The Curse of the Werewolf
In our continuing series of articles 'The bloke down the pub' will tell us all about his favourite Hammer Horror films. In his eleventh review he's feeling downright sorry for Oliver Reed's tragic wolf man in The Curse of the Werewolf, from 1961... Enjoy!
Let’s face it, the one thing you’re worried about when you’re watching an old werewolf movie is ‘Right, so how crap is this werewolf going to look then?’ We’ve all spent whole films waiting for the monster to appear, but as soon as it does you realise why they made you wait - because all they have to show you is a rubbish werewolf. And so you look back fondly at the suspense you used to feel about the monster when they were just claws and a shadow.
But in Curse of the Werewolf, you end up not wanting to see the werewolf clearly because you don’t want it to be Oliver Reed. I mean, of course it’s Oliver Reed - it’s Oliver bloody Reed for a start - but we’ve also seen him turn into a werewolf when he’s a kid, and even his adopted parents know he’s a werewolf; and yet somehow you end up hoping against hope that it isn’t old Olly but maybe some other Spanish werewolf who’d done all the murdering and whatnot, and Olly still has time to save the day. So when you do finally see the werewolf’s face you don’t think ‘Bah! What a crap werewolf!’ because it isn’t, it’s just heart-breaking. There he is, the poor kid whose whole life you’ve been following, doomed from the moment Q from James Bond couldn’t get a beggar to bugger off at the beginning of the movie. And the make-up is good too! I mean be fair, this is the sixties, but he does look like a proper werewolf, best werewolf I ever saw anyway. Course, I was a little biased, because by the time it came to the climax I was rooting for something to go the poor werewolf’s way.
And what a climax! I mean, I’ve seen plenty of memorable horror film scenes, but the final minutes of Curse of the Werewolf where Oliver Reed is scrambling over the rooftops of the village while not so much being chased by a torch-wielding mob but more sort of followed, encircled, trapped, is a scene that reminded me why I love old horror movies. It’s a proper old fashioned spectacle, you know what I mean? The sort of thing that a movie builds to. The pointless desperation of this poor animal as it clambers over roofs while people (who will probably be a little bit ashamed of themselves for reasons they can’t quite put their fingers on next morning) gawp and yell and wave their torches. And the movie builds to it not just because it looks so great, but because it’s the final scene of a tragedy; the tragedy of a poor kid who never stood a chance.
And it is very tragic, your werewolf mythology, a curse passed from victim to victim that has to end in death. It’s such a solitary monster too - Dracula has his women, Frankenstein’s monster has his creator, even the Mummy has a true love to protect. But what has a werewolf got, eh? Only the knowledge that not only will this definitely end badly, but also that along the way his whole personality will be eaten alive, as will quite a few people he cares about. But in Curse of the Werewolf, it’s even worse than that. He doesn’t even get a normal life to lose. He isn’t bitten because he didn’t listen, or because some gypsy got grumpy, he isn’t even bitten! He’s born a bloody werewolf! Because a beggar was turned inhuman by a cruel rich tyrant. A brilliantly nasty piece of work who locks the beggar up and just forgets about him; and I mean for decades. And then the only person who ever cared for the beggar, the mute jailer’s daughter, gets thrown into the cell with him because she won’t be the tyrant’s toy. And the beggar, his sanity stolen away by the dungeon leaving nothing but animal instinct, does what the tyrant couldn’t. And these are the poor kid’s parents, this is how the werewolf is born. Of course, a silly sod of a priest turns up later and talks some rot about how demons enter a human as it’s being born, on the odd occasion. But you think, balls; that’s what you think - BALLS. The Church has a long history of misinterpreting metaphors in my opinion and this time is no damn different. The monster was born because the monster was made - I mean, look at that backstory. And even though, fair enough, the priest is right when he says true love can keep the curse at bay, how long can that last really? I mean, couples fight, right? The first time they have a row, what? He’s going to jump out of the window and eat somebody? Doesn’t seem a very tenable relationship does it? It’s probably best if she does end up with the rich pillock, forever mourning the loss of a good monster who never had a chance. Even if he did eat people, he was always nice to her after all. Yeah, you can’t help but fall for a movie where love doesn’t conquer all. It can overcome many things that’s for sure, but a torch-wielding mob with legitimate grounds for fear, anger and revenge is not one of them. In the end, it can’t change what life has done to you, it can only make you feel a bit better. And for some poor werewolves that isn’t enough.
So let’s raise a glass to the werewolves. And to a movie that blows a raspberry at love as an answer, and creates such an awesome, in the old-fashioned sense of the word mind you, climax. And there’s plenty else to love in the movie too, including what I am pretty sure is the earliest historical ultimatum of ‘24 hours’ from a Mayor, totally brilliant lettering of the titles at the beginning, and a top bit of jilted fiancee reaction upon finding out his betrothed is off with Olly where he utters ‘get away!’ like a barmaid from Coronation Street. And of course Oliver Reed plays Hammer’s werewolf; one of those facts that after you learn it you can’t imagine the answer could ever have been anything else. Fair enough, it drags a little in the middle - but with a beginning and ending like this, we can forgive them that. One thing’s for sure, there’s enough to raise a glass to. Speaking of which...