Release Date(s)1961 (April 21, 2020)
Studio(s)Hammer Films/Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A+
Hammer’s one and only attempt at a werewolf film, The Curse of the Werewolf was released in 1961 on a double bill with The Shadow of the Cat. Terence Fisher, who at this point had helmed some of Hammer’s biggest monster movies (Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein… and many of their sequels), was brought on to bring the story—which was loosely adapted from the novel The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore—to vivid and blood-curdling life.
The film follows the unholy birth, the bastard upbringing, and the eventual adulthood of Leon, played by Oliver Reed in his first starring role. Ostensibly a good man with a monkey on his back (or in this case in a wererwolf), Leon attempts to live a normal life by setting out into the world to make his own way. He falls in love with his employer’s daughter Christina (Catherine Feller), but despite years of keeping the beast at bay, the moon rises night after night and Leon is unable to contain it any longer. Eventually standing accused of murder, it’s Christina’s love that is the only cure for soothing Leon before the beast resurfaces. Yet keeping them together proves difficult. Other notable cast members include Yvonne Romain, Clifford Evans, Richard Wordsworth, Hira Talfrey, Warren Mitchell, Anthony Dawson, George Woodbridge, and Michael Ripper.
Looking back at The Curse of the Werewolf today, it’s uniqueness in dealing with the genesis of how Leon becomes a werewolf in the first place is surprising. Part religious folklore involving an unwanted child born on Christmas Day mixed with a superstition about a demon looking to find a human host, it’s certainly not the norm—meaning that there’s no leading man wandering off into the night-covered countryside with his best friend or gal on his arm whereupon they’re attacked and he is bitten by a stray wolf. Part of that is due to the original novel, little of which was used, but those aspects were definitely taken advantage of. The story was also relocated from France to Spain, in part because the film originally began life as a different Hammer film altogether, which was scrapped but salvaged to take advantage of an already completed set.
What’s also interesting is that we don’t see Oliver Reed for a large portion of the story, nearly an hour in fact, and in a film that’s just slightly beyond 90 minutes, that’s quite a long time before getting to the main course. Thankfully, the wait is worth it as Oliver Reed portrays one of cinema’s most memorable and effective werewolves. We don’t get a good look at him until the last 10 minutes, but thanks in part to Roy Ashton’s incredible makeup effects, the beast is dripping with gore from its teeth with a gnashing intensity only equaled by incarnations later seen in The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, The Monster Squad, and Bad Moon.
One of Hammer’s best efforts, thanks in no small part to the contributions of Terence Fisher, Oliver Reed, Roy Ashton, writer Anthony Hinds, cinematographer Arthur Grant, and composer Benjamin Frankel, The Curse of the Werewolf is a landmark horror film. It didn’t do well initially and many still complain that there isn’t enough werewolf action, but it portrays a more efficacious look at the human side of the beast. It’s more about the curse and its effect, making it much more meaningful, as well as memorable when the werewolf finally appears.
The Curse of the Werewolf comes to Blu-ray in the US from Scream Factory, sporting a new 4K scan of the film’s interpositive (erroneously referred to as the original camera negative on the back cover). It’s a beautiful presentation of the film, besting the previous Universal Pictures Blu-ray in every way. Textures are more pronounced, grain levels are heavy but natural, and fine detail is abundant. From the period clothing to the werewolf makeup to the deepest of shadows, it all comes shining through with newfound clarity. The color palette is also rich and varied, particularly on the clothing of the villagers in the film’s finale, but also in the film’s various town and wooded settings. Blacks are deep and brightness and contrast levels are ideal. It’s a stable and clean presentation as well, with only minor speckling leftover. There is one moment during Leon’s imprisonment that appears to have been taken from a lower quality source as detail obviously softens, but it’s an otherwise stunning presentation.
The audio is provided in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Though narrow by nature, Benjamin Frankel’s magnificent score comes through beautifully. Dialogue exchanges are mostly clear and precise, though occasional, but intentional, mumbling tends to be a little difficult to discern. Sound effects, including those from the werewolf itself, are also effective, though not overly boisterous. It’s a relatively clean track as well, free of any major issues, including those involving leftover hiss, crackle, and distortion.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Yvonne Romain, Mike Hill, and Leslie Bricusse
- Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr
- The Men Who Made Hammer: Roy Ashton (HD – 19:12)
- Serial Killer: Benjamin Frankel, Serialism and The Curse of the Werewolf (HD – 21:52)
- The Making of The Curse of the Werewolf (HD – 46:11)
- Lycanthropy: The Beast in All of Us (HD – 3:28)
- Censoring The Werewolf (HD – 13:48)
- Trailers from Hell Commentary by John Landis (HD – 2:37)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:51)
- Dual Radio Spot with The Shadow of the Cat (HD – 0:28)
- Still Gallery (HD – 41 in all – 3:30)
The first audio commentary is mostly an upbeat Q&A session as Mike Hill asks Yvonne Romain and Leslie Bricusse various questions as they watch the film together, occasionally commenting on it thoughtfully. The second commentary with Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr is also entertaining. The two watch the film reverentially, talking about the careers of the cast and the crew, as well as the history of the film and how it was made. They also refer to moments that were deleted from the final version, as well as the many cuts made by the BBFC on the film’s original release in the UK. The Men Who Made Hammer is a touching look at the career of Roy Ashton by his friend, writer and horror fan Richard Klemensen. Serial Killer contains an extended interview with music historian David Huckvale about Benjamin Frankel’s unorthodox score for the film, playing it on the piano for emphasis. The Making of The Curse of the Werewolf interviews actors Catherine Feller and Yvonne Romain, as well as Mike Hill, art director Don Mingaye, art department member Margaret Robinson, and writer and filmmaker Jimmy Sangster about the film’s genesis, production, and eventual release. Lycanthropy: The Beast in All of Us briefly analyzes the film’s use of werewolf lore. Censoring The Werewolf features interviews with film historians and writers Jonathan Rigby, Denis Meikle, Kevin Lyons, Steve Chibnall, and John J. Johnston about the film’s sordid history with the British censors. The trailer used for the Trailers from Hell commentary with John Landis is a slightly extended version of the main trailer. Closing things up is an animated still gallery featuring 41 images of on-set photography, behind-the-scenes photos, promotional shots, posters, lobby cards, and press materials. The artwork for the cover features a fantastic new piece by Mark Maddox, as well as the original US theatrical poster artwork on the opposite side.
Though Scream Factory has been churning out title after title from Hammer Films, their Collector's Edition of The Curse of the Werewolf is one of their standouts. It’s an amazing edition, packed with detailed and entertaining extras, as well as a beautiful presentation of the film. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons