Review Day 05: The Curse Of The Werewolf (1961)
Hammer Films perhaps best known for their Gothic style horror films starting in the 50’s gained popularity for takes on popular characters with films such as Dracula (1958), The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) and The Mummy (1959). The focus was more so on vampire films with many coming out during their golden era, featuring actors such as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt and David Prowse to name a few. They did not venture too much into the werewolf sub-genre, just the one time with The Curse Of The Werewolf (1961), based on the novel The Werewolf Of Paris by Guy Endore. Director Terence Fisher and writer Anthony Hinds made a truly unique take on the werewolf, with this slow burn and expertly crafted piece of horror cinema.
The story takes place in 1800’s Spain, where a young man named Leon Corledo (played by Justin Walters and Oliver Reed) has been born with a terrible affliction, perhaps due in part to his horrible conception and the date of his birth. His mother a mute jailer’s daughter (Yvonne Romain), was attacked by an imprisoned beggar (Richard Woodsworth) and dies upon giving birth to Leon. Leon being taken in by Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans) and his housekeeper Teresa (Hira Talfrey) gets looked after and raised in a loving home, but unaware of his affliction and lust for blood. When he is of age he moves to start work at a vineyard, but the affliction has reared its ugly head once again and begins to affect his new found relationship with Cristina (Catherine Feller) and the entire town.
Perhaps what sets this film aside from other werewolf films is it creates its own rules, it takes the time to set things up and develop the characters before it truly starts to unleash the horror of the werewolf. The creation of the werewolf is very different, a very horrible event (the rape of the mute woman), which acts as the curse that would be fall her child, born out of tragedy. Leon himself grows up to be a good man, unaware of his own past. The subtext of nature vs. nurture is handled very well, a different view on the subject, and not something you find very often within the werewolf sub-genre. The film has some very cool nods to other stories/films including The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Wolf Man (1941), with some incredible visuals.
The performances are mostly excellent, with Oliver Reed as Leon bringing in a very layered and heartbreaking performance. Yvonne Romain is very memorable as the mute woman, with no dialogue she managed to pull all the right punches for the role using her talents. Hira Talfrey as Teresa is a warming presence in the film as the mother figure to Leon, she embraced the character extremely well and brings so much to the role.
The Curse Of The Werewolf is an excellent film, a shame that Hammer Films never made any other werewolf films in their golden era. The film was quite controversial upon release (the dark themes) and felt very much almost a head of its time. Highly recommended viewing for genre fans and even non genre fans as there is a lot to dissect and appreciate with this film.
Review written by Marcella Papandrea