"Curse of the Werewolf" was Hammer Studios only feature-length werewolf film, although they did later make "Children of the Full Moon" in the 1980s, an hour-long episode of the 'Hammer House of Horror' TV series. It bears much comparison with the other classic werewolf movie of the pre-1980's, Universal's "The Wolf Man". It tends to be much less appreciated than it's younger cousin, although many regard as being a classic in it's own right.
One night in Spain, a poor beggar makes the mistake of offending a nobleman and is thrown into the dungeons for the rest of his life. While there he rapes a poor, mute servant girl who subsequently escapes into the woods. She is soon taken in by a kind couple, and when she dies giving birth to the beggar's child on christmas day, they raise him as their own. As Leon grows older, he develops a nasty habit of changing into at wolf a night and slaughtering the local livestock. His loving parents are able to restore his humanity, but when he falls in love years later the terrible curse returns to haunt him ...
The story here is a bit slow-moving and dull in places, and it does take an awful long time to get started -- arguably the real story doesn't start until over half way through the film. But having said that, the famous conclusion is of course absolutely enthralling. The story is undoubtably creepier and more horrific than "The Wolf Man", and in that sense it shares more in common with other classics like "Dracula" and "Frankenstein". However, it's period setting does cause some problems. The sets and costumes are decent enough considering the time and budget, but the lighting and overall atmosphere aren't exactly convincing. Also, the makeup that is used to show various character's ageing isn't always all that great. The British cast of theatrical actors are for the most part very good, and although I'm not always a huge fan of Oliver Reed, he is very well-suited to this role.
Unlike Universal's "Dracula" and "Frankenstein", "The Wolf Man" was an original work that was never based on a historical novel. For this movie, however, Guy Endore's classic 1930's novel "The Werewolf of Paris" (with an obvious change of location) was adapted by Hammer producer Anthony Hinds. Hinds later wrote the script for "Legend of the Werewolf" after Hammer Studios movie production dissolved in the mid-70s, although he was always credited as John Elder. Terence Fisher was probably the most experienced and critically-acclaimed director that Hammer had to offer. An important figure in the horror revival of the late fifties and sixties, he had already helmed the production of two "Dracula" and two "Frankenstein" movies, as well as the Hammer remakes of "The Mummy" and "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" and around forty other movies, mostly crime dramas.
This is a classic and often under-rated entry into the werewolf movie genre, and absolutely essential viewing for any true fan.
It's interesting that, being based on a novel that was written before Universal's "The Wolf Man" appeared, this movie follows much of the same folklore as that classic movie. However, one key difference is that the lycanthropy here is not brought about by a wolf's bite or a witch's curse -- but rather by the cruelty of one man. When the nobleman has the kindly beggar thrown into the dungeon for years, the beggar becomes an animal (see top photo) and commits rape, and thus his offspring is marked by the curse of the werewolf.
Leon's curse first makes itself known after he is taken hunting, and he longs to hunt like a wolf and rip animals to shreds (see second photo down). His foster parents manage to solve this problem with a good old fashioned exorcism, and the curse lies dormant for some time. The second time it returns it is brought about by another factor. Either it is his anger at his lover being above his station, or simply his rising lust as he sits in a brothel with his best friend. But this time it will take something more severe to rid him of his curse, which brings us to the most obvious similarity to "The Wolf Man" -- silver bullets. Here, the silver bullet has to melted down from a crucifix. The religious undercurrents in this story are particularly strong, as they apparently were in the original novel.
Oliver Reed gives a decent performance as the werewolf, lumbering and climbing up and down the town buildings in the well-known climax to the movie. While the transformation effects aren't as impressive as many of those employed in some of the "Wolf Man" movies, the werewolf makeup effects are arguably superior (see bottom two photos). For this movie Hammer created a full torso upper torso body suit that looks pretty damn great. The special effects were done by Les Bowie, who worked on most of the Hammer Studios flicks.