The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
It seems fitting to end my week of Oliver Reed flicks where it really all began for the notorious hell raiser. At Hammer studios where he was cast in the title role of the famed studios updating on the Universal Lon Chaney series helmed by their ace director Terence Fisher.
Hammer departed from the legend of Lawrence Talbot and adapted the novel from Guy Endore titled The Werewolf of Paris then promptly relocated the story to Spain. The film kind of seems like two films in one and doesn’t follow the traditional bitten by a werewolf logic . It relies more on the superstitions of the “old country” and what leads to the birth of a child destined for evil things.
Playing very much like the flashback explaining the curse of Sir Henry Baskerville we are treated to the story of a beggar who happens upon the wedding day of a cruel Marquis played with a decided perverseness by Anthony Dawson. In the end the beggar winds up a prisoner in the castle dungeon. The jailer who oversees him eventually dies and his tiny mute daughter grows into the knockout figure of Yvonne Romain.
The beggar is now a raving lunatic and with his overgrown hair looks something like a werewolf himself.
Worse yet is the aged Dawson as the Marquis. He’s decrepit looking and even at his advanced age has one thing on his mind. The busty figure of Romain. When she flees from his grasp she is thrown into the cell with the now lunatic beggar. With censorship what it was we are left to assume she’s been raped. Brought once more before Dawson she murders him in glorious bloody color and flees.
Rescued in the forests nearby she is taken in by Clifford Evans and his wife. She’s with child and we begin to hear the superstitious tales from Evans’ wife. The child has no father and is about to be born on Christmas day. It’s deemed as an insult to heaven which is why, “The girls stay away from the men in March and April.” Evans will have none of it. He’s soon to become a surrogate father when Romain dies in childbirth.
Jumping ahead the boy is about 6 years old and Evans begins to realize he is a werewolf. Sheep are being killed and the boy catches a bullet that isn’t silver so he’ll recover. The local priest says it is love that will keep the beast dormant.
Enter Oliver Reed at the forty seven minute mark. The boy has grown into a young sturdy man.
Hiring on at a winery (seems fitting if you know Ollie) he quickly falls in love with the Landlord’s daughter played by Catherine Feller. All is good till he has trouble securing her hand in marriage. The wolf is about to get nasty. In one night of bloodshed there are three corpses torn and mangled.
I’ll stop there as I hate giving away the endings and have probably given away too much already for the uninitiated.
As Reed was getting started here it’s notable that this was produced before the facial scars surfaced on his cheeks. He secured them in a drunken state when having a broken bottle thrust into his face. This role almost defined the brooding roles ahead. It was the time of the angry young man in British films and taking that and a bit of the Brando anger, Reed gave the role his best shot.
Of all the Hammer “reboots” of the Universal films I have always felt this one proved the weakest. Perhaps the set up is just too long. It’s certainly not the make up design from Roy Ashton. Ashton worked on many of the Hammer creatures including the lesser known but great looking The Reptile and the dead in The Plague of the Zombies. He would also go on to do some of the Amicus horrors as well.
Plenty of the Hammer film regulars are here. Fisher directed all the “reboots” and of course company character actor Michael Ripper is in here as well. It always seemed as if he were playing a drunk or the bar keeper. Either way he usually ends up issuing a warning of the evil deeds that lay ahead.
Reed would hang around the studio for a number of films over the next few years before running off with Michael Winner and Ken Russell to do more “arty” titles. He appeared with beautiful Romain the following year in Night Creatures and again in The Brigand of Kandahar for Hammer. Years later he would serve as the narrator for the television series The World of Hammer which recapped the glory years of the legendary studio with legions of fans (Count me among them).
Like the Lee-Cushing remakes, Werewolf freely splashed a healthy dose of blood in vivid red color across the screen. The British studio continued to push the limits and had to side step the sensors on a few issues once again with both the blood and the story line. It seems the Catholic Legion of Decency were threatening to ban the film. Doesn’t that usually cause a surge in box office?
As a champion of Hammer Horrors this is must see but of the initial remakes it’s the least interesting for me. But then there’s the cinematic birth for Reed which adds to it’s significance. The role has also given Reed a degree of fame through the world of fandom and magazines focusing on the horror history of film.
Head on over to Speakeasy where Kristina has added to the Reed week once again with a Hammer title that she has always championed. It’s Ollie in one of the studios Hitchcock influenced thrillers and well worth a look as I am sure Kristina is going to do her best to convince you of.
Thanks for joining me all week as I looked back at a small handful of Oliver Reed titles. Hopefully I inspired you to go out and find more films from this one of a kind personality whose career ended on the set of Gladiator in 1999 thus having that Oscar winning film dedicated to him.