Hammer became a major player in the world cinema market in the late ’50s thanks for horror. The studio had been around for over 20 years when it became a sensation with The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Frankenstein and The Mummy. A generation of kids who were getting used to watching the Universal monster on their tiny black and white TV sets were eager to rush to the theaters and see the English versions in full blooded color. The three films had a core creative team of director Terence Fisher, writer Jimmy Sangster with Christopher Lee as the three monsters and Peter Cushing as the person that has to stop them. Hammer had to do a little legal dancing with Universal who swore they owned these legendary monsters even though all three had fallen into the public domain. For kids who were glued to Shock Theater and enjoyed going to the Saturday scary matinee, there was a monster missing from Hammer’s flicks. Where was the Wolf Man? In the summer of 1961, Hammer howled at the moon. The Curse of the Werewolf: Collector’s Edition brings the hairy action with plenty of extras.
Hammer changed things up for their version of the classic monster. The studio wasn’t planning to make a werewolf film at the time. As pointed out in the bonus features, originally Hammer was making a film about the Spanish Inquisition. The British Board of Film Classification wouldn’t approve the script about the Catholic Church torturing infidels. Hammer had to go into damage control because they had built quite a few sets for the Spanish based film and they couldn’t afford to just tear them down unused. Instead of bringing in Sangster to write a script, Producer Anthony Hinds used his pseudonym John Elder to crank out a monster film based in Spain that could take full use of the lavish sets. He based it off Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris except he relocated the werewolf to Madrid. While he brought director Terrence Fischer on board, he changed the Hammer horror formula in a dramatic way. Cushing and Lee would not appear on the screen. Instead Oliver Reed was given the title role. Reed had quickly risen up in the acting ranks at the studio after making an impact in a small part for The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. The burly actor would give a different physicality to his lycanthrope than if Lee had the hair pasted to his tall body during a transformation. The Curse of the Werewolf was a bit more involved a story than a hairy killer on the loose.
A beggar (The Revenge of Frankenstein‘s Richard Wordsworth) wanders into town and finds himself at the wedding celebration of a nobleman. He’s treated as a bit of an entertainment at first, but then he does something that gets himself thrown into the basement dungeon. He’s pretty much forgotten about as he rots in a cell for nearly 15 years and goes completely feral. The only people that know he’s alive is the jailer and his young daughter. When the daughter has grown up a bit, the nobleman wants her for himself. She’s not into him. Instead of accepting her rejection, the rich guy tosses her into the cell with the insane beggar. When she’s let out of the cell, she kills the nobleman and flees. She hides in the countryside with a man and his maid. This is where she discovers she’s pregnant and eventually dies while giving birth to a son that gets named Leon. Since the birth is on Christmas day, there’s a legend that such a baby will become a werewolf. Is it true? Well weird things happen when Leon grows up (Tommy‘s Oliver Reed) and goes to work at a winery. His wild side comes out along with unwanted body hair. Is he a werewolf?
The Curse of the Werewolf does take it’s time to get to Oliver Reed playing Leon. This isn’t a quickie spook fest. Things build until towards the end when we finally see Reed transformed into his werewolf makeup. This puts it beyond most cheap thrill rides that other studios were cranking out. There’s a bit of a serious feel to the action. The sets and the camerawork gives the film a sense of prestige as Oliver Reed emerges as a leading man. He seems more savage before the make up gets applied to him. Strangely enough even though this was the “safe” option for Hammer, The Curse of the Werewolf was forced to edit by the BBFC. The uncut version didn’t get shown in England until 1993. Luckily this is the uncut version so you get all the blood, fangs and claws that a wolfman. Hammer made numerous Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy films, but this was their only werewolf entry. But Oliver Reed did since a fine job in the iconic role, it’s hard to imagine the need for a sequel to The Curse of the Werewolf.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The transfer is a 4K Scan From the interpositive. This looks a lot nicer than the previous releases of the film. You get a great look at Reed’s werewolf make up. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono.
Audio Commentary With Actress Yvonne Romain, Special Makeup Effects Artist Mike Hill And Composer Leslie Bricusse has them share stories from the set.
Audio Commentary With Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman And Filmmaker/Film Historian Constantine Nasr has them go deep into the production and the history of the actors involve in the Hammer production.
The Men Who Made Hammer – Roy Ashton (19:12) focuses on the special effects artist who worked on so many of the Hammer films. Richard Klemensen talks about his pal Ashton and the techniques he used to create the creatures. There’s quite a bit on his werewolf makeup.
Serial Killer – Benjamin Frankel, Serialism And The Curse Of The Werewolf (21:52) is about the soundtrack composer and not other serial killers. David Huckvale discusses Benjamin Frankel’s work on the film. The composer went on to score The Night of the Iguana.
The Making Of The Curse Of The Werewolf (46:10) includes Interviews With Actors Catherine Feller And Yvonne Romain, Mike Hill, Art Director Don Mingaye, Art Department Member Margaret Robinson and filmmaker Jimmy Sangster. There’s a lot of talk about how this film came about from the necessity to use the new sets. There’s also plenty of talk about Oliver Reed. This is what I’ve been waiting to see since my previous editions of Curse were barebones affairs.
Lycanthropy: The Beast In All Of Us (3:28) is a short introduction to the reality of lycanthropy.
Censoring The Werewolf (13:48) goes into how the movie was snipped because it was a bit too edgy for the British Censors even with a X Certification like the previous horror films Hammer had put out.
Trailers From Hell With Commentary By Filmmaker John Landis (2:37) has the director of American Werewolf in London talking about this hairy tale. He isn’t happy how bad the trailer looks with so many scratches even if it came out of Joe Dante’s collection.
Theatrical Trailer (1:51) looks so much better than the one in Joe Dante’s collection.
Radio Spot (0:29) tempts you to cruise to the drive-in on the night of the full moon.
Still Gallery (3:30) is plenty of views from the release and the artwork.
Scream Factory present The Curse of the Werewolf. Directed by: Terence Fisher. Screenplay by: John Elder. Starring: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson & Michael Ripper. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 91 minutes. Released: April 21, 2020.
Tags: Hammer Horror, Oliver Reed, Scream Factory, The Curse of the Werewolf