Dir: Terence Fisher
Star: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller
This was the only werewolf film Hammer ever made, because this did not do well at the box-office in either the UK or the US. I can see why: it takes far too long to get going, being about 45 minutes before two separate prologues are out of the way, and we get to the meat of the action. Leon (Reed) is the child of rape, additionally cursed by being born on Christmas Day [that’s prologue #1]. The love of two good foster parents in a Spanish village, has more or less kept him out of trouble as a child [prologue #2], but he is now making his own way in the world, until his animal passions are awakened by the beautiful Cristina (Feller). He goes completely over the edge after a work-colleague browbeats him into a trip to a local den of ill-repute, where the combination of hard liquor and soft women start him on a rampage that can only end one way. Let’s just say, an enraged mob bearing torches is involved – as is, for some reason, a church bell-tower. Hey, I never realized this was The Werewolf of Notre Dame. One could say that the sight of Reed, rampaging and snarling his way through town, was the shape of things to come…
Amusingly, the only reason this was set in Spain, was because Hammer needed to use sets they’d already built, for a movie which fell through [I read several explanation for why, from censorship to financial issues]. That may explain why there’s really no location flavour here at all, beyond a couple of flamenco dancers – otherwise, it might as well be the generic middle-European town often used by the company. As mentioned, the problem is mostly one of pacing, with so much time spent depicting Leon’s early (or even pre-foetal) years, there’s hardly time left for him to do anything at all, after his true nature is revealed – and, even then, there is hardly any attempts at a transformation to speak of. You’ll find some fun to be had from watching Reed, who does have charisma even at this early age. However, when you compare this to Hammer’s Dracula or Frankenstein flicks, it’s clear their heart just wasn’t in it.
[Also starring: You get to see Warren Mitchell, a.k.a. Alf Garnett as a hunter, and Desmond Llewellyn, Q from the Bond films, in an uncredited role as a castle footman.]