Terence Fisher | 1961 | 91 mins | UK
Let me preface this review by saying in no uncertain terms that I believe Oliver Reed is, even at the very worst of times, a compelling delight. His charming mug, big moony eyes and drunken swagger made me fall in love with him when I first saw that creepy/sexy fig scene in Women in Love as a ten year old, although I admit Alan Bates gave him a serious run for his money in that one (and, truth be told, his drunken swagger was quite roped in).
At any rate, even for non-fans, a Hammer Oliver Reed is a thing to behold. His portrayal of Leon Corledo – the lonely, misunderstood werewolf who yearns for love but cannot escape his violent nature – is perfectly overwrought. The poor cursed creature is the child of a mute (and busty) servant who was raped by a beggar while being held in the evil and appropriately named Marques Siniestro’s dungeon. The girl escapes and is taken in by a kindly man and his maid, only to die in childbirth on Christmas Day – apparently an affront to the lord, and the reason for young Oliver’s lifelong curse. The young man nearly escapes his tragic fate with the help of a young woman’s love, but alas, werewolves just aren’t meant to find happiness.
By today’s standards, Curse of the Werewolf is exceedingly slow. The first three quarters of the film, at least, are a detailed and nearly violence-free account of young Leon’s origins – from his mother’s unfortunate stint in the Marques’ castle to his childhood of sheep killing, to his tentative steps toward adulthood as he gets a job, finds a pal and falls in love. We don’t even get to see the scary makeup pictured above until the movie’s nearly done.
I’m not sure I can recommend this to the thrill-seeking portion of the horror fan audience, but if you’ve ever enjoyed a Hammer film, then you’ll probably really enjoy this one. It’s a bit plodding, but in the service of High Melodrama!
Bonus factoid: I’m almost certain that the industrious and prolific Hammer Films reused the exact set that served as Dr. Frankenstein’s lab in this one, as Leon’s workin’ man living quarters.