The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 14

by Jovial Jay

I saw a werewolf drinking sangria at Don Alfredo’s and his hair was perfect.

The Curse of the Werewolf is the first of two lycanthrope films this holiday season. It covers a non-traditional werewolf story from the folks at Hammer Studios.

Before Viewing

The trailer tells a story of a young boy cursed with being a werewolf who grows up and falls in love with a woman. He seems horrified when she discovers his secret, that when the moon is full he becomes a monster. He escapes from a jail cell that he presumably gets locked in during full moons and terrorizes the town. Villagers fight back trying to burn him. Hammer Horror presents Oliver Reed in The Curse of The Werewolf.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

The Curse of The Werewolf

The Curse of The Werewolf title card.

After Viewing

Over 250 years ago in Santa Vera, Spain, a beggar (Richard Wordsworth) enters the town during the wedding celebration of the towns’ Marquess (Anthony Dawson) begging for food. The townsfolk at the bar send him to the Marques’ castle to beg there. Inside the cruel nobleman “buys” the beggar for his wife and forces him to debase himself in front of the court for food and drink. The beggar is then imprisoned in the dungeon and forgotten where he eventually will die.

The only people that ever saw the beggar were the jailer and his young mute daughter. Years later, the daughter, who was now a servant girl (Yvonne Romain), remained in the employ of the Marques who was a lonely and vile widower. He makes advances on the servant girl who refuses his touch, and is thrown in the cell with the beggar. The old beggar, now mad, rapes the young woman, before dying. She is released and sent to “apologize” to the Marques, but stabs and kills him instead.

She flees into the country where she is found by the Narrator of the story so far, Don Alfredo (Clifford Evans), a bachelor who lives with his housekeeper Teresa (Hira Talfrey). Teresa helps nurse the woman back to health realizing she is also pregnant. As the due date gets closer, Teresa tells Don Alfredo she is scared of the unwanted baby being cursed by being born on Christmas Day. A healthy baby boy, Leon, is born, but the mother dies in childbirth.

The Curse of The Werewolf

The servant girl tends to the hirsute beggar. Though he’s not described as a werewolf, there may be some element of lycanthropy in his genetic pool.

After an ominous baptism where a storm rolls in, the young boy has bad dreams of wanting to eat dead squirrels. The town priest believes the boy is cursed and possessed by an evil spirit that wages war with his soul, and that leads to a werewolf coming out on nights with a full moon. Only love and being loved can cure the condition. After a brief outburst when the boy is 9 or 10, his upbringing was heaped with love from his Uncle Alfredo and Aunt Teresa. Some time later as an adult, Leon (Oliver Reed) sets off for work at a nearby winery.

There he spies the vintner’s daughter Cristina (Catherine Feller) and falls immediately in love. Unfortunately she is betrothed to Don Fernando (Ewen Solon). Being away from his family and on his own, Leon has an episode on the night of the first full moon and kills three people. He returns home for help from his Uncle, but is soon arrested and put in jail.

Cristina, who has also fallen in love with Leon, promises to marry him once he is released. But the next night he turns into a werewolf again and kills a drunk prisoner and the jailer before roaming the rooftops of the town. An angry mob of villagers attempts to stop him but he escapes into the bell tower. In a moment of love and compassion, Don Alfredo takes a silver bullet made from a crucifix and shoots Leon, covering the dead body with his own cloak.

Sometimes, it so happens that the spirits of one of these beasts finds entrance into a body while it yet lives. Then, the soul and the spirit war with each other to gain mastery of the body.” – Priest

The Curse of The Werewolf

Adoptive parents Teresa and Don Alfredo take baby Leon to be baptized in what becomes a creepy moment.

Hammer Films The Curse of The Werewolf is the only werewolf film by the venerable horror studio. And having watched it now, I can tell why. The studio produced nine Dracula films, seven Frankenstein films, and four Mummy films mostly starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. So why only one werewolf film? The film only has one recognizable star in Oliver Reed. This was his first leading role in a film, and of course has gone on to star and co-star in a number of other films including ZPG, The Three Musketeers and Gladiator. Unfortunately he doesn’t appear until about 47 minutes into this 92 minute film, and his werewolf character gets even less screen time. Reed may not be as inherently famous as other Hammer actors, but there was nothing inherently wrong with his performance. The overall tone of the actors in the film is relatively broad and slightly overdramatic, as if this were a stage play being performed for the back row of the theater instead of film utilizing varied camera setups.

The general premise of the film was different from more established werewolf mythos. A number of successful and prominent lycanthrope films had been created before this 1961 film including the 1935 The Werewolf of London, Universal’s 1941 The Wolf Man, and I Was A Teenage Werewolf with Michael Landon in 1957. And while all films before this one were in black & white, Curse of the Werewolf is notable by being the first color (or colour, in this case) werewolf film. Previous werewolf films, and most popular films dealing with the subject, depict the characters change as an infection passed by some bite or serum. The change occurs on the full moon and the character takes on a blood lust and characteristics of a humanoid wolf. This film used the premise of a child cursed by the circumstances of his birth. Because Leon was an unwanted child (also supposedly conceived via rape), and because he was born on the birthday of Jesus Christ, which was an affront to God, he was cursed with an evil spirit that was at war with his soul and only love and being loved would keep him safe. This was not an idea conceived by the filmmakers, as this film was based on the 1933 novel The Werewolf of Paris. Unfortunately the setting was also changed to Spain which is not as romantic.

The Curse of The Werewolf

The young actor that plays Leon has a couple moments to shine as he starts to turn into a werewolf.

Another reason this film may have been the only werewolf film from Hammer Studios is the extreme amount of time to set up the story. As mentioned above it takes 47 minutes to get to the present day in the film. It starts with the story of the beggar and the servant girl, which is a hefty amount of exposition for the backstory of Leon. The moments with young Leon were interesting and could have started the film after maybe a brief prologue. The film already employed a Narrator with Don Alfredo telling the story up to the arrival of the servant girl at his house, so there could have been more economy using him to give a quicker back story. Even after all that preamble, the moments with Oliver Reed are interesting and he really makes the character of Leon pitiable, creating empathy for his plight, which is a curse through no fault of his own.

Unfortunately the film is not that scary. The opening bits with Marques show him as a cruel and torturous man, who uses others for his amusement. His death, while fulfilling, is pathetic and not too shocking. A few moments with young Leon, including the initial baptism are a little creepy but not overtly terrifying as many Hammer horror had been. The werewolf makeup on adult Leon was well done and Reed portrays an excessive savagery in his beast, but with so little screen time the effects are too little, too late. The Curse of the Werewolf is a solid second-half film with an overly long prologue. It serves as a good introduction for Oliver Reed to mainstream audiences, but it doesn’t provide enough of the expected mythology and scares that other werewolf films offer.

The Curse of The Werewolf

Cristina begs for Leon to be set free from prison.

Assorted Musings

  • This film is obliquely referenced in An American Werewolf in London where the main character is describing the events of The Wolf Man, and his girlfriend asks if that was “the one with Oliver Reed?”
  • Even though the original story took place in Paris, the studio had a set from a film set in Spain. So rather than construct new buildings, they took the modest route and changed the location.

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