When one has made a werewolf film, it is hard not to be compared to the benchmark that was established with, at least during this point in time, The Wolf Man. Now there are many werewolf movies, a lot of them good and a whole bunch not so much, so when you take The Wolf Man into consideration and you look at what Hammer has brought to the big screen, you find that they did a very good job indeed and made something quite different to what has come before. In fact, you have to wonder why Hammer only made one feature starring the titular character. Written by mainstay Anthony Hinds and directed by Terence Fisher, The Curse of the Werewolf featured a good balance between the drama, the action and the horror with a fantastic performance from Oliver Reed as the creature in question.
One of the more significant things about the film is that it went an entirely different route right from the opening scene, distancing itself from The Wolf Man and every other werewolf picture made in the intervening years. The werewolf in question, Leon as played by Reed, would be immediately set apart due to the fact that he was born a werewolf and not turned into one. The circumstances around it are tragic, involving the rape of a young woman who then gives birth on Christmas Day, an unlucky omen to some, and dies soon after. The boy is then raised by Don Alfredo and his wife Teresa and all seems fine until the bodies of animals start turning up and the two make a grim discovery about the boy. Another interesting part of the film is where Leon’s parents think him cured by the time he is a young man. That fact alone is Leon’s undoing for by the time of the next full moon, he will kill again and there is only one possible outcome for the man.
The special effects for the film were few, though the makeup used on Oliver Reed to turn him into the creature was very effective. It too separates him and the film from what has come before and though we are never privy to a full, onscreen change from man to beast, it is both effective and suspenseful as we are left with our imaginations to see how it plays out. Fisher and company were smart to do as such though you also have to factor in that budget probably had a part to play in it. A perfect bit of casting was the young boy who would portray Leon as a child. It was quite eerie to see how similar the two looked and you could almost believe that it was Oliver Reed before he grew up.
Reed for his part was really good in the role of the man who discovers that he is more than what he thinks is the sum of his parts. He does not cut quite as tragic a figure as Larry Talbot, but his performance was moving, most especially when he is told what he really is. The rest of the cast was quite able, including Catherine Feller, Clifford Evans, Yvonne Romain, Anthony Dawson and more, but the film, for the most part, was about Reed and his character Leon. Though there was little room left for a sequel, it would have been a lot of fun to see Reed again in the role, fully knowing who and what he was and where he went from here.
It is a bit of shame that this would be Hammer’s one and only foray into the world of the werewolf, but as it stands, The Curse of the Werewolf is a well-made chiller, perhaps not as frightening as when it first debuted, but still a solidly produced film in the manner we are accustomed to seeing from the studio.