Release Date: May 1st, 1961 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Music by: Benjamin Frankel
Cast: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Michael Ripper, Desmond Llewelyn (uncredited)
Hammer Films, Universal-International, 93 Minutes
“Cristina, do you love me? Will you marry me Cristina? You say you love me, will you marry me?” – Leon
The Curse of the Werewolf doesn’t star Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee or even Andre Morell but it is hands down, one of the absolute best Hammer Films movies involving a classic monster.
This was their original take on a werewolf movie, similar to Universal’s The Wolf Man, but this one didn’t try to replicate that film and instead gave us something original with a neat Spanish twist to it.
I love werewolf stories and I love Hammer, so seeing the studio take on a werewolf character is just cool. Plus, the werewolf, a young man named Leon, is played by the great Oliver Reed.
The story is kind of split into two parts: the first half deals with the origin of Leon and his upbringing, the second half deals with Leon as a young adult, trying to make his way in the world only to have everything upended by the curse he was tragically born with.
Leon has a loving family, gets a good job, meets a beautiful girl, makes a solid friend but the werewolf inside of him cannot be contained and we’re treated to a great Hammer movie that is truly a tragedy for a cast of mostly likable characters that are really innocent and undeserving of fate’s cruel hand.
Like most Hammer films of this era, this is a beautiful and stunning looking picture. Also, like Hammer films of the era, it also recycles some set pieces from other films. I kind of like that though, as it maintains a certain aesthetic and style. Even if this takes place in Spain, as opposed to England (or around Germany), you immediately recognize it as Hammer. A lot of that can also be due to this being directed by Hammer’s ace behind the camera, Terence Fisher.
I really like the story, though. This is a great classic horror tale with a new, enjoyable twist.
The opening sequence tells the story of a beggar who comes to the castle of a real asshole. The beggar is Leon’s biological father and his story, early in the film, really sets the tone for the picture. Frankly, this is a tale about innocence being victimized by the unfair, uncaring universe.
That being said, this is emotionally heavier than most horror pictures of its time. It has a lot of layers sewn into its wonderful tapestry and because of that, it’s one of the best stories Hammer has have told.
Pairs well with: other Hammer Horror films featuring classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.