"Curse of the Werewolf" is a film steeped in uncertainty. Sometimes referred to as a wasted opportunity, sometimes considered the greatest werewolf movie of all time, "Curse" isn't really either, and although a well-made film, it isn't very good. But what I am certain of is that it's my favorite Christmas movie of all time!!!
Don Alfredo Corledo(Clifford Evans)is apparently an omniscient immortal, as he begins the film(after the creepy opening credits showing the werewolf's crying eyes)by informing us(through past-tense voice-over)of events he could not possibly have witnessed or found out about and that he states happened "200 years ago", when by the time we meet him during those events, he is clearly a middle-aged man. Oh well, the film starts with the ringing of a church bell in a small Spanish village, where a handsome but scruffy beggar(Richard Wordsworth)inquires why the bell is ringing even though it's not a Sunday. After several curt dismissals, he finds that the local Marquis has just gotten married to a village girl(and left the village impoverished by raising taxes to fund the wedding), and from what we can tell, it apparently wasn't a marriage she was willing to enter into. A sarcastic barfly tricks our rag-clad hero into going to beg the Marquis for food. And as you may have gathered, the Marquis isn't exactly a charitable man....
The Marquis(Anthony Dawson, from "Dial "M" for Murder") is a sadistic creep who loves abusing his underlings, and he makes no exceptions with the beggar, making him act like a dog and dance. After the Beggar makes a suggestive comment, he ends up being locked in a dungeon where he gradually loses his grip on reality(and his good looks too). Meanwhile, the Marquis, now suffering from leprosy and more occupied with creating houses of cards than the outside world, tries to rape a busty mute servant girl(Yvonne Romaine, who effectively uses facial expressions to emote for a role that requires no talent)who bites him. He has her thrown in the same dungeon as the beggar, who rapes her anyway. The beggar dies, and the girl escapes after killing the Marquis. She tries to drown herself, but is rescued by Don Alfredo and brought to his home, where she is taken care of by his maid, Teresa. The girl dies giving birth on Christmas eve, but because widdle baby Jeebus has some serious birthday attention issues("For an unwanted child to be born on Christmas is an insult to heaven!" says Teresa), the child, Leon, is cursed.....
I'd like to point out that this has all happened in the first 26 minutes.
Following some boring, long-winded exposition involving an explanation for Leon's affliction, a comedic subplot involving the goat-herder's rivalry with the night watchman(two of the most British sounding 'Spaniards' I've ever heard!), and some truly awful overacting(Teresa's line "I just mean--he didn't come through here!!" gets my medal as the most meaningless line ever uttered with such over-the-top conviction) balanced with some very good acting(John Gabriel gives a wonderful, naturalistic performance as a kindly priest), scenes intended to be frightening that will give rise to all kinds of lewd jokes(check out the kid's hairy palms), we finally meet the adult Leon(Oliver Reed) who sets off to work at a local vineyard and falls in love with the owner's daughter Cristina(Catherine Feller) and the story begins....at last.
Its' pretty much just a retread of "Romeo & Juliet' with elements of the 1941 universal film thrown in. The difference being that there we got to know and like Lon Chaney Jr's character. Here, we find out NOTHING about Leon, and what we do find out pretty much makes him come off as a jerk, yelling at Cristina and shaking her, even before he finds out that he's a werewolf and needs a woman's love to cure him. Cristina pretty much sees that Leon is little different from her controlling dad and obnoxious fiancée, but decides to give him a shot anyway(what girl could resist a young Ollie Reed?) Leon refuses to show some simple patience and instead goes to a brothel with his Benny Hill-like coworker Jose. Apparently being in a 'sinful' atmosphere awakens the beast in Leon, and he becomes a werewolf, Don Alfredo finds out, and you can guess the rest....
Oliver Reed is one of my favorite actors, but he doesn't get to do much here. We see or hear so little of Leon, and what we do makes him come off as an impatient jerk who is hard to pity. He does however, pull off the transformation scenes incredibly well, and as the werewolf, he's simply one of the coolest-looking monsters of all time. Larry Talbot couldn't escape a bear trap, Leon can rip a rip an iron prison cell down and chuck doors and bales of hay at people! The rest of the cast is competent, Clifford Evans is obviously disinterested, Hira Talfrey overacts badly as Teresa, and although she does a good job as Leon's mute mother, Yvonne Romaine has little screen time(despite prominent billing and poster art depicting her as Leon's love-interest!). Martin Matthews provides good comedy relief as Jose. Catherine Feller isn't believable as an object of affection for two handsome men, but she succeeds at evoking sympathy, and is the film's most pitiable character. The real standouts however, are Wordsworth and Dawson as the Beggar & Marquis. Both actors deserved better careers.
"Curse' isn't great, despite nice sets and cinematography, but it's great to pop in at Christmas time! Where else can you see a movie about Christmas with cruelty to the homeless, food wasting, leprotic lechers, a mute woman being raped, werewolves, drunk guys named Jose who kiss paper-cutouts, and 'Spaniards' who talk like Monty Python extras?
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