*. There’s a moment in An American Werewolf in London when David asks his British girlfriend Alex (Jenny Agutter) if she’s seen The Wolf Man and she responds “Is that the one with Oliver Reed?” I think it’s a clever bit of dialogue that lets John Landis show off his knowledge of old horror movies while at the same time highlighting the cultural divide between the two characters.
*. Is it realistic? Probably not. I doubt the character of Alex would be more familiar with The Curse of the Werewolf (the one with Oliver Reed) than she would be with the classic Universal film. But it’s still a nice way of acknowledging a little bit of werewolf-film history, one that I think by now is largely forgotten except by hardcore fans of the genre.
*. I don’t like this movie much, but it does have its defenders, and even fans. I think you have to either be unconditionally in love with Hammer horror films or Oliver Reed to find it worth watching. I’m not against either, but there are limits to my appreciation of both.
*. What separates opinions on it the most is the long introductory prologue, which gives us the werewolf’s back story. I applaud Hammer for trying to do something a bit different here, but it doesn’t work. In large part, I think, because they couldn’t go with the original idea, which was to have the beggar be the werewolf. Apparently the censors didn’t want the mute girl being raped by a werewolf. Being raped by a crazy old man in a dungeon was better.
*. Without that rather essential bit of the origin story, the movie is stuck having to provide a rather lame explanation for Leon’s lycanthropy. He’s born on Christmas day with a divided soul. Or something like that. I get the sense that everyone was a bit embarrassed by this part.
*. I’ve read arguments for the importance of the introduction, but it seems to me to waste a lot of time giving us unnecessary information. Unnecessary and uninteresting. It’s also claimed that what we find out here makes Leon a more sympathetic figure, but most werewolves are sympathetically drawn. We felt sympathy for Lawrence Talbot in The Wolf Man, and that movie was only 70 minutes long. We’re over 45 minutes into this one before Oliver Reed even appears.
*. This sense of wasting time is actually present throughout the movie. I’m not against movies that move slowly, but The Curse of the Werewolf really drags its heels. There’s all sorts of talk that goes nowhere. At the tavern an old man in his cups tell us: “It’s the night of the full moon, and you know what that means.” “What?” “It means that things are abroad.” “Things? What sort of things?” “Strange things, that should not be spoken of.” After which pronouncement he empties his glass and leaves.
*. Then, after taking such a long time to get going, there’s not much werewolf on offer, and what there is doesn’t impress. Basically this is just the Jack Pierce Wolf Man with less hair on his face and showing some grey. There is no good transformation scene. He also doesn’t do much in the climax but run around on the rooftops while villagers shake torches at him.
*. The climax does have one bit the impressed me. Throwing that burning hay bale into the crowd was surprising. You never know which way those things are going to bounce when they hit the ground, or how far. That was dangerous!
*. Wow. Is Justin Walters as Young Leon an uncanny younger version of Oliver Reed or what? That must be an interesting side of casting.
*. The subtitles during the baptism scene tell us the priest is “Speaking Spanish.” Obviously it’s Latin. Writing subtitles must be an interesting job too.
*. This was Oliver Reed’s debut (or at least first credited appearance). He’s intense to the point of being over the top. He just has that air of being a dangerous guy. This should have worked better with this material, but the script isn’t interested in werewolf psychology. It’s ultimately more of a spiritual/supernatural thing.
*. Hammer was riding a gravy train resurrecting Universal’s classic monsters, but this was their only werewolf movie. I don’t know if this was because of box office or just lack of interest, but I’m not disappointed. I wouldn’t want more movies like this.