The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [31 Days of Hammer Horror Review]

With Halloween looming large at the end of the month, and Hammer Horror recently making its return to the world of comics courtesy of the fine folks at Titan Comics, we figured now was the perfect time to take a look some of the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.

So this month, Jules is planning to watch every single Hammer Horror movie and share his thoughts with you fine, horror loving people.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of Hammer” by CLICKING HERE.

Released: 1961
Starring: Oliver Reed, Clifford Evans
Director: Terence Fisher

After revitalising Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, Hammer turned their attention to that other staple of Universal Horror, the lycanthrope.

The Curse Of The Werewolf would be the studio’s only attempt at the genre, but would showcase arguably the best werewolf makeup effects seen up to that point and hold that crown for years to come, as well as introducing the world to the powerhouse acting talents of the then-unknown Oliver Reed.

Interestingly, the Werewolf in question only appears very near the end of the film and it’s well over halfway through before even Reed turns up, but it’s such an engaging, well-told tale it doesn’t even matter.

The curse in question begins when a mute servant girl (Yvonne Romain) gives birth to a child on Christmas Day as a result of being raped by an insane beggar. Right from the child’s christening where the holy water itself boils in his presence, its clear all is not right with young Leon. His bestial nature becomes apparent, but it’s kept under control with the love and support of his adopted family, Don Alfredo (Clifford Evans) and his housekeeper Teresa (Hira Talfrey).

Growing into a man (Oliver Reed), Leon leaves the nest, falling in love with his new employer’s daughter Cristina (Catherine Feller), but the curse hasn’t went away. Leon is a werewolf and the moon is rising…

What an exceptional entry into the Hammer Horror canon this is. It’s a slow burner for sure, but that all adds to both its charm and its emotional impact. What is essentially a prelude to Leon’s story, starts when his mother is a child, with the tale of the unfortunate beggar thrown into the dungeon kept by her father by the evil Marques Siniestro. Years pass, she grows up, awful things happen and she ends up in the care of Don Alfredo. This is a fair part of the film, just to get to the point of our hero being born, but it sets everything up beautifully. Less of a horror film, more of a generational tragedy, Curse Of The Werewolf takes the time to let its story live and breathe and is all the better for it.

The cast is strong all over, bolstering the story’s impact on every level. Yvonne Romain sells the vulnerability and inner strength of the unnamed servant girl, while Dawson is wonderfully grotesque as the vile aristocrat and as the kindly Don Alfredo, Clifford Evans holds the whole thing together with a quiet warmth, right up to when he has to finish off his own (adopted) son.

Considering he’s not got a huge screentime, Oliver Reed still steals the show. In his first major role, the future hellraiser gives a magnetic performance, intense but empathic, those animal impulses barely contained beneath the surface as he tries to live a normal life.

The Werewolf is saved until the very end, but it’s well worth the wait. Very much still a man, it’s an absolute classic design and still ranks as one of the finest wolfmen in cinema. Being Hammer though, it’s not just a monster, with Reed’s eyes and physicality undercutting the animal rage with a fair dose of pain and humanity.

On the strength of this one alone, the fact we only ever got one Hammer werewolf film is a real tragedy. Curse Of The Werewolf isn’t just one of the best werewolf films ever, it’s one of the best Hammers too.

Rating: 5/5.

JULESAV The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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