Founded in 1934, Hammer Films started out as a small independent British film studio. It went through many growing pains including at one point bankruptcy between 1934 and 1955. It wasn’t until the studio turned to resurrecting the horror film that it started to make a long-standing imprint on horror films as we know them.
Their reimagining of Frankenstein came first in 1955 with “Curse of Frankenstein” starring Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein. Cushing would become one of the lynchpins in the success of Hammer Horror Films. He would play Dr. Frankenstein again in 5 more sequels as well as become Van Helsing in their version of Dracula starring Christopher Lee. With these successful franchises Hammer expanded its repertoire. The Mummy and eventually Werewolf were also given the Hammer makeover. The Mummy found some success but was dwarfed compared to Dracula and Frankenstein.
To celebrate Halloween week, this blog is going to take a look at the birth of Hammer Horror. As in the coming days we will look at the Hammer Horror imprint, the Hammer makeover and relive those horror glory days.
First up is the only werewolf horror film that Hammer films ever made. This is a retelling of the werewolf myth except completely reborn.
The Hammer version begins when a struggling beggar is thrown in prison by a sadistic baron. While in prison, the beggar becomes almost feral and when the baron throws the beggar’s only friend, a mute girl, in jail with him. He rapes her and almost kills her.
The girl escapes prison and hides out in the woods. The harsh ordeal ends when she is saved by a kind noble who takes her in. It turns out she was pregnant and gives birth to a bastard son, Leon, Christmas morning which marks the child with the ‘sign of the beast’.
When Leon (Oliver Reed) grows up, he is cursed and supposedly only true love can break the curse.
This was the late great Oliver Reed’s debut performance and what a film to make it in. Inflicted by a curse, changing into a werewolf, true love, torture, murder, the movie has everything a thespian would dream of playing in one role.
The movie take well over 30 to 35 minutes to get going. During that opening you wonder if you are even watching a werewolf film. With so much backstory the films 1.5 hour running time feels like 3 hours.
Like most Hammer films, the movie teases the creature and the reveal must be an amazing, pulverizing blow for the audience. “Curse of the Werewolf” follows this lead as it isn’t until the movie’s ‘twilight’ (pardon the pun) before the creature is fully revealed.
This is done with great precision and it is kind of brilliant how the film keeps playing with the audience that in fact there might not even be a werewolf in the film. Reed’s performance as the creature is equally astonishing as his performance as the love struck man. The movie really has it all.
The ending of the film after the final reveal is kind of a disappointment and very reminiscent of the Lon Chaney classic.
“Curse of the Werewolf” may not be remembered as well as some werewolf films. But going back and rewatching the film I can see why it was given so much credit and stands as a bridge between Lon Chaney Jr’s “Wolf Man” and the classic “American Werewolf in London”.
3.5 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer