Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein was the fourth filmdirected byPaul Morrisey under Andy Warhol‘s banner; although it seems that apart from co-producing, the American pop art icon had no creative input, which may be why, in Europe, it was released under the title Flesh For Frankenstein. Morrisey made this film back-to-back with Andy Warhol’s Dracula, which we will cover when 1974 rolls around. Both films star Udo Kier and Joe Dallesandro (who also starred in the Morrissey/Warhol “hustler” trilogy Flesh, Trash, and Heat). Frankenstein is the more outrageous of the two horror films. It stars Kier as a fascistic, narcissistic, necrophiliac Baron Frankenstein who, in his most infamous scene, cuts open the ribcage of a woman (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and has sex with her gall bladder. Naturally, this scene made Kier a cult celebrity, a position he would cement with 0Dracula.
Shot in 3-D, Frankenstein aims directly to satirize the sexploitation/horror demographic with a high quota of gore and sex—the latter supplied by Monique Van Vooren as the unloved nymphomaniac Baroness, wife and sister to the Baron, and Dallesandro as the stable boy who services her. Aptly, the film opens with the Baron and Baroness as children dissecting and beheading a doll, but “Addams Family” this isn’t: the good doctor’s supply of cadavers comes from bordellos rather than the traditional cemetery. Kier and Van Vooren are ideally cast, with her armpit sucking competing with his gallbladder screwing. Although undeniably dated, it’s every bit as outrageous as it sounds.
When writer William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin unleashed The Exorcist on the world, few had any idea the impact it would make. Shining across our small 1973 TV sets, the original trailer was subdued. Although the book upon which it was based had been a best seller, only its readers knew what it was about. I don’t remember a lot of publicity beforehand, but all that changed on the weekend it was released. Newspapers were issuing warnings of something unimaginably terrifying, theaters were equipped with barf bags, and in our neck of the woods, churches were condemning it as propaganda coming from Satan himself. Indeed, the fallen angel had been rising quite high since 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, but, at least as far as box office, even that seminal (and superior) film did not have the impact of The Exorcist. Initially, its critical standing was mixed, although now it seems to top all those “best of” horror lists. Word of mouth made a trend of fear, and it was years before anyone from our tribe saw it. The tidal wave of Satanic themed films to follow was unprecedented, and, needless to say, preachers and Sunday Continue reading 1973 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN, SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, AND SISTERS→
1972 is perhaps the most prolific year in the most prolific decade of horror and exploitation films. It’s also the year for what may be the quintessential midnight cult move: John Waters‘ Pink Flamingos, now enshrined as one of the 366 weirdest movies of all time. Blood Freak, which is the first and only “Christian” movie to date about a turkey serial killer, is another Certified Weird 1972 exploitation picture. Competing with Freak fro sheer awfulness was Don Barton’s Zaat (AKA Blood Waters of Dr. Z), which went onto “MST3K” infamy.
In its Blu-ray presentation, Mario Bava‘s maligned Baron Blood has proven better than its reputation, despite a miscast Joseph Cotten in the title role. Like most of Bava, it’s stylishly irresistible. The 1972 Amicus omnibuses Asylum and Tales from the Crypt both starred Peter Cushing, and were critical and box office successes. Ben, Dr. Phibes Rise Again, and Beware The Blob were all inferior sequels—which is saying a lot in the case of an original monster who was just moving silly putty. Jess Franco tackled the two big undead kahunas (with plenty of added sex) in The Erotic Experiences of Frankenstein and Daughter of Dracula. The Count rose yet again inCount Dracula’s Great Love, starring Paul Naschy. Future King of Cartoons (William Marshall) and director William Crain fused horror with blacksploitation for the first time in Blacula. It was a enough of a box office success to warrant (superior) sequel in 1973. Unfathomably busy, Cushing and Christopher Lee teamed up for Freddie Francis‘ underrated Creeping Flesh, Gene Martin’s cult favorite Horror Express, Peter Sasdy’s misfire Nothing but the Night, and the Hammer opus Dracula AD 1972 (directed by Alan Gibson).
Widely scorned, Dracula A.D. 1972 reunited Cushing’s Van Helsing with Lee’s bloodsucker in a modern setting, even though Dracula himself is confined to a Gothic church. It’s one of Tim Burton‘s favorite movies. The contemporaneous critical backlash was mostly justified. Lee, probably the best cinematic Count, is reduced to second vampire-in-waiting. But as an artifact of its time, Dracula A.D. 1972 is not entirely without virtue, enough to explain Burton’s affection.
