral score, inspired by the experimental composer 
Schoenberg - its often atonal chords in strong contrast to the more familiar James Bernard scores.

Curse of the Werewolf was the first of Hammer's gothic-style horrors not to include either Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, instead casting the theatre and occasional television actor Clifford Evans as Don Alfredo Corledo, and their rising talent Oliver Reed as the cursed Leon Corledo. After some minor performances as an extra, Reed had gained his first major screen role on Hammer's adventure film Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), and was selected for this first lead role because of his animalistic looks and his willingness to sit through the lengthy make-up procedures - he gives a strong turn, both as the man and the beast, and it is easy to see why he soon became first a Hammer star (appearing in six more productions for the studio), and later a major star in his own right. Alongside these two, there is a long list of familiar faces including Anthony Dawson (who played the unseen Blofeld in two Bond films) as the Marques, Richard Wordsworth (the doomed astronaut of Hammer's Quatermass Xperiment (1955)) as the beggar, plus brief appearances from Peter Sallis (Last of the Summer Wine) as the town mayor and Desmond Llewelyn (James Bond's Q) as a footman for the Marques. Look out for the Hammer regulars Michael Ripper and Peter Woodbridge as local farmers.

Effectively written (if a little let down by the ending) and well produced, with a good set of performances, especially from Oliver Reed, Curse of the Werewolf is a very strong Hammer Horror film. Unfortunately, audiences wanted more of the same - gothic horrors with castles and vampires not characterisation and detailed background, and the film did not perform as well at the box office as their previous horror titles. However, provided you come in expecting something a little different, there is everything to enjoy here and it comes recommended to all Hammer fans, making a perfectly good place to start exploring their horror oeuvre, outside of the famous Dracula and Frankenstein franchises. Werewolf movie fans should enjoy this, provided you don't want wall-to-wall gore and action.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? Oliver Reed - the first leading role from this future major star, also appeared in Hammer's Paranoiac (1962).
Directed by anyone interesting? Terence Fisher - the biggest name in Hammer's gothics who directed all of the early horror films, from Curse of Frankenstein (1957) to Phantom of the Opera (1962)
Is it scary?A couple of scenes might prove scary, but nothing much.
Any violence? Some blood and a couple of brutal deaths.
Any sex? No
Who is it for?
One for all Hammer fans, and a good one for newcomers.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 1.85:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour
The picture quality is very good with strong colours and detail, almost no print damage and only very mild grain.
Audio Original English mono - Dolby Digital - sounds fine.
Subtitles English HOH, Spanish and French.
Extras None.
      AvailabilityOnly available as part of the Hammer Horror Series boxset.
      Region Region 1 - NTSC
      Other regions? None known.
      Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut - the print restores the one minute of cuts made to the print by the BBFC (and retained on the Universal VHS release).



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      All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 20th June 2007.
      Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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