The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Director: Terence Fisher

Interesting that Hammer followed Universal’s lead in so many respects when it came to reviving the latter’s horror franchises, but they never revived the Wolf Man character like they did Dracula and Frankenstein and tried to do with Sherlock Holmes; instead, they turned to a novel by Guy Endore, who actually worked on some of the 30s horrors MGM made (including Mad Love, Mark of the Vampire and Devil Doll). Haven’t read that novel (which is apparently the defining werewolf novel in the way Dracula defines the vampire story), though I gather it’s set largely during the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune; Hammer, however, transplanted it to 18th-century Spain because they’d built sets for a planned film about the Spanish Inquisition that didn’t go ahead and they didn’t want to waste the money spent on them. This probably actually works to the film’s advantage, and probably to Hammer’s as well, since it saved the expense of battle scenes on top of the other period trappings… Overall, the film gave me an interesting feeling of Hammer trying to lift their game here, still clearly aiming at the B horror market but trying to give the film itself a bit more of a “quality” feel, not quite A grade but higher than their usual standard; it would actually be a reasonable choice as an introductory Hammer film for someone who’d never seen one. The problem is that the pace of the thing is kind of plodding, with the overt lycanthropy not really kicking in until the last half hour, there’s a fairly long set-up to the action. Mind you, once it does kick in, that last half hour is really good; the werewolf makeup job is quite something when you finally get to see it, and the film really is ultimately sold by Oliver Reed in a fairly amazing film debut. It’s no wonder he became a star the way he did when you see him here, and slightly disappointing that—because he plays the adult version of the werewolf character, Leon, and the first half or so of the film is devoted to the rather grotesque circumstances of his birth and his childhood (business that really didn’t need to be as long as it did)—he’s not in more of the film than he is.

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