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This review is part of The Werewolf Run to help promote the release of K.H Koehler’s werewolf novel, A Werewolf in Time (Mrs. McGillicuddy #2). Please visit Amazon and Barnes & Noble online for information on ordering a copy of the book for your Kindle or Nook. To see where she’ll be in the next month, visit: http://www.khkoehler.com/the-werewolf-run/
CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)
Hammer Films. The words evoke bright, eye-watering images of blood-slathered damsels in distress, evil Counts and Barons, strained corsets, and hapless villagers being victimized—and often slaughtered—en masse. In the early 1960’s, the Hammer Film studio wanted to crank out films that undermined—or, at the very least, made fun of—the sometimes ridiculously puritanical films being shoveled out by Universal Pictures under the misnomer of “horror.” Universal, like all American film studios from 1930 until 1968, was shackled by the Motion Picture Production Code, which forbid a formidably long laundry list of “indecent” or “immoral” behavior in motion pictures. But the UK, Italy and other countries which were heavily influencing films during the 1960’s, weren’t restricted by such guidelines and so were free to produce films like Curse of the Werewolf, a film that, with its subtle sexuality and not-so-subtle violence, would never have passed approval in America until at least the late 1960’s, when the Motion Picture Production Code began to fail.
Curse of the Werewolf was another film that made the popular circuit of Saturday afternoon matinee channels in my time. I remember it fondly as the “Oliver Reed werewolf movie.” I’d had, and still have, an ongoing crush on the young Oliver Reed, and his moody, almost manic-depressive performance in the movie makes me wish he’d done more Hammer films. But I can only guess that in some ways, Reed, who was a fairly popular leading man at the time, was kind of slumming it a bit by doing the movie. That or someone got him very drunk. I should like to thank that man.
Curse of the Werewolf is roughly based on the novel The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endor. Following a more literary path toward its storytelling than most werewolf films, it actually starts decades before the real story even begins, with an old beggar being taken in by a cruel marques in 18th Century Spain. He’s used as entertainment for some festivities, and then tossed into a prison and quickly forgotten. During that time, his only contact with the outside world is the jailer and his beautiful, mute (and nameless) daughter. Some fifteen years later, the evil, decrepit marques makes advances on the now adult daughter, but when she rejects him, he throws her to the old, mad beggar, a recipe for disaster. The beggar rapes her and dies.
The girl is released and sent back to entertain the marques (who, frankly, has a few nuts and bolts rolling around his head himself) but manages to kill him before fleeing the castle. Eventually she is found in the forest by the scholar Don Alfredo Corledo and is nursed back to healthy by the kind Don and his housekeeper Theresa. And yet, despite their care, the girls dies some time later while giving birth to a baby on Christmas Day, something Theresa feels is a bad omen. Her fears are quickly realized when the child, adopted by Don Alfredo, cannot even be christened without the somber cry of some hellborn beast ringing out over the village.
The real story starts as the boy, Leon, grows from a child to a man and slowly becomes overwhelmed by his own bloodlust and the curse that has followed him from his birth. He learns that the love of a good woman could theoretically save and redeem him, but it just might not be enough as the man and the wolf battle for dominance over Leon’s body. The interesting twist here is that Leon is cursed through violent circumstances not of his own doing. He was cursed, and damned, before he was ever born. Not many werewolf movies today make use of the older methods of contracting lycanthropy, such as being a child of rape, committing a great act of evil, finding a belt of wolf fur, or drinking water from the paw print of a wolf. The film is unique in that it calls back to the older legends, many of which were long ago mixed-up and confused with similar tropes of witchcraft and vampirism.
Curse of the Werewolf remains one of my favorite Hammer films, and one of my favorite werewolf movies of all time. The complexity of its storytelling and the beautiful, almost garish (and very Hammeresque) sets and filming alone are worth the price of admission.
4 pentacles out of 5.
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