Review: THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)

Based on Guy Endore’s 1933 novel THE WEREWOLF OF PARIS, Terence Fisher’s THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF is a theatrical examination of a popular saga. The screenplay by Anthony Hinds allows for a somewhat expanded telling, with the curse explored through the life of a young man. There are evident religious tones, with Christmas Day and the larger Christian mythology playing an almost domineering role.

The story begins with a beggar (Richard Wordsworth) thrown in the clink after crashing a wedding party. He loses his mind in prison and eventually rapes the voiceless daughter (Yvonne Romain) of the jailer. The beggar croaks and the jailer’s daughter escapes her circumstances. She’s discovered in the forest by a intellectual (Clifford Evans), who takes her in. She gives birth to a baby on Christmas Day, so the scholar looks after the kid and names him Leon. Leon (Oliver Reed) grows up with a taste for blood, which becomes a bigger problem as he gets older.

werewolf

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF is the tale of Leon. It runs from predetermination to conception and beyond, weaving a yarn rich in cruelty, sex and raw socioeconomic ferocity. The idea of Leon is plain in how the beggar is treated at the party. He is chastened by the well-heeled, distorted into the pet of the bride (Josephine Llewelyn) and made to behave like an animal. The vagabond, driven to insanity by seclusion, revisits malice and inflicts it on another and thus the embryo of evil is passed down. There are larger notions of generational violence to unpack, too.

The horrifying essence of THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF lies in the fact that it is indeed a curse. There’s little that is sexy about the werewolf, but sex is driving the cart. Just as the blasphemy of being born on Christ’s day plays a role, so does the onset of maturity. The werewolf fable has long been tied to puberty and Fisher links it with a silver bullet. Best of all, he suppresses the satisfaction of seeing the creature in its fullness until the bitter end. This prejudicial act is, you could say, the burden of growing under life’s vulgar moon.

4 thoughts on “Review: THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)

  1. This one never caught my interest as much as the other Hammer classics and this despite my being a big fan of Oliver Reed and all things Hammer. Nothing wrong with it and the make up job amazing. Guess I liked the Lawrence Talbot story better.

    1. I think the subtext is fascinating and it sort of lays bare the mythology’s rather obvious metaphors in a meaty way that really worked for me. It’s not my favourite and the Universal movies are less convoluted, but there’s value here for sure.

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