I’ve been cursed to watch a werewolf movie
The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) is a serious, serious horror movie, and one that attempts to inject some originality into the Wolfman with rape, violence against women, and melodrama. I would probably pick An American Werewolf in London (1981) as my favorite werewolf film of all-time, but if you want to see a classic Wolfman tale, then any of the Universal films might fit the bill, but there’s also this film. Hammer puts some energy into this adaptation and adds a lot of unique elements I wasn’t expecting.
I lost a bet and had to watch this movie. To my surprise, there was no Peter Cushing. Strike one for this movie. None of the horror amounts to much, so it’s not that scary. Strike two. The pace needs some help, but at least the story is good. Strike three?
The problem is that everything is so serious that it almost becomes too much. You get tired of every single person in the movie opening their mouth in fear or astonishment. There aren’t any other reactions. Oliver Reed is definitely the best thing about this movie, but he’s only in half of it, which is disappointing.
Oliver Reed plays the main character Leon, who grows up to be the Wolfman, but another young actor stands in as young Leon. The origin of the Wolfman is shown in full, and it is a story that resembles a gothic fairy tale. This is something different and it was quite interesting, but they ruin it by adding superstitions, religious mysticism, and bad omens all over the place.
The movie explains that Leon was born cursed. His curse is to transform into a wolf under a full moon. Yvonne Romain plays a young maid who is raped in prison (off-screen) and later gives birth (off-screen) to Leon on the most unlucky and unholy of days, December 25th. I know you’re confused. I was too. Isn’t that Christmas day? What’s so bad about that? The woman is unmarried for one, and the Spanish seem to have a superstition about babies born out-of-wedlock on the 25th. The movie is heavy with Spanish traditions. Most of the cast are hispanic and the movie is centered in 18th century Spain.
Young Leon grows up on a farm and this is probably the worst part of the movie. The acting is sub-par and it is slow to go anywhere. Evidentally, some goats are killed night after night and the locals begin to freak out about what might be happening. They blame the caretaker. The caretaker freaks out. The townspeople freak out seeing him freak out. They frown and argue, trying to make the most serious movie ever made.
The caretaker becomes desperate to shoot and kill the wolf responsible for killing his goats. He shoots a large dog that he thinks is responsible. Everybody breathes a sigh of relief. There is no celebration or anything because now it’s time to tell the tale of the adult Wolfman and get even more serious. They never discover it was Leon killing the goats.
Finally Oliver Reed gets some screentime, and he plays the adult Leon. Leon apparently must have wandered from home, because he gets work in another town. He begins his career dusting wine bottles in a cellar. His boss tells him to dust faster, but he can’t take his eyes off his boss’s daughter, Christina. Christina has so many surprised, open-mouth reactions, I was wondering if she was capable of anything else.
Pepe: No you cannot, Leon is in prison.
Christina: Prison?! <mouth drops open>
Leon is taken to prison after being suspected of murder. He demands to be killed, and tells them to use a silver bullet to end his misery. He knows he will become the Wolfman and escape, so he demands to be killed before sundown. He sweats and sweats. Christina arrives, having stolen a carriage to go to the prison. She does not believe the charges against Leon. He learns that her “love” has prevented his transformation until now, but thanks to his isolation, he’s due to change at the full moon.
Christina: Why is Leon in prison?! You must let him go!
Alfredo: He will stand trial for murder!
Christina: Murder?! <mouth drops open>
Leon changes into the Wolfman and breaks out of prison. They do not show the Wolfman in full until the very end, which is ballsy. The make-up is different from any other Wolfman on film and it’s kinda strange looking, but I like it. Leon as the Wolfman growls, jumps, and climbs walls like a gymnast. If they had shown the Wolfman from beginning to end, this movie might be even better, because they really save up the reveal for some reason.
Leon climbs buildings until the townspeople gather into a mob, like we’ve seen in every other monster movie ever made. They follow the Wolfman and watch him climb up the church tower. Many, many mouths drop open all at once. Alfredo bravely climbs up to the top of the church and shoots Leon with a silver bullet, killing him. The end.
All in all, I would have to say that this movie works in spots, but has a lot of weaknesses. I mean, it does a lot of interesting things, but it never breaks from the generic mold like An American Werewolf in London (1981) does. It has adult themes, but I’m not sure these things fit in with the other, generic story elements. I think I am critical of it because it is just too slow for me, but this movie is very well-regarded by others, including those who like Hammer. Oliver Reed does his best with the script and I think he’s the standout here. There is no one else of note in this movie. I guess they couldn’t find anyone who knew how to act serious.