It opens in the previous century with Dracula and Van Helsing locked in mortal combat aboard a stagecoach, which crashes, causing the vampire to be impaled on the spokes of the coach’s wheel. As Dracula attempts to free himself, a battered and bleeding Van Helsing interferes, driving the spokes in deep enough to snuff out the life of his nemesis before dying himself. Witnessing the scene is a Dracula disciple who, of course, leaves with the vampire’s relics (handy for later resurrection). Despite the preposterous accidental impalement, it’s a red-blooded, Gothic prologue that is followed by 1972’s swinging hippies.
The 1970s were probably the most prolific decade in production of exploitation and horror films. The decade started off with Gordon Hessler’s mediocre Cry of the Banshee, co-starring Vincent Price and Diana Rigg. Daniel Haller’s adaptation of The Dunwich Horror was also surprisingly uneven, despite its well-received source material. Hammer Studios was still in full throttle, although its output increasingly met with mixed reviews and decreasing box office. Peter Sasdy’s Taste the Blood of Dracula was considered by many to be the last decent Hammer take on the infamous Count. Roy Ward Baker’s The Scars of Dracula was universally panned by critics. Scars‘ star Christopher Lee then made a stab at the character for a different studio in Jess Franco‘sCount Dracula, which co-starred Klaus Kinski and Herbert Lom. Noticeably shot on a lower budget, Franco’s Dracula was deemed a faithful adaptation of the novel, but a noble misfire. Franco and Lee also teamed up for The Bloody Judge, which was a second-rate rehash of Michael Reeves‘ final film, Witchfinder General.
Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil, starring Herbert Lom and Udo Kier, was another offshoot of the late Mr. Reeves’ swan song, with the addition of graphic torture, and it’s reputation as one of the most revolting grindhouse films ever made still holds strong nearly a half century later. Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw was the third Witchfinder General copycat in one year. It disappeared quickly (rightfully so). At the opposite end of the spectrum is the camp-fest fundamentalist Christian exploitation Cross and the Switchblade, which aptly cast the whitest white man who ever lived—Pat Boone—as Hoosier Pentecostal preacher David Wilkerson, going to the ghetto to convert gang member Nicky Cruz (Erik Estrada). It was such a hit with the fundie circuit that they even produced a cross-promotional comic book that was littered throughout church pews to take home and keep “if you got saved.”
The primary influence on Sam Raimi ‘s The Evil Dead (1981), the microbudget horror Equinox has a substantial cult following, enough to receive the Criterion Collection treatment. Equinox is a holy grail for lovers of backyard filmmaking, and is almost as famous for its making of narrative. The story began with three teenagers, David Allen, Dennis Muren, and Mark McGee, who got together and made a monster movie. Discovering the likes of Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen through the pages of Forrest J. Ackerman’s influential “Famous Monsters Of Filmland,” aspiring stop-animation animator Allen placed a personal ad in a 1962 issue of FM, inviting lovers of King Kong to correspond. Muren, whose monster memorabilia collection had been featured in an earlier article of the magazine, was the first to respond, followed by McGee. Shortly after that initial introduction, the three were meeting regularly for screenings and discussions of creature features and experimenting with 16 MM shorts. In 1965 Muren received money from his grandfather to make Equinox.
Having directed nearly two hundred films before his death in 2013, Franco is one of the most prolific directors in cinema history. He’s also unique in—by his own admission—never having made a good film. [↩]
Although Peter Cushing passed this mortal coil in 1994, he made a recent, posthumous appearance—albeit a digital one—in what is probably his most famous non-Hammer role as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue One. His debut film performance was, aptly enough, for Universal horror icon James Whale in Man in the Iron Mask (1939), but it wasn’t until Terence Fisher‘s 1957’s Curse Of Frankenstein for Hammer Studios that Cushing secured his iconic niche. Unlike the Universal Frankenstein series, Fisher focused on the doctor himself, as opposed to the monster. With his frosty blue eyes, silver-tongued elocution, and gaunt frame, bringing a fervent athleticism to his early performances, Cushing was ideally cast.
Echoing John Huston’s brilliant deduction that Humphrey Bogart’s villainous screen qualities could be transposed to those of a protagonist in The Maltese Falcon, Terence Fisher next cast Cushing as the quintessential Van Helsing in Hammer’s Horror Of Dracula (1958), opposite his long-time onscreen foil Christopher Lee. These dual roles, Frankenstein and Van Helsing, cemented Cushing as a horror genre star. It was typecasting that kept his services in demand, and for which he was grateful.
He also made an excellent Sherlock Holmes in Fisher’s 1959 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, again cast opposite Lee. It’s possibly the best screen adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous novel, and one of Hammer studio’s finest hours. Cushing brings an irreproachable, authentically physical fire-and-ice quality to the role. The film is relatively faithful to the novel, which will surprise those expecting Fisher to transform it into a horror opus—although it has his trademark red-blooded pacing and brooding atmosphere. Lee, as Sir Henry, may not be as exquisitely cast, but brings flair to the character. Someone must have forgotten to tell Fisher, Cushing, cinematographer Jack Asher, set designer Bernard Robinson, and composer James Bernard that this was an overly familiar story, because they approach it with a refreshing sense of discovery. Lee recalls his genuine affection for his late co-star in an interview included on the DVD. Unlike their Universal Horror predecessors Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, Cushing and Lee became best of friends. Co-starring opposite each other in twenty-four films, their chemistry was undeniable, and although they did substantial solo work, their names are practically synonymous.
The 1966 horror, science fiction, and exploitation slate may be most infamous for what many claim is the worst film of all time: Manos: The Hands of Fate. It’s also the year that Barbara Steele made her last Italian Gothic, An Angel for Satan (which we’ll cover later in a Steele retrospective). William “One-Shot” Beaudine was responsible for back-to-back western horrors: Billy The Kid Meets Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. Michael Hoey banked on Marilyn-imitator Mamie Van Doren to lift Navy vs. The Night Monsters (it didn’t work) while Curtis Harrington and Michael Reeves made futile attempts to salvage films started by others: Queen of Blood and The She-Beast, respectively. Hy Averback tooted his horror horn to warn us of hooked killer Patrick O’Neil in Chamber of Horrors and Freddie Francis had us screaming about Deadly Bees. Considerably better was Mario Bava‘s Kill, Baby Kill. It was Hammer horror and Hammer-related films, however, that owned the year’s genre product.
Lee, Shelly, and Hinds teamed again that same year for Don Sharp’s Rasputin: The Mad Monk, which is effective trash as only Hammer could deliver. Hinds’ previous writing credits include Brides of Dracula (1960), Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and Kiss of the Vampire (1963). 1966 was a busy year for him, having also scripted The Reptile (see below). Hinds continued writing for Hammer up until their cult TV series, “Hammer House Of Horrors” (1980).
The leftover sets from Prince of Darkness must have affected Lee, because he delivers one of his best performance as Rasputin. He is perfectly cast. The film opens moodily in a pub with a local doctor departing after having dismissed any chances of survival for the innkeeper’s wife. Moments later, Rasputin enters, put his hands on the ill woman and, through the intensity of his look alone, immediately heals her. Now a hero of sorts, Rasputin engages in drunken song and dance with the locals and takes off to have his way with the innkeeper’s daughter in the barn. Interrupted by the girl’s fiancée, Rasputin cuts off the poor man’s hand. When the locals turn into an angry mob, Rasputin escapes via horseback and returns to his monastery. Shocked to discover that Rasputin is a monk, the locals take their grievances to the bishop. As defiant as ever, Continue reading 1966 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK, THE REPTILE, THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES→
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was the last of the Hammer Frankenstein series, as well as Terence Fisher’s final film. It is generally regarded as a weak swansong. At first glance, it seems a remake of The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), but with a noticeably reduced budget.
Peter Cushing, in his final portrayal of Baron Frankenstein, inexplicably sports a curly blond wig which makes him look a bit like a deranged Shirley Temple, and he looks alarmingly emaciated. Off-screen, the actor’s wife had died, after a long illness, only the previous year, in 1971 (Monster from Hell was filmed in 1972 and remained on the shelf for two years). Cushing was openly despondent and in intense mourning. He later admitted to having had suicidal tendencies during this period. Cushing never remarried, nor did he ever fully recover from the loss. The toll of that recent personal tragedy is clearly visible on him in this film and, despite all of the atrocities committed by his character, that off-screen blow adds a layer of wearied pathos revealed in the actor’s eyes.
Despite the many elements working against this film, its bad reputation is mostly hyperbole. Like nearly all of Fisher’s films, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell is stamped with the director’s assured composition and electric editing. The opening sequence, with a grave robber (Patrick Troughton, from Doctor Who and Scars of Dracula) being pursued by a constable, is nearly as kinetically paced as the tense opening of Frankenstein Must be Destroyed. Later in the film, the Baron, momentarily young again, springs to his old self in a leap atop the creature’s back. The creature’s eventual fate is gruesome and frenzied. These are diversions from a prevailing, fatigued bleakness. Indeed, a desolate milieu permeates this culmination of Fisher and Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein saga.
David (Darth Vader) Prowse plays the monster, and he is as encased in his rubbery, hairy ape-like latex as he was in black armor. Prowse attempts to inject sympathy into his monster, much the same way that Freddie Jone’s monster did in the superb Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Prowse, however, was at the mercy of an immobile costume which defeats his efforts.
The mummy, as a character, quickly became bland. In 1932, director Karl Freund, writer John L. Balderstein, and stars Boris Karloff and Zita Johnann made a poetic film for the Universal horror cannon, re-working the story of Dracula in Egyptian guise. The Mummy’s Hand (1940) starring cowboy actor (and later Captain Marvel) Tom Tyron, was the first and only real decent of the Universal mummy sequels. Increasingly feeble films followed Hand, all starring a rotund mummy in the form of a disinterested Lon Chaney, Jr. Dating back to the original, the plot rarely varied throughout the series. An Egyptian princess reincarnates in the form of a twentieth century woman, only to have her ancient lover come back, a tad lethargic, gauze and all, to reclaim her.
Oddly, Francis Ford Coppola lazily utilized the mummy’s reincarnated dead lover plot for his version of Dracula (1992), which, otherwise, was a (mostly) well done, imaginative version of that story. In 1999 the mummy was revived again in a dumbed down, lame, testosterone-laden joke of a movie starring Brendan Frazier. That film also spawned numerous sequels. True to form,the succeeding mummy entries were even worse, which, in this case, isn’t saying anything.
In between the 1932 and 1999 films, Hammer Studios predictably took a stab at the character. They spared no expense in soliciting the talents of Terence Fisher, along with top stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Where they did spare expense was in an original story. The Mummy (1959) liberally borrowed elements from the formulaic Universal series, and reincarnated the reincarnated princess plot. Briskly paced direction from Fisher, along with sumptuous color from Hammer cinematographer Jack Asher, almost overcomes the paint-by-number plot, which screenwriter Jimmy Sangster tried valiantly to inject with his own sensibilities. Of course, the medium of film is more than mere storytelling and The Mummy is a film that tries to go a long way to prove that; because, basic rehashed story aside, the film itself is no lumbering undead. It may be Fisher’s most energetic work.
Peter Cushing, as Dr. Banning, is in enthusiastic form. No one can get strangled like Cushing, and his near-death experience and confrontation with co-star Lee in Banning’s study is pure red-blooded Fisher, ranking with the acting duo’s battle in Horror of Dracula. Equally interesting is when Cushing’s Banning antagonizes the antagonist in the most proven way imaginable; he insults the other guy’s religion. Ironically, it is Banning, rather than the mummy, who limps here, the result of an untended accident in Egypt. Christopher Lee is the darling among genre fans. He is far more discussed than his co-star. As iconic an actor as Lee is, his favored status is something of a slight to Cushing, since the latter is, normally, the superior actor. However, in this film, the acting honors are a draw, with Lee giving an admirably nuanced, minimalist performance as the title character. Lee’s Kharis cannot compete with Karloff’s masterful Imhotep, but Lee invests genuine pathos, dread, and menace into the role. Yvonne Furneaux is striking as the Kharis/Banning love interest, but not much is required of her other than letting her hair down and shouting “No!”
Kharis’ resurrection from the swamp is beautifully photographed and effectively conveys robust dread. Another well-shot sequence is the mummy’s entrance into an asylum to exact revenge on Banning’s father. Franz Reizenstein’s score expertly accentuates the film, matching Fisher’s bloodied full moon milieu. The Mummy reminds me a bit of The Guns of Navarone (1961). You know what’s around the corner, but that hardly stops the enjoyment of getting there.
Christopher Lee, as Dracula, greets John Van Eyssan’s Jonathan Harker and basically says, “Welcome, glad to have you as my librarian. That picture of your fiancee is lovely. I have to leave now, good bye.” After that, Dracula never speaks another word in the Horror of Dracula (1958). End to end, his footage probably runs less than fifteen minutes.
Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster present Bram Stoker’s vampire as a feeding predator. To his victims, he is attractive and desirable. Throughout his Hammer films, Terence Fisher clearly presents evil as erotic temptation. Seen in this light, Dracula’s silent, predatory portrayal in the first “true” sequel—Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)—makes perfect sense. This is what sets Fisher apart from his predecessors who told the same story, and the successors who imitated (and exaggerated) his style in increasingly inferior sequels.
In F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), the vampire is loathsome and repulsive. In Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) the vampire has far more static dialogue, and more charisma, albeit in a silent film stylized theatricality. With Fisher’s take on the subject, the erotic quality of the antagonist is pronounced, fleshy, and unmistakable. Yet, Fisher and Sangster also expertly balanced that sensuality with the narrative, never allowing the eroticism to become a caricature the way successors did (thus robbing the series of its freshness).
Compare Fisher’s direction of Dracula’s seduction scene to Freddie Francis’ in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968). In the former, Dracula seduces Mina (Melissa Stribling). The scene is shot in a series of extreme close-ups. Mina expresses dread (with a quivering lip) and breathy anticipation. Dracula enters her room and descends upon her bed-ridden form. As he draws towards her, his lips part. The next sight of Mina is unconsciously collapsed on her bed, violated, blood lightly splattered on her throat and gown. It is the blood of her husband (in a transfusion) that saves her life.
In Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, the vampire approaches Zena (Barbara Ewing) in the forest. Zena nearly spills out of her top and the vampire removes one extra snap for increased spillage. The attention is so drawn to the stripping that the narrative is second thought. Later, when Veronica Carlson is seduced by Dracula, her Victorian doll falls from her bed, awkwardly symbolizing the loss of innocence.
There is a scene in each of Terence Fisher’s trilogy of vampire films—Horror of Dracula (1958), Brides of Dracula (1960), and Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)—in which a wise and devout man releases a vampire from the pains of immortal existence. In the Horror of Dracula, Van Helsing releases Lucy, much to the relief of her brother Arthur. Arthur smiles as he sees the beauty of innocence restored to his sister. In Prince, Fr. Sandor releases Helen from the curse, as her brother-in-law, Charles, smiles upon witnessing the peace that finally envelops the troubled Helen. In Brides of Dracula, Van Helsing, introduced as a doctor of philosophy and theology, releases vampire Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt), at her own request. After being staked, the Baroness shows a touch of a smile.
For the first (and best) sequel to Horror of Dracula, Fisher and the writing team (which included an uncredited Anthony Hinds, Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan, and Edward Pearcy) chose a disciple of Dracula, in the person of Baron Meinster (David Peel), as the antagonist rather than the Count himself. The Baron is blond, pretty, manipulative, charming, and genuinely menacing. Luckily, Peel fits the bill, although by general consensus he is no Christopher Lee. Still, he is refreshingly different. Such a choice allowed the production imaginative freedom and innovation. The resulting film is inordinately elegant, poetic and seething with atmosphere.
Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) is on her way to start a job at a girl’s school when she is stranded at a local inn. The Baroness Meinster arrives and offers to put Marianne up for the night at her castle. The locals , well aware of the Baroness’ motives, attempt to to keep Marianne from accepting the invitation, to no avail. Marianne is introduced to the Baroness’ imperious maid, Greta (Freda Jackson), and discovers that the Baroness’ son, the Baron Meinster, is a shackled prisoner in the castle. The Baroness’ plan to feed Marianne to her son is upset when her guest releases the Baron from his chains of bondage.
Marianne flees the castle, confused and frightened, unaware that she has set a vampire free. Peter Cushing‘s Van Helsing, ever the father figure, discovers her in the woods, takes her to the school, and, after hearing Mariann’s story, knows that his crusade to rid the world of vampires is far from finished.
Jackson, as Greta, is one of several acting delights here. She cackles and theatrically waxes poetic. She hams it up in several scenes, most notably one in which she assists a vampire’s attempt to resurrect himself directly through the soil. Equally good is Martita Hunt (best known for her role as Miss Havisham in David Lean’s Great Expectations-1946) who becomes her son’s Oedipal victim. Miles Malleson also does a charming turn in the role of the alcoholic Dr. Tobler. Cushing, as usual, conveys self-assured, icy precision in a part that he seems born to play. Peel’s Baron puts the bite on Helsing and, in a blood-red, thrilling scene, the Doctor plants a burning iron to his own throat to cauterize the wound. Cushing masters the scene in his inimitable way.
However, Monlaur, as Marianne, is merely decorative and, consequently, bland, which is a serious defect in the film. Another glaring flaw is in the some slipshod writing (the result of too many hands in the pot, no doubt). A compelling, eerie henchman character appears and is ingloriously dropped. Van Helsing’s appearance is far too convenient and contrived. A cheesy flying bat is a major distraction. Despite the flaws, however, Fisher’s enthusiastic direction is contagious; aided , in no small part, by lavish art direction and camera work. The finale, at a windmill, is sumptuous and visually exciting.
Unfortunately, there would only be one more good film in the series; Fisher’s Dracula, Prince of Darkness. After that, the series was pretty much turned over to the hacks and it did not take long at all for the rot to set in.
Terence Fisher never considered himself a “horror” filmmaker, and he clearly disliked the term. While a number of Fisher’s film could be apt examples to drive home his point that he was more than a mere scare merchant, The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) will suffice quite nicely. This is a quite literary film, far better than either of Universal Studio’s versions of The Wolfman (1941 & 2010).
Fisher and writer Anthony Hinds (loosely adapting Guy Endor’s novel) weave a narrative tragedy through folklore, mythology, religious metaphor, and character revelation. The symbols of class struggle ebb throughout the film, beginning in 18th century Catholic Spain. A beggar is imprisoned in the dungeon by the powerful and callous Marques (Anthony Dawson). Naturally, the beggar is forgotten about, cared for only by the jailer and his mute daughter. Years later, after her father’s death, the now grown servant girl (Yvonne Romain) tends the beggar. While cleaning the aged Marques’ room, Romain rejects her master’s sexual advances and is imprisoned in the very same dungeon occupied by the beggar. After resisting the brutal, savage passions of the Marques, the girl is raped by the crazed and dying beggar for whom she has cared these many years. In retaliation, once released, she stabs and kills the cruel Marques, fleeing into the woods where she is found, face up in the river, by Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans), an empathetic patriarchal figure.
Corledo’s servant Teresa (Hira Talfrey, who seems more like a wife than a servant) notices that their new guest is with child and dreads the thought of the baby being born on Christmas, which, according to her tradition, is an affront to God. Dec 25th arrives and the child, Leon, is tragically born to a dead mother, who is finally released from the misery of a peasant life.
In a reversal of the Christ child’s dedication at the temple, the local priest baptizes Leon, soliciting a storm from the heavens. Even the baptismal water reacts to the sanctifying of this curse of birth. The water bubbles intensely and reflects the face of a gargoyle from above. The motherly Teresa, the superstitious one, alone recognizes the sign, while the priest and Don Alfredo dismiss it.
Years later, the child Leon ventures out, tasting the sweet blood of a squirrel, killing lambs and goats. By now Don Alfredo and the priest know that Leon suffers the curse of the werewolf and the priest warns that only love can relieve Leon from his affliction. Surrogate parents Don Alfredo and Teresa supply that love to the boy, but as a man, Leon will need the true love of a woman, ala Beauty and the Beast, to harness the wolf.
Some reviewers have predictably commented that the first half of Curse is slow, yet it is in the first half that the narrative is uniquely compelling. The film unfolds like a literary fairy tale. Once the narrative takes the obligatory horror route, in the last quarter, with a gray-furred, Henry Hull-looking lycanthrope, it feels a bit recycled, complete with the beast, atop a cathedral, being chased by the torch carrying mob.
Still, Oliver Reed is superb as the adult Leon, registering torment far more convincingly than either Lon Chaney, Jr. or Benicio Del Toro. Hira Talfrey and, especially, Clifford Evans are equally accomplished as Leon’s concerned guardians. There are genuinely effective moments of tingling suspense, such as Leon’s cornering an unfortunate prisoner in a cell. Leon’s virtuous fiancee is his potential salvation, but the animal side of Leon emerges once he ventures out from his sanctuary into a hedonistic society; after which there is, literally, hell to pay.
Curse of the Werewolf is a fine example of a director who utilized a genre for his own aesthetic expression, much the same way that Rod Serling utilized science fiction for his own expressionist gain.
Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!