Thirty-One Days O’Horror: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Hammer’s Lone Wolf

Despite releasing multiple films featuring re-imagined versions of some of Universal’s most popular classic monsters in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, Hammer Productions only released one film featuring a werewolf. That film, 1961’s The Curse of the Werewolf, gives us a unique look at the creation of the werewolf and spends almost half of the film doing so.

The film opens with a beggar entering the gates of Marques Siniestro’s palace. The Marques “buys” the beggar and gives him to his young bride as a gift. The beggar is told to dance, crawl around like a dog, and do other things to entertain the attendees of the Marques and his bride’s wedding party. The Marques, a bitter and cruel man, ultimately has the beggar jailed where he lives out the rest of his life. Over time the beggar falls for the mute daughter of the jailer. The young woman is beautiful and draws the attention of the Marques, who attempts to have his way with her. She fights him and is thrown into the jail with the beggar who is now an old and insane man. The beggar rapes the girl and then dies. On the next day the girl is brought back to the Marques. She murders him and runs away.

The mute woman is taken in by Don Alfredo Corledo and his housekeeper, Teresa. The girl is found to be pregnant with the dead beggar’s child. After giving birth, she passes away. Don Alfredo and Teresa raise the young boy. Teresa, who holds deep superstitious and religious beliefs, believes that the boy will become something terrible due to the circumstances of his conception and birth. She’s right. The boy, named Leon, is actually a werewolf. Goats are found slaughtered in the village and soon enough, Don Corledo and Teresa realize that Leon is the one killing the animals. Seeking the help of a priest, they are told to replace the emptiness in his soul with love.

As Leon grows older it appears that the love of Alfredo and Teresa for him is enough to keep him from transforming into the beast. When he moves away to find work, he quickly falls for his employer’s daughter, Cristina. Her love holds back the beast as well, but on a night out with his co-worker, Leon becomes drunk, transforms, and goes on a killing spree. Murdering multiple people, Leon is eventually sought out by the police and arrested. He begs them to kill him but they leave him in a jail cell instead. He transforms once again and goes on another murderous rampage. What happens next? You’ll have to watch the film in order to find out!

I really enjoyed this movie. Unlike many werewolf films that put most of the focus on the monster and its body count, this movie uses a slow build up to the action. It spends about half of its running time showing us Leon’s backstory from conception to his first kills as a youngster. It isn’t until the final third of the film that we get to see the werewolf in all of its glory and it’s definitely worth the wait.

As with most Hammer Horror films, the blood is bright and flows freely once Leon begins killing people and animals. In fact, this film is brightly colored despite many of the scenes taking place at night. The practical effects used for the werewolf are amazing. Leon’s werewolf is beautiful and a true work of cinematic art. His transformation scene, a key moment in any werewolf movie in my opinion, is very well done but nothing special. That being said, Leon’s final look as the monster is pure perfection.

Terence Fisher’s direction gives us plenty of close-up shots of Leon’s eyes. Fisher keeps the story moving at a decent clip but the film does drag a bit during the sequences featuring Leon’s childhood. I’ve read reviews of the film that complained about the end of the film but I thought that it was sufficient. The music by Benjamin Frankel was perfect. It set up each and every scene. This film’s score might be on of my favorites.

The cast was also excellent. Oliver Reed took command of every scene that he was in and dominated the movie despite not appearing in it until about forty-five minutes into the film. His bulging eyes grabbed your attention and his fur-covered barrel chest made his werewolf look particularly imposing. Clifford Evans and Hira Talfrey were excellent as Don Alfredo and Teresa. Catherine Feller also did a great job as Cristina. Yvonne Romain was simply ravishing as the mute jailer’s daughter. I found it a little funny that many of the film’s promotional shots feature Oliver Reed’s werewolf interacting with Yvonne Romain despite her being Leon’s mother in the film and never seeing him as an adult nor as a werewolf. I’m pretty sure that the Hammer and Universal were cashing in on Romain’s stunning looks to bring in crowds, though, and that’s why she’s featured in so much of the promotional material. Anthony Dawson was wickedly fun as the Marques. I also enjoyed Richard Wordsworth’s performance as the beggar who becomes insane in prison and rapes the poor jailer’s daughter.

If you haven’t seen The Curse of the Werewolf I highly recommend that you look for it. It’s available on multiple streaming services and also on Blu-ray/DVD.

Thanks for reading my post. More horror is on the way tomorrow!

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