“A werewolf is a body with a soul and a spirit that are constantly at war.”
After being humiliated by a sociopathic marquis (Anthony Dawson), a beggar (Richard Wordsworth) is permanently imprisoned and becomes increasingly animal-like, raping a kind, mute servant (Yvonne Romain). Upon her death during childbirth, Romain’s son Leon (Justin Walters) is raised by a caring couple (Clifford Evans and Hira Talfrey) who are dismayed to learn from a local priest (John Gabriel) that Leon is a werewolf who has committed a spate of recent animal killings. When Leon grows up (Oliver Reed), he learns about his lycanthropy and hopes that the love of his girlfriend (Catherine Feller) will save him from this dreaded fate.
Based on a 1933 novel by Guy Endore, this Hammer Studios horror production invests considerable time in positing lycanthropy as an illness borne of social corruption rather than merely a supernatural disease. The first half-hour is a terribly bleak preamble, showing humanity at its worst: the whims of a depraved despot (Dawson) — mediated only slightly by his kind young wife (Josephine Llewellyn) — result in a lifetime of imprisