Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Holiday Horror: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Director: Terence Fisher
Starring: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, and Yvonne Romain
Running Time: 91 min

  After Hammer Films took on Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy, it's not surprising that the Wolfman was not far behind.  Enlisting the directorial skills of Terence Fisher once again to work his revivalist magic and brilliant storytelling to yet another famed creature of the night.  This is the first werewolf film that I've seen from Hammer but I think with Fisher at the helm, this should be a slam dunk.

  Many years ago, a wandering beggar went to a visit the Marques Siniestro on his wedding day to ask for some share change, not knowing how evil the Marques was.  The beggar was then ridiculed and thrown into the dungeons of the Marque and forgotten about.
  Over the years, the jailers daughter, helped her father feed the beggar but eventually he passes away and it becomes her duty to see that the prisoner is fed with old bones.  Not new ones, he gets the old ones. Also, the Marques is now a reclusive old coot but he still enjoys the ladies and when he tries to get rapey with the jailers daughter, who has blossomed into a beautiful lady, he gets his crusty old hand bitten.  Furious, the Marques throws the woman in jail with the insane old beggar and then she is violently raped.  Afterwards the beggar is murdered or dies of exhaustion, he's pretty old, and the woman is then escorted to the Marques to be violated again but this time she brings a weapon.  When the old goat comes at her, she mercilessly stabs him to death and runs into the forest to hide.
  A number of months later, she is found face down in a river bed and rescued by Don Alfredo Corledo and brought back to his home, where he and his housekeeper Teresa nurse her back to health.  Also, she is pregnant and is due to have her unwanted baby on Christmas day which is a bad omen and the child may be a cursed forever.  The woman has her baby on Christmas and dies, leaving the child to Don Alfredo and Teresa to raise.  I'm getting to the werewolf part.
  As the child, Leon, grows older, he has terrible nightmares about being a wolf and some nights, he wakes up with some incredibly hairy palms.  There are some goats and other animals that have been slaughtered during the night and the town people send Pepe to kill the wolf or animal who is doing this.  One night, Pepe shoots a wolf but cannot find the wolf carcass and coincidentally, Leon wakes up with a slug in his leg.  After speaking with a priest, Don Alfredo believes that Leon is a werewolf and they come up with a solution to contain Leon's curse, which is love and bars on the window but mostly love.
  Somehow that plan works and Leon grows up and moves out on his own but can he still contain his werewolf curse without the constant love and support of his family?  Will the ugly and loveless world turn Leon into the snarling monster that awaits inside him or is there someone out there that can show him the affection that he needs to keep this beast at bay?

  I enjoyed this film but it is a very different kind of werewolf movie.  Terence Fisher doesn't seem to focus on the creature itself but more of how Leon became the beast and how this "curse" can be fixed with something as simple as love.  Which I'm not sure would have worked in the past with Lon Chany Jr or David Naughton.
  People expecting a full on werewolf movie may be disappointed because the beast only shows up really near the end of the film with Oliver Reed (The Shuttered Room, Burnt Offerings, who is very good in this, being chase by villagers with fire and pitchforks.  Also, there are no elaborate transformation scenes, like in the "Wolfman" or "An American Werewolf in London" which one would expect from this kind of story. 

  However, once transformed the werewolf look that make up artist Roy Ashton created for the film is frightening and very original.  It has a different wolfy flare from the Jack Pierce look that we're accustomed too.  It's quite well done.
  Also, there are a number of interesting and unexpected horror elements used in this film.  There seems to be just as much murder without the werewolf creature than with.  The scene where the Marques dies is pretty brutal.  The young woman really goes to town and gets her stab on without any mercy.  And the insane beggar's death is not really explained, which is sad because one hopes that the woman would have gotten her retribution on him violating her.
  Additionally, the idea that this poor young woman is raped in jail, which is done off camera but is still pretty scary and does turn the stomach.  I read that it was suppose to be a werewolf/beggar rapist but the censor had an issue with that notion, so it was dropped.  Yes because the werewolf raping someone was too much for the censors, I guess everybody has a line that cannot be crossed.

 I liked this movie but it wasn't what I was expecting.  Most of the film has no werewolf action, there isn't an excessive body count and director Fisher dismisses most of the expected cliches, but there is a certain humanity to the characters and sadness that you feel for Leon because this infliction was thrust upon him and it wasn't the consequence of a bad choice that he had made.  So, if you're looking for a different kind of werewolf movie with the little more heart than fang and the Hammer seal of approval, then this will have you howling at the moon. 

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