Powerful, potent and poetic
Is Curse of the Werewolf any good?
Amazingly, Hammer only made one werewolf feature film. Lucky for us it was an absolute classic, then!The studio’s rising star of Oliver Reed was perfect casting for the role of the doomed lycanthrope in Terence Fisher’s splendidly atmospheric and surprisingly savage 1961 production of The Curse of the Werewolf. Lifting the events befalling the tragically afflicted Leon from the Paris of Guy Endore’s original source novel to rural Spain, Hammer mounted one of the most elegant and ravishing entries in their gloriously gothic cycle.Brilliantly adapted by Anthony Hinds, it packs mystery, dread, romance and throat-ripping into a finely paced and moving tale of horror. Infamously nasty, with a sadistic stabbing, a brutal rape and Leon’s carnivorous activities, the film is also memorable for the genuinely horrific makeup that Roy Ashton created to transform Reed into a snarling, fang-faced monstrosity. His cell-locked reveal to trapped studio stalwart Michael Ripper is a strategic tour de force that makes the spine tingle.
Marred only by the wolfman’s tendency to ceaselessly climb up buildings like a mini-King Kong in the overwrought finale, Fisher’s furry foray is a gloriously entertaining feast of thrills, chills and emotional drama. Reed captures the pathos of the reluctant beast as well as the fury, firmly capitalising on the traditional Universal adage of sympathy for the monster. The set-piece structure is engaging and the indulgent prologue a terrific little movie in its own right.
Still one of the best werewolf movies around, Curse is powerful, potent and poetic.
Curse of the Werewolf Blu-ray Picture Quality
Hammer Films made many gorgeous period chillers, their lack of budget stunningly camouflaged with a lush and painterly palette of typically gaudy primaries, florid costumes and highly evocative (and economic) photography. It is almost customary to cite such bloody beauties as The Brides of Dracula, The Devil Rides Out and The Phantom of the Opera as being the studio’s gemstones. But this is neglecting the rare visual splendour of their one and only werewolf movie.
This German release of The Curse of the Werewolf, called here Der Fluch von Siniestro (namedropping the evil Marquis whose depravities cause the curse in the first place), hails from Anolis and Universal. It presents the film with the correct 1.85:1 aspect via AVC in 1080p. It is region B encoded and has easily removable German subtitles. Interestingly, the original Technicolor logo has been rather clumsily blacked-out from the titles.
Print damage is sparse. Just nicks and pops and wobble here and there. Grain is evident and also reveals some spikes in some shots, namely those establishing exteriors, but it does not look natural to me. It is clumpy and fluctuates when scrutinised. Texture can, therefore, appear artificial and manipulated. Edges are also sporadically sharpened. I wasn’t too perturbed by this, though.
The colour scheme is so rich and saturated that you can overlook many of these discrepancies. For a while. The costumes and the lighting, the tavern and the bordello, and the gore offer up oodles of eye-candy. I noticed no smearing or bleeding (other than that caused by Leon) going on.
Facial detail, wounds, clothing, props and sets all benefit greatly from the extra definition
Arthur Grant’s distinctive camerawork graced many of Hammer’s output and his style is very much in evidence here. The transfer, at first, appears to be very good. Detail is, by far, the best I have encountered with Curse. Facial detail, wounds, clothing, props and sets all benefit greatly from the extra definition. We can clearly see patterns in embroidery, brickwork and timbers. The makeup design for the werewolf has always been one of my favourites and it looks awesome here. We can see the yak-hair strands and the blood-vessels in the eyes with more distinction than ever before. The fangs and the blood are also much more vividly displayed.
But there are compression issues. There is occasionally a very unsightly smearing around objects and characters that looks like Vaseline-smothered edge enhancement. Look at when Pepe (Warren Mitchell) walks up to the dead lamb – there is a greasy smear that ghosts him. Other moments also exhibit this.
Black levels are tremendously deep. Some pockets of shadow may actually be a tad too dark, if I’m honest. The tone, overall, is swarthy and darker hued, but this suits the film just fine. These vast swathes of impenetrable shadow lend acres of depth to the image.
There is an awkward stretch in this otherwise decent, though troubled transfer that well and truly knocks it down even further from the level of the best of the Hammer BD releases, such as Quatermass and The Pit, for example. For a couple of minutes, just as Christina and Leon’s father depart the cell caging the monster, the image drops from hi-def glory to something that looks, to all intents and purposes, like standard definition. The difference in clarity and resolution is abundantly obvious and unavoidable to see.
For the less-discerning this will just be par for the course for an older movie which, in the main, looks tremendous. But unless the source elements have this exact same problem, which I doubt, then I am left with only the transfer, itself, to blame. It is almost as though someone took their finger off the button marked 1080p. Once we return to the cell, as the moon begins to climb the night sky, normal business is resumed… but this is an unfortunate quality lapse.
Overall, there is much to commend with this transfer. The colours and the definition are a huge improvement. The shadow-play is deliciously deep. But there are issues that some may find unacceptable.
Curse of the Werewolf Blu-ray Sound Quality
The disc carries both English and German DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks. The German subs are removable from the main menu.
Well, there really isn’t a great deal to say about the audio transfer. It is certainly very serviceable. Gunshots are loud and solid. The frequent howling carries forth well, and screams are nicely jolting. I had no problems with the dialogue. Voices were all presented without mush or distortion. There is even a fine sense of movement and depth. Impacts are well presented too. Leon wrenching the cell door from its moorings and flattening the guard with it, for instance. This is a great film for snarling and growling. We hear the werewolf in the shadows as he stalks his victims and this sounds particularly effective, with lots of clarity and detail within his guttural threats. It is a little over-the-top, of course, but an enjoyable dimension to Hammer’s audio repertoire.
This is a great film for snarling and growling
The great big torch and pitchfork wolf-hunt of the finale is nicely crowded and dense with histrionics and snarling, and all punctuated by the imposing clanging of the church bells.
As usual, it is the music that possibly benefits the most from the lossless touch. The lush score from Benjamin Frankel, that manages to combine to ferocity of Leon’s nocturnal prowling with the tragic consequences for all concerned, has some spit and vigour to it on this track. You expect wild dynamics with bold, brassy skirmishing and shrieking strings from a Hammer film, and this is certainly up the high and terrifying standards set and maintained normally by the great James Bernard. Violins scream and brass blurts and lurches. Percussion is clear and bass elements are well founded. This a good presentation of Frankel’s exquisite score.
And a fine audio track, all round. Don’t expect miracles, however. This is still very dated and has that unmistakably dense and somewhat crushed sound. But, overall, a track that respects its origins and goes for the throat whenever it can.
Curse of the Werewolf Blu-ray Extras
Anolis deliver a fine little package for this German release.
We get a tremendous 49-minute Making of The Curse of the Werewolf documentary from Final Cut that brings out some of the usual suspects from the Hammer elite who have graced many of the studio’s new retrospectives. Plus we have cast members Yvonne Romain, memorable mother of the beast in the film and darling of its poster campaign, Catherine Feller, who plays Leon’s love interest. We hear from Reed, himself, in an archival interview, and view some of Roy Ashton’s makeup designs. Production designer Don Mingaye talks about the sets at Bray Studios – he even has something of the Leon-wolf look about him! Which reminds me, there is even a real wolf putting in an appearance. Monster-maker and fan Mike Hill shows us his incredible work and discusses his love for the movie, and we have a great potted history of the film’s production and reception with on-set photos and clips to illustrate the saga. This doc is in English with German subs.
There is a curious little Lycanthropy Featurette, in English and lasting for around 3 minutes that has Mike Hill and Catherine Feller returning to discuss the differences between the mythical werewolf and the mental disorder of lycanthropy. This is illustrated by images from the comic adaptation.
Regular Hammer-disc fixture Wayne Kinsey gets to show off his awesome collection of props and models and knick-knacks from the movies they made in his own little mini-doc. This has appeared elsewhere.
We even have a Commentary Track from Dr. Rolf Giesen and Volker Lange, though sadly this is entirely in German. Now, my wife can speak German… but, so far, she has not committed herself to a translation. Boo-hiss.
We see pages from the John Bolton comic adaptation of the film that featured in the long-defunct Hammer Horror magazine. I have almost all of these, including the various evolutions that the mag underwent. And, of course, I have the copy that proudly presented Curse of the Werwolf. Although the text is in German, this is voiced in English and boasts music and FX and zooms into the fabulous panels. This is a fine little addition.
Two extensive Galleries show promotional artwork and production stills, all set the film’s lavish score.
We can also view the original German opening and closing credits, without Technicolor scrubbed out.
All in all, a terrific collection of supplements.
Curse of the Werewolf Blu-ray Verdict
As a devotee of all things lycanthropic, Curse of the Werewolf is one of my favourite full moon rip ‘em ups. And since I am also one of the most ardent and obsessive Hammer fans, it is immensely rewarding that it hails from their stable. Treating the legend with respect and managing to blend the pathos of the doomed monster, who is as much a victim as those his howling alter ego mauls, with the fearsome atmosphere of a beast on the loose, it treads what has become a formulaic path but does so with originality and fervour. Reed magnificently conveys the brash optimism of youthful independence and the stark terror and guilt at crimes he has no power to thwart, embodying the overbearing and intimidating persona that was, of course, becoming an increasing part of his own large-than-life character.
Terence Fisher’s typical no-nonsense approach jettisons any unnecessary baggage and provides an epic saga on an admirably deceptive economy. It is also great to see the studio’s long-standing working-class campaign of mocking the aristocracy in full swing too.
With barnstorming support from the alluring Yvonne Romain and the incredibly versatile Richard Wordsworth who both dominate the classic opening act as Leon’s fate-betrayed “real” parents, and strong turns from Clifford Evans as the surrogate father who must make an agonising decision, Warren Mitchell as the gamekeeper whose shaggy dog story appears to be coming true, Anthony Dawson whose sadistic marquis sets the entire unholy shebang rolling and, of course, the long-suffering Michael Ripper as Leon’s unfortunate cell-mate, Curse is clearly in the top echelon of Hammer productions. Look and you’ll see MI6’s Q, Desmond Llewelyn in here, as well!
Hammer Films receive welcome hi-def releases all the time, and this German Blu-ray is very definitely worth getting your paws on
Hammer Films receive welcome hi-def releases all the time, and from a variety of countries, and this German Blu-ray is very definitely worth getting your paws on if you cannot wait for another label to unleash it. At the time of writing I do not know of the film surfacing anywhere else, but any high hopes should be tempered by the fact that the transfer, whilst enjoyable, has some issues that may bother some people more than others. We have a questionable section in which the picture quality takes a dip and that horrible motion-smear but, on the whole, this disc presents one of the studio’s most redolent and appealing costume-horrors with often considerable style. The audio track growls and howls appreciably. And the extras are the wolf’s doo-dahs, too!
Die-hards should definitely check this release out. More casual Hammer fans should possibly sit it out a little while longer because a better transfer is sure to come prowling along.
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