It surprises me that for all the classic horror that Hammer Films produced in the late 1950s, it wasn’t until the sequels to their versions of Frankenstein and Dracula were out before they turned to the tale of the werewolf in 1961. It’s a classical take with a werewolf clearly pulling from the Lon Chaney aesthetic in a gothic horror tale set in Spain in the 18th century, and it served as both the start of Oliver Reed’s acting career as well as the most notable screen performance of the alluring Yvonne Romain. While it’s nowhere near as violent as some of Hammer’s later pictures, it still has a bit of blood and murder, but no so much that it couldn’t be handled. It almost seems like it’s in good taste, but even at the start, Hammer Films liked to play on the edge.
What’s much more disconcerting than the limited blood are the rapes, which form the basis of the tale. A mute servant girl is raped by a mad beggar who had been thrown into prison after she refuses a douche bag nobleman. Once she’s out, she murders the local nobleman who employs her for trying to rape her the very next night. She escapes, is found by a good man in the woods nearly dead, but dies giving birth on Christmas Day, which in turn somehow curses the baby with lycanthropy. From there we learn that the werewolf can actually be treated through love and kindness, but alas, it’s a cruel world, and when poor Oliver Reed falls in love with the daughter of his boss and then has a bad night where he transforms and mauls several undeserving people, well, it’s the beginning of the end.
This film is much more of a tragedy than a true tale of terror, one where innocents are ruined by the external acts of men in power and then are forced to face repeated hardships until their deaths. The werewolf is a sad figure, moreso in that he does not want to hurt anyone but is cursed to, and that the only cure than can save him is kept from him to the point that he willingly begs for death without it. As with many horror films, man is more terrible, but we simply can’t shoot him. The monster we can shoot, though it is an act of mercy.
Unfortunately, The Curse of the Werewolf suffers from pacing issues; it’s a full half hour before the werewolf is even born, so we really don’t see the premise until the final thirty minutes. Once it comes, it comes in a rush, and the last two minutes resolve everything with a sudden end. While the effects were good for their time, they’re also quite dated in a post-American Werewolf in London and The Howling world. But it’s still a fun watch, especially if you enjoyed the Universal tales of the 1930s and want to see how they evolved into their modern day counterparts. This isn’t where I suggest starting with Hammer Films either, but it’s not a bad one to catch.