Review of “The Curse of the Werewolf” (1961)

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

A delayed Saturday night pizza and bad movie entry. The pizza was good. The movie was about as cheery as a sharing a bottle of absinthe with a French existentialist. (That is, the place is furnished in the style of the Second Empire, and the bell for the waiter doesn’t work. You just ‘fess up to the sin that brought you here. But it’s generally nobody’s damn business. That’s why, you know, L’enfer, c’est les autres. Oh, gods, what if the absinthe runs out?)

Plot:

Sometime in eighteenth-century Spain, a beggar (Richard Wordsworth) receives bad advice and goes to beg at the estate of a vicious marqués (Anthony Dawson) on the night at his wedding feast. The marqués humiliates the beggar, who then makes an off-color remark about his wedding night, gets tossed in the dungeon and forgotten for fifteen years. The only people who show him any measure of kindness are the jailor (Denis Shaw) and his mute daughter (Loraine Carvana).

The mute daughter grows up to be a beautiful woman (Yvonne Romain). She catches the eye of the marqués (to whom the years have not been kind) but refuses his advances and gets tossed in the pokey with the beggar. The beggar, who has gone nuts, then repays her years of kindness by raping her.

Yeah, thanks, dude.

She then agrees to be more cooperative with the marqués. ICK. She actually kills him and runs off, living in the woods for some months. Alfredo, a kind, scholarly gentleman (Clifford Evans), finds her and, knowing nothing of her background, brings her to the home he shares with his housekeeper, Teresa (Hira Talfrey). They take pity on the woman, nurse her back to health, and care for her when it becomes obvious she’s pregnant.

Teresa says it’s a bad thing for the baby to be born on Christmas Day, as this day is reserved for the Savior. Girls in her village avoid their men in March and April to prevent Christmas babies.

Oh, time to swallow a drink of credulous juice.

The munchkin is born, the mom dies. When Alfredo and Teresa take the boy to be baptized, clouds hide the sun, and the waters in the baptismal font stir. The priest says, yeah, this is a problem. He must be raised with love and find love when he grows up. Alfredo and Teresa treat little Leon (as they name the baby) like their own son. But it doesn’t keep the child from having bad dreams. After a hunting trip with a friend, he gets a taste for blood, the neighbors start losing their livestock.

Thoughts:

This is not an easy film to watch. The poor werewolf seems to be a decent sort, and his adoptive family loves him. He did nothing to bring the curse on himself. Sure, he does a lot of rotten things once the curse gets ahold of him, but it’s not like he was downstairs in the basement summoning demons in the first place.

That his parents came to bad, pitiful ends somehow means he is destined to terrorize a town against his volition? This makes no sense.

If it needs to be said, the rape scene is especially hard to watch even if the particulars take place off-camera. The beggar has been brutalized and, in turn, brutalizes one of the few people who has not been unkind to him. She murders the next man who menaces her.

One of the casualties of the child Leon is his own kitten (the viewer never sees the kitten, either alive or dead). Teresa says its loss will break his heart. The adult Leon kills a working girl, to whom he has no emotional attachment, but at whose death he is suitably shocked and repulsed. In a sense, Leon is as much a victim of the brutality of the monster as he is the perpetrator of it. This mirrors the fates of his parents, neither of whom he knows anything about. Both were dealt lousy hands to begin with. One was abused, went nuts, raped, and then died. The other murdered—understandably enough—to protect herself from further violence and later died. The priest says Leon needs love. He receives it, goes out to make his way in the world, falls in love with someone else’s fiancée, and dies. What’s the message here?

Besides “Life sucks and then you die,” I must say the sets and the costumes were excellent. According to IMDB, the exteriors were designed for a film about the Spanish Inquisition, which was scrapped when (… really) the Catholic League of Decency threatened to ban it. (Come on, guys. The real obscenity is torturing people over matters of religion, doncha think?) Some interiors were used in 1958’s Horror of Dracula.

It should come as little surprise that a movie with rape in it had trouble with censors in 1961, both in the UK where it was made and in the US. It wasn’t even shown in Spain, then under the authoritarian rule of Francisco Franco. Another point of contention was, of course, the working girls. Was the inn a Motel Six or a Sadie’s Entertainment Palace? The movie is a little ambiguous, but really. The young woman who seemed to take an interest in Leon when he isn’t feeling well isn’t inviting him upstairs for tea.

The movie is loosely based on Guy Endore’s 1933 The Werewolf of Paris, which uses the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) as a backdrop and a lot of don’t-let-the-kids-see this with respect to weird sex and violence. The makers of the film changed settings when they had to ditch their Inquisition movie.

As for recommending the movie, I’m in two minds. The characters are engaging. Most of us don’t have to worry about becoming werewolves, familial curses from parents we don’t know, or disturbing the water in the baptismal font. On the other hand, the story is fatalistic and a downer. We’re all going to hell anyway, so why strive for anything? Like watching a movie?



Title: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Directed by Terence Fisher

Writing Credits
Anthony Hinds … (screenplay) (as John Elder)
Guy Endore … (novel)

Cast (in credits order)

Clifford Evans … Alfredo
Oliver Reed … Leon
Yvonne Romain … Servant Girl
Catherine Feller … Cristina
Anthony Dawson … The Marques Siniestro
Josephine Llewellyn … The Marquesa

Released: June 7, 1961
Length: approx. 1 hour, 33 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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