No ordinary wolf would tear out the throat and drain blood.
Before I get to tonight's Full Moon Feature, I would like -- if I may -- to address the high school kids who have recently gotten on the news in San Antonio (and become unwitting YouTube stars in the process) because they've formed "wolf packs" and started wearing fake fangs, leashes, clip-on tails and the like to school. And what I would like to tell them, in a nutshell, is this: Knock it the fuck off. I realize you are, as you say, "not to be feared," but that's because no one with an ounce of self-respect would fear you. You are not a gang. You are not wolves. You do not have an alpha. You're simply an embarrassment to those of us out in the world who profess to be werewolf fans. If you must express yourselves, please channel your teen angst bullshit in some other direction. This one only makes you look pathetic and makes me feel sad. Thank you for your attention in this matter.
And now for your regularly scheduled programming...
Unlike Universal, which had its writers concoct original stories for its werewolf films of the '30s and '40s, Hammer Studios used a literary source -- namely Guy Endore's sensationalistic 1933 novel The Werewolf of Paris -- as the basis of its lone such effort, 1961's The Curse of the Werewolf. Directed by Terence Fisher and scripted by producer Anthony Hinds (using the nom de plume John Elder), the film is a very loose adaptation of Endore's book, as evidenced by the fact that the setting was moved from France to Spain in order to utilize a set that the studio had built for a film about the Spanish Inquisition that never got made due to censorship problems. Even so, within those limitations Fisher and Hinds managed to produce an engaging film that adhered to the spirit, if not always the letter, of Endore's story.
They also gave Oliver Reed's budding film career a boost by casting him as the title creature, the son of a mute servant girl (Yvonne Romain) who was raped by a mad beggar (Richard Wordsworth) who was imprisoned by an excessively cruel Marques (Anthony Dawson) and left to rot in his dungeon for several years. The whole set-up is a major change from the novel, but the boy's dubious parentage -- as well as the fact that he was born on Christmas Day, which is considered an ill omen -- is not. That doesn't come to pass, however, until after Romain has escaped from the Marques and been taken in by a nobleman (Clifford Evans) and nursed back to health by his servant (Hira Talfrey), who is the first to voice concern about her impending due date. She's also the one who has to take care of the child after his mother dies in childbirth, which is only fair since his father died right after conceiving him.
The next part of the film pretty much comes straight out of Endore's novel as the child, who has grown into a young boy (Justin Walters), begins changing into a wolf (which he believes is just bad dreams) after he gets his first taste of blood. Evans puts bars on his windows to prevent him from getting out at night and consults a priest whose knowledge of lycanthropy is pretty shaky, but the holy man's diagnosis that what the boy needs is extra love to counteract his wolfish nature seems to do the trick until he grows up to be Reed and is ready to go out into the world. As befits a young man who needs to stay on the straight and narrow, he goes to work at a winery where he falls in love with the boss's daughter (Catherine Feller), despite the fact that she's already engaged to a priggish fop. Their relationship is further doomed when he abruptly resumes his beastly ways after being dragged by a co-worker to a house of ill repute for a night of debauchery. Sure enough, it isn't long before he's begging to be put out his misery, but first he has to have one last night on the town -- literally.
Unsurprisingly, a great deal of the film goes by before we see Reed in his wolf form. (Then again, Reed himself doesn't even show up until the film is half over, but he takes command of it once he does.) When we finally do get a look at it, though, it's quite a stunner -- unlike any other werewolf design I've ever seen. It's a pity this film wasn't a financial success for Hammer, but in a way I'm glad they didn't drain the life out of the concept. That would have to wait until the end of the decade, when a Spanish actor and screenwriter named Paul Naschy kicked off his long-running "Hombre Lobo" series. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to dig my claws into it.