“I can’t help it if things won’t die when I shoot ’em.”
Set in historic Spain, the Hammer horror film, Curse of the Werewolf begins with a narrator telling the tale of a hungry beggar who arrives at the castle of a wicked Marquis. The beggar is thrown in the dungeon and left to die, but he lives thanks the kindness of the jailor’s little mute daughter. But since this is a horror film, it shouldn’t come as any surprise when the girl’s kindness is rewarded years later by evil (makes you think of the Marquis de Sade’s Justine). The beggar–now insane and particularly hairy, ravishes the mute girl. The girl dies giving birth, and kindly bachelor, Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans) adopts the baby. The child, Leon, grows up and seems quite normal, but then one day, he tastes blood….
The film’s depiction of the werewolf has psychological emphasis–Leon doesn’t turn into a werewolf due to a curse alone–but rather a constellation of tragic events leads to his horrible transformation. According to the local priest, the werewolf is created when “a soul and a spirit are constantly at war.” And this theory plays into the notion that good and evil exist in every person. Warren Mitchell (more famous for the British comedy Till Death Do Us Part) plays the role of skeptical watchman, Pepe.
Bad boy of British cinema, Oliver Reed plays Leon as an adult. (Justin Walters selected to play Leon as a child is a dead ringer for the adult Reed, by the way.) Reed hams in up in several scenes–beating the ground with his fists as he rails against his fate, and the slurping, chomping sounds he makes as he gnaws on his victims are truly disgusting. But, apart from the odd camera shot of blood, the film is light on gore. Reed’s werewolf make-up is surprisingly good for the times, and the High Camp Factor (HCF) of the film makes it well worth catching. From director Terence Fisher.