A year or so ago I reviewed a film which featured British actor Oliver Reed. After reading the review a friend of mine turned me on to the gold mine of bizarre videos one encounters by going to YouTube and typing in the worlds “Oliver Reed Drunk.” Apparently, the star was known for turning up for talk show appearances completely sauced. Beyond being drunk out of his mind on talk shows he did have quite an interesting film career. One of his earliest films cast him as a young man dealing with something perhaps more sinister than alcoholism – lycanthropy, in the 1961 Hammer production The Curse of the Werewolf.
Our story takes place in Spain, in the 18th century. We begin with a beggar who has the misfortune of showing up to panhandle during the wedding of a particularly nasty marques. He has the peasant locked up in the dungeon where for 15 years the only human contact he has is with the jailor and his daughter. When the mute daughter (Yvonne Romain) grows up, the marques attempts to have his way with her. When she refuses, she is thrown into the dungeon with the beggar. The bizarre man rapes her (off screen) before dying. When she is released, she kills the marques and runs off. She is found by Don Alfred Corledo (Clifford Evans) and gives birth to a son before she, herself, dies.
The boy is named Leon and is raised by Don Corledo. He ends up growing into a handsome young man (now played by Reed). Meanwhile, there is a problem as goats across the countryside keep turning up dead – apparently killed by a large wolf. Eventually, Leon heads off to work in a vineyard, where he starts to fall in love with the owner’s daughter, Christina (Catherine Feller). Unfortunately, Leon has a hard time ignoring his taste for blood and ends up transforming into a werewolf (which we don’t see) and killing a prostitute in a brothel one evening. He ends up being imprisoned on suspicion of the crime and begs to be executed before he can transform again. But, as you may have guessed, he does then busts out and wrecks havoc on the village.
I wanted so much to like The Curse of the Werewolf. It has so much going for it. First, it’s a Hammer production. If you want a nice creepy atmosphere and some solid horror, you need look no further. Then we have Oliver freakin’ Reed as a werewolf. Could there be a better choice? I mean, I have my suspicions that the man may have actually been a werewolf in real life! The elements are all in place – but the result is a big disappointment.
The creepy Hammer atmosphere is there. I’ll give the film that. However, the film just plods along for 80 minutes, building and building to a payoff that doesn’t happen. We seriously don’t get any werewolf action until the film’s conclusion. We don’t really see Reed wolfed out until the end, which is so disappointing considering how great he is as a werewolf. Let’s face it, the man was crazy! When he’s in full-on fur mode, he’s fantastic! Not to mention the fact that this film has some of greatest and most original werewolf makeup in film history. He’s got stark white fur, huge fangs, sunken eyes…it’s wonderful makeup. Sadly, about ten minutes after seeing it for the first time, the movie is over. In other words, we have a werewolf movie with almost no werewolf action.
Basically the problem here is that the film put all its eggs in one basket. The set up with the beggar, the marquis, and the jailor’s daughter is solidly bizarre. When we kick into the main story, I figured we’d get Reed’s character transforming into a wolf and terrorizing the countryside for the rest of the film. Every time you think it’s coming…nope, you don’t get to see the werewolf yet! They saved it all for the ending. While the ending has some great moments, when it’s over and the credits roll I was like, “that’s it!” I mean, what were they hiding the werewolf for? There’s no suspense involved! We know the goats are being killed by a werewolf! We know it’s Leon! Why keep what he looks like a secret?
Had the reveal of Reed’s werewolf come much sooner with some wolf action peppered throughout the film, The Curse of the Werewolf may have gone down as one of the all-time great werewolf movies. Sadly it falls short. Hammer fans will want to check it out, for sure, but, truthfully, YouTube videos of Oliver Reed Drunk are more interesting.