A bit of quick history on this one. You probably already know that Hammer studios only ever officially made one full-blooded werewolf film; the classic "Curse of the Werewolf" in 1961, which served to revive interest in the genre after it had waned slightly throughout the fifties. However, Hammer's cousin studios such as Amicus and AIP also put out their own werewolf movies which are often mistaken for Hammer productions, or that are at least are often referred to under the wider genre term 'Hammer Horror'.
"Legend of the Werewolf" is easily the closest we have to a second Hammer werewolf film. It was put out by a short-lived production company called Tyburn Films (founded by the director's son), and was written by Hammer's own Anthony Hinds, who had also penned "Curse of the Werewolf". For this film he used the exact same source material, Guy Endore's novel "The Werewolf of Paris", but this time combined it with elements of Francois Truffaut's "The Wild Child" in order to create a story that still bears a great deal of similiarity to his earlier screenplay, but stands in it's own right as an original film. It could almost be called a remake of "Curse of the Werewolf", another shot at adapting that Guy Endore novel into a successful horror movie.
The film opens with the backstory of the main character, left abandoned after his mother dies in childbirth and a pack of wolves adopting him as their own. He is then discovered in the woods by a small travelling circus and taken in as their star attraction, the 'wolf boy'. This is all well and good to start with, until he grows into maturity and loses his feral instincts in favour of humanity and normality. Or does he ... ? It turns out all it takes is a full moon and the beckoning cries of his wolf kin to bring out his bestial side, and he is forced to flee the circus after mauling a comrade one night. He travels to the city and gets a job working at a zoo, but falls for one of the female visitors and becomes insanely jealous when he discovers she works in a brothel, unleashing a gruesome string of murders in the area.
Obviously the production isn't as impressive as "Curse of the Werewolf", but in a way I kind of prefer the 'grittiness' of this film which seems to go a lot better with the subject matter and setting. It does have a some nice moments along with noteable performances from David Rintoul and Ron Moody, and an accomplished supporting cast in general. The real stand-out, of course, is Peter Cushing in one of his best post-Hammer roles that I've seen. He has a lot of fun playing the forensics expert with a morbid sense of humour and progressive methods, supplying the film with some welcome comedy and that certain undefinable 'Hammer' quality. It was never intended to be a murder mystery, a mistake that a lot of critics seem to make, but rather a standard man-becomes-beast horror story in the style of "The Wolf Man". Unfortunately a little too much time is dedicated to the investigation itself obviously in order to give Peter Cushing more screentime throughout, which is by no means a bad thing, but sadly this has a detrimental effect on the pacing. I'd much rather have had the final twenty minutes prolonged a bit.
This is an interesting and often very underrated piece of werewolf movie history, which you should definitely check out if you get the chance. Lets all keep our fingers crossed for a DVD release ...
"Not a wolf ... not a man ..."
Probably the biggest difference between this movie and "Curse of the Werewolf" is the background of the main character. Here he is introduced as a feral wolf boy (see top photo), which makes more sense than in the other film where he was the ungodly offspring of a criminal and a servant girl. These movies were, in part, an attempt to 'sexify' the Wolf Man story. Vampires were always sexy, but not werewolves. In both stories is sexual jealousy that brings out the beast in these two men.
The portrayl of the werewolf largely relies on the performances of the multiple actors portraying the creature, who thankfully do a very good job. Until the final twenty minutes or so it's all a bit dull and we don't get to see much of the werewolf, but that's all made up for by the ending of the film in which the beast goes on a crazy rampage, making it perhaps the most prolific werewolf of the seventies in terms of overall body count. This of course takes place during the full moon, in keeping with werewolf movie folklore. Silver bullets are also employed, once Peter Cushing's 'countryman' assistant does some research and fetches him a book on the subject of how to handle werewolves, along with what precautions should be taken (There are 'precautions' for confronting werewolves? How about 'don't confront them'?).
Anyway, the aforementioned silver bullets are predictably melted down from the walking stick Cushing carries throughout. The final scene of the movie, Peter Cushing hunting a werewolf through the sewers 'Third Man'-style ("The Third Werewolf"?) is of course a very memorable moment in the history of werewolf cinema. The werewolf, we discover, is still able to talk and largely think like a human, which serves to make it more sympathetic.
The final werewolf makeup is ultimately a lot like that which Oliver Reed wore, but not quite as fancy. This is disappointing, as presumably special effects had over a decade to evolve since that time. Oh, well. This is pretty much indicative of the 'minimalist' approach to werewolf makeup that dominated the sixties and seventies. The transformations are achieved through either cuts or dissolves, a pretty standard way of doing things. It makes a lot of use of red POV shots throughout the various 'hunting' sequences, which is rather effective.