Friday, October 14, 2011

The Werewolf of Madrid

There’s a great scene toward the end of the 1961 Hammer film The Curse of the Werewolf but unfortunately you have to wade through a lot of scenes of people doing cruel things to other people to get there.

Is it worth to get there?

Well, it depends. The Curse of the Werewolf gives us a young Oliver Reed, a likable narrator, a surprisingly benign Spanish cleric and a novel explanation for lycanthropy. The movie is loosely -- very loosely -- based on Guy Endore’s novel The Werewolf of Paris but unfortunately, the adaptation eschews almost every scene in The Werewolf of Paris worth reading and includes a few I would rather not have revisited.

Hammer deserves credit for attempting to do something more complex than the usual Lawrence Talbot routine but I can not honestly say that this is one of their better movies. The main problem with the plot is that Reed is sympathetic enough as cursed Spanish lycanthrope Leon Corledo that I can not help but wish a happy ending for his character yet an unhappy ending is all but a foregone conclusion. To be fair, the plot does hint at possible alternative endings. For example, Corledo attempts to elope with his girlfriend at one point, only to be stymied by the police. At another point, the cleric hints that Corledo could be sent to a monastery. (An odd solution given the Catholic Church’s traditional attitude towards the supernatural but in the wake of recent events, all too believable.) However, this plan ultimately fails as well.

So is Curse of the Werewolf worth seeing? Not really. Yet there is something about that final scene in which Corledo’s girlfriend, dressed in black, stands alone in a way which suggests Goya’s famous painting of the Black Duchess. Perhaps I am stretching things a bit but then again I do not often see scenes that remind me of Goya paintings in a movie, let alone a Hammer movie. I just wish this one scene had appeared in a better film.

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