Spring Cleaning: The Curse Of The Werewolf (1961)

Checking out the Oliver Reed-lead Hammer Horror film The Curse Of The Werewolf
On the set of The Curse of the Werewolf
On the set of The Curse of the Werewolf / Sunset Boulevard/GettyImages

While many people see this time of year as the perfect opportunity to clear out after a long winter and set up for summer, we here at 1428 Elm take a slightly different approach to our spring cleaning. We're spending the season watching some of those movies that have been sitting on our To Watch Shelves or streamer queues for way too long.

One of my favorite parts of being a horror fan is that there's always something new to discover, whether that be the latest release or a corner of the genre's old dark house that I just haven't explored yet. I'm also a sucker for box set at a reasonable price, which is how I came to own Universal's Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection. I was drawn to this one because it covers different ground than the more prominent Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies. I like those flicks too, but I've seen a bunch of them already.

In addition to a growing curiosity about Hammer's output, I've also become super intrigued by the films of Oliver Reed going back to my first viewing of Burnt Offerings, though I didn't realize I had already seen him in his final on-screen role as Proximo in Gladiator. Anyway, he gives such an intense performance in that film that I find myself constantly intrigued by his films as well as his chaotic real life.

With all of those interests swirling around, I was delighted to watch 1961's The Curse Of The Werewolf from this set. Hailing from director Terence Fisher who had made Curse Of Frankenstein, Horror Of Dracula and The Mummy among other Hammer Horrors by that point, the movie also stars Clifford Evans, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Hira Talfrey and Anthony Dawson.

Actress Yvonne Romain
Actress Yvonne Romain / John Springer Collection/GettyImages

Curse takes a very different approach to the werewolf mythology that I was familiar with. Essentially, an animal spirit attempted to take over Reed's character Leon when he was born. While pure souls can fend off the invader, Leon was conceived through rape -- an event handled with zero delicacy -- and born on Christmas day, which further "weakened" the soul. This resulted in what we would consider a traditional werewolf, a person who turns into an animalistic menace. Though his adoptive parents helped keep his monstrous nature under control, Leon grew up and left home, but soon lost control and ran afoul of the locals leading to a textbook abrupt Hammer ending.

Beyond the different monster-making methods, the film is also an odd one because it spends about half of its run time setting the stage for Reed to finally become Leon. I can't say for sure, but it feels like the movie spans about half a century! It actually starts with a beggar getting locked up by the evil Marques Siniestro (Dawson) and left to rot. He aged in jail, but was fed by a servant girl who grew into adulthood before our eyes, changing from a child to Romain. After rebuking the now-horrifying looking Marques' advances she got tossed in the prison as well and is immediately assaulted by the man she literally kept alive for all those years.

The poor woman struggled to survive after running away and was found by Evans' Alfredo, but she lived only long enough to give birth and die, not exactly the most dignified role. Romain did well with what she was given, but the character exists only as a means to deliver the male star. She doesn't even get a name and is referred to as Servant Girl in the credits. The film then jumped again to Leon as a boy when he began wolfing out and killing sheep. Alfredo and his housekeeper Teresa (Talfrey) found a way to deal with his animal nature which allowed him to grow old enough the be played by a 20-something Reed. It took almost 48 full minutes to get to Reed as the star of the picture!

Oliver Reed
Oliver And Felix / Chris Ware/GettyImages

Surprising no one, Reed brought his usual smoldering intensity to the role. His Leon goes on an emotional roller coaster starting off as a happy-go-lucky young man setting out on his own for the first time and falling for a woman. It's that passion that gets him into trouble and ultimately locked up. In fact, I thought the entire cast came together and did an excellent job with the material.

Which brings me to my major problem with the film: it's not very exciting. Going with a different werewolf mythology is fine. I think it's an odd choice, but not a deal-breaker. The treatment of Servant Girl is gross, but unfortunately relatively common of the era. I could even give that long opening journey a pass if the second half really went wild. It just doesn't. We don't get nearly enough time with wolfed-out Reed and way too much time of him in jail. Even the very end, when we FINALLY see him in full werewolf make-up -- which looks great -- he's mostly just climbing around the outside of a building while the townspeople watch, like passersby who happen upon a human fly in Manhattan.

One of my major spring cleaning questions is: keep or toss? I keep my movie collection separate from my To Watch selections, so after a viewing I decide whether it stays or goes. I might give Curse Of The Werewolf another watch, but I think if it was a solo buy, I would move on from it, but since it's part of a box set, it'll stick around until I watch the rest of these Hammer Horrors.

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