Monday, February 17, 2014

CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)

I do declare, I have never developed the hopeless crush on Hammer stuff that lots of horror folk have.  I acknowledge that the Hammer brand meant consistent quality and that some of their stuff offers surfeits of joy.  But Hammer means gothic horror, pre-NOTLD horror set in windy castles of the eighteenth century.  It's polite, kinda restrained.  And I like to think of myself as putting the "cult" in "uncultured", so it's not surprising that there was no chemistry between us.


Even so, pretty much any Hammer I've ever seen has been at least good entertainment and CURSE is no exception.  The lengthy pre-monster prologue is actually really satisfying.  An itinerant beggar ends up at the lavish dinner party of an old English aristocrat, who acts like you'd expect.  And, through a series of circumstances, the aristocrat gives the beggar to his busty new bride as a pet.  


The beggar's thrown in the dungeon and, since England's rich don't have time to keep up with every little urchin who shuffles out of skid row, he's soon forgotten and left to rot.  Slowly physically devolving even beyond his original skeezy state, he's abandoned without a friend in the world...


...except for the mute girl who grows up to be a Hammer hottie with a penchant for revealing upper-level clothing.  A situation happens with the now-reclusive aristocrat and she gets sent to the dungeon with her hobo friend, who's become a rape fiend.  Remember, this is just the prologue!  It's not even the main body of the movie.


Alas, once we get to the meat of CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, it clops along at a much slower pace.  The child that's born of this dungeon romance exhibits traces of lupine behavior.  Don't expect a flurry of werewolf attacks, as much more screen time is spent on the now-grown wolf-child Leon getting a job at a winery and exchanging dialogue with an upper-crust girl.  


The acting, as usual with Hammer, is very solid.  Oliver Reed announced himself to the world in this debut role and his performance is certainly searing enough.  The material probably wasn't going to lead to a world-burning performance with any actor, but it's still easy to see sparks of the Oliver Reed magic smoldering here.


Standard ladies and alternative men will enjoy the multiple shirtless in bed scenes, which prove that Stephenie Meyer didn't even invent the notion of a werewolf with no body hair.  


Speaking of, oh, yeah, this is a movie about a werewolf!  And we actually get to see it in the closing scenes of the film and it looks pretty good as it goes on a metal-throwing and building-climbing rampage.  But we're talking exceedingly delayed gratification and the preceding scenes are pretty staid and stagey.  


Again, I liked this, but I probably would have loved it if we just forgot all about the werewolf thing and turned the mute girl/dungeon hobo thing into a full film.  Once this becomes an official horror film with a monster, it becomes less interesting and more rote, like it's following the Hammer template.  Still fun and worth watching, but not really a gem in my eyes.

RATING: 6

No comments: