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Curse Of The Werewolf (1960)

"Some 200 years ago, a beggar came to the little town of Santa Vera…" so begins Hammer's only proper attempt at portraying that hairiest of hairy old horror clichés, lycanthropy.

In the town, the Marquis is getting married. An attractive man, he spends his time bullying chefs and generally getting on everyone's nerves with his nasty antics. The beggar catches him on a good day, though, and despite being warned by the guards that it's probably not a good idea, ends up making his way into the wedding banquet.

The Marquis makes him dance for his supper, and the poor sap almost gets away with it, but for a chance remark which sees his benefactor lose his temper and throw the beggar in chokey.

And there he stays, forgotten, where he gets fed occasionally by the jailer's mute daughter. The years pass, and the girl develops into an absolutely stunning woman. This being a Hammer film, the rapidly degenerating Marquis takes one look at her frankly enormous breasts, and jumps on her. She rejects the dirty old sod's advances, and finds herself in jail too (there's irony for you).

The beggar, who has gone downhill even faster than the Marquis (although perhaps with more reason), repays her years of kindness by raping her. On her release she immediately stabs the Marquis to death (hooray!)

"A werewolf is a body where a soul and a spirit are constantly at war. Whatever weakens the human spirit, this brings the spirit of the werewolf to the fore. And whatever weakens the spirit of the beast… warmth, fellowship, love… raises the spirit of the soul…"

Even for a Hammer horror, the beginning of this film is a bleak affair - with everyone either dead, dying or insane within the first 20 minutes. Things pick up slightly from then on (there wasn't much chance of them going downhill, after all) - but not much.

Our narrator (if all this happened 200 years ago, how has he managed to narrate it?) finds the girl heavily pregnant and wandering the woods, and takes her home. Where she gives birth on Christmas Day. This is not a good idea, apparently, as "For an unwanted child to be born then (the hour of our Lord's birth) is an insult to heaven…"

As if that wasn't bad enough, at exactly the moment the sprog pops out, a wolf can be heard howling. Then the mum takes one look at her newborn and promptly drops down dead (did Hammer ever think the title "Curse Of The Unluckiest Woman Who Ever Lived" might be more appropriate?). Talk about depressing.

Later, at the christening, a storm breaks overhead and the water in the font begins to boil, but no-one seems too bothered by this and the service goes ahead…

Flash forward a few years, and we're introduced to Pepe the gamekeeper (Warren "Alf Garnett" Mitchell), who';s just found a dead goat. "Nasty, that is… very nasty…" he mugs, in his best Cockney Spanish. Determined to get the culprit, he wings a wolf with his shotgun - but it turns out he's shot young Leon instead - a boy who confides in his Uncle that he's tasted blood and has hairy palms (naughty boy).

The local Priest seems to have a good idea what's going on (and also knows a fair amount about werewolves, which were obviously ten-a-peseta in Spain at the time): "A werewolf is a body where a soul and a spirit are constantly at war. Whatever weakens the human spirit, this brings the spirit of the werewolf to the fore. And whatever weakens the spirit of the beast… warmth, fellowship, love… raises the spirit of the soul…"

Despite all this (and being found, wide-eyed and be-fanged, at the bars of his bedroom window one moonlit night), Leon manages to reach adulthood and ponces off to work in a nearby vineyard - where, in the space of roughly 60 seconds, he falls head of heels in love with the boss's daughter, Christina.

Things now take a turn for the worst, with Leon killing pretty much indiscriminately (his best mate, some girl he meets in a bar) - usually with pretty messy aftermaths. He goes back home and is finally told what he is, and that the best way to cure it would be to chain him up in a monastery (ah, the panacea for all ills…)

"Chained…" sobs Leon. " They chain up animals. That is all I am… an animal…"

Obviously thinking "sod this", he runs away again and heads back to the arms of Christina - whose love actually stops him changing again. But before they can run away for a "happy ever after", Leon is captured and thrown in prison.

The ending of the film is a mixed bag - it starts off swift and brutal, but ends up a bit long winded, with Leon obviously filling for time by climbing up and down some vaguely Spanish-looking architecture before the inevitable last-minute trauma.

Curse Of The Werewolf is bizarre, not least for giving Hammer the chance to branch away from their usual Mittel-European setting and add some Spanish spice. Unfortunately, a thoroughly miserable beginning and a great turn by jolly Ollie Reed as Leon can't quite save it - some bits go on too long (notably the final rooftop muck-about), and Santa Vera appears to be situated somewhere near Kent, judging by the assorted accents. The wolfman makeup is first rate, though - and as Hammer's only werewolf flick, it gets its place on the hall of fame by default.

Last updated: February 18, 2010

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Curse Of The Werewolf 1960

 

 

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