The Curse of the Werewolf (1961, Terence Fisher)

The Curse of the Werewolf has an absurd epic structure. Clifford Evans narrates; he eventually comes into the film, which means there’s no way he’d know about events he didn’t witness except everything does apparently take place in the same Spanish town.

First is the story of a beggar, played by Richard Wordsworth, who ends up the forgotten prisoner of Anthony Dawson’s evil Marques. Wordsworth, who has a bunch of dialogue in the beginning, doesn’t speak at all once he’s imprisoned. The jailer has a daughter who can’t speak, so they form a bond.

Unfortunately, when she grows up and becomes a buxom–and still silent–Yvonne Romain, she spurns Dawson’s advances, ends up in the dungeon with Wordsworth, who’s reverted to some kind of man-beast. He attacks her, then dies. She’s released, kills Dawson, escapes. Six months later, after she’s been living in the forest, Evans finds her.

It’s at least twenty minutes into the movie. Curse spends a lot of time on Dawson’s cruelty and Romain’s suffering. The opening scene has Dawson’s wedding party–it figures into Wordsworth’s story–but there aren’t any women. Just a bunch of British guys pretending to be eighteenth century Spaniards. Right off, director Fisher’s composite wastes the frame. He’s always got the camera too far back, like he’s trying to show off the set instead of the actors. And given the first hour is incredibly talky, it’s not a good device.

None of the plot recap above is really a spoiler because none of it is about a werewolf. After Wordsworth hands the film off to Romain, who hands the film off to Evans, Evans quickly gives it over to his servant, Hira Talfrey. She’d be better at caring for pregnant Romain. That’s right, she’s pregnant. And she’s going to have her unwanted baby on Christmas, which–Talfrey tells Evans–is a big no no. Jesus doesn’t want any bastards born on his birthday, so he’s going to curse them.

And what curse does Jesus give on the baby, played by Justin Walters as a boy and Oliver Reed as a sexy man about town? Why, The Curse of the Werewolf.

Sadly, the film doesn’t end with Reed duking it out with Jesus. Instead, it’s an abbreviated werewolf story. Oh, there’s some stuff with Walters as a werewolf cub, but it just drags things out. Curse of the Werewolf drags. It’s never scary and it drags. It doesn’t even have makeup until the last ten minutes or so. Is it good werewolf make-up? Definitely. Is it worth sitting through eighty boring minutes? No.

Reed is basically okay. Talfrey’s pretty good, if you ignore her working class British accent being a tad out of place in eighteenth century Spain. There are a handful of actors whose dialects are part of their schtick. None of them are appropriate for Spain. Reed might try a Spanish accent once or twice, but not excessively.

Many of the people opposite Reed, including Talfrey, are in old age make-up. Some might even go through a couple rounds of it. It doesn’t help any of the performances, but doesn’t really hurt any (except Dawson’s).

Romain’s good at being terrified. Fisher’s directing for her cleavage, not her performance, which never helps. And screenwriter Anthony Hinds’s decision to make her unable to speak might have been convenient budgetary (though, why) but certainly not narratively.

Evans is blah. He’s not bad, but he does nothing with the part. Especially since he’s tasked with providing Reed a good enough home he won’t turn into a werewolf. Catherine Feller plays the middle class girl Reed loves. Only she can keep the werewolf at bay.

Or not, because the movie’s over once the werewolf shows up.

The Curse of the Werewolf is distressingly mundane.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terence Fisher; screenplay by Anthony Hinds, based on a novel by Guy Endore; director of photography, Arthur Grant; edited by Alfred Cox; music by Benjamin Frankel; production designer, Bernard Robinson; produced by Hinds; released by J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors.

Starring Oliver Reed (Leon), Clifford Evans (Alfredo), Hira Talfrey (Teresa), Justin Walters (Young Leon), Yvonne Romain (Servant Girl), Richard Wordsworth (The Beggar), Catherine Feller (Cristina), John Gabriel (The Priest), and Anthony Dawson (The Marques Siniestro).


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