Hammer Films: “The Curse of the Werewolf” (1961)
As I mentioned in my retrospective of “The Wolf Man,” this is not a remake of the Lon Chaney, Jr. film, but rather a loose adaptation of The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore. No Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. Oliver Reed stars instead. Terence Fisher was in the director’s chair though, having helmed “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” with Oliver Reed and Christopher Lee the year before.
The opening credits are displayed over a close-up of Oliver Reed’s eyes, made up as the werewolf and he sheds a single tear. You better soak this moment in because you don’t actually get to see him as the werewolf until the climax. Keep an eye out for Anthony Dawson and Desmond Llewellyn from the 007 films in the opening sequence. A comely young chambermaid (Yvonne Romain) gets violated by a scruffy beggar who had spent decades locked away in a dungeon. She escapes, but passes away during childbirth. Her son, Leon, is raised by a sympathetic lord (Clifford Evans) and a servant (Hira Talfrey) who had cared for his mother during her final days. During his baptism, dark clouds and lighting forewarn that there is a terrible curse on this child. The holy waters boils and a demonic image is visible. The priest (John Gabriel) is disturbed by all this, but continues with the ceremony.
When Leon is a boy, his parents keep him in a room with bars on the window to protect himself and others. Leon sports fangs and a furry brow, but never goes full on wolf-boy. Goats are killed in the vicinity, but a poor dog gets all the blame and is shot dead. The curse doesn’t reveal itself again until Leon is grown and attending a party with gypsy girls. He becomes ill when the moon is full and excuses himself. A woman tries to take advantage of him in this vulnerable state and brings her back to her room. Her passion stirs the beast within and Leon finally transforms. Only his hands (paws) are shown to the audience as he goes on a spree, killing the woman, his friend, and the owner of the dog who’d been unjustly killed years earlier.
Leon returns to his surrogate parents, bending the bars on his window, and learns of his awful curse. The priest who’d baptized Leon offers him protection at a monastery, but Leon runs off in a panic. The priest informs Leon’s love interest, Cristina (Catherine Fellar), that Leon has likely taken life through no fault of his own. Leon is jailed, but his father knows he won’t stay locked up for very long, so he tracks down a silver bullet from the gentleman who killed the dog. Leon transforms in his cell, which is bad news for both his cellmate and the guard posted outside. The audience finally gets to see what the werewolf looks like, a cross between the Lon Chaney, Jr. makeup and a gorilla.
An angry mob follows from below as Leon flees across rooftops. Leon hurls a flaming hay bale into the crowd and it appears as if some of the extras were burned. Leon is then cornered in a bell tower by his father and is shot dead with the same silver bullet that was meant for him as a boy, but used on the dog instead. Unlike most werewolf movies, Leon did not turn human again after his death. The credits rolled and there was no sequel. Leon Corledo was no Lawrence Talbot, but Hammer Films still needed one werewolf to round out their monster stable. Terence Fisher went on to direct a remake of “The Phantom of the Opera” in 1962 and several Frankenstein and Dracula sequels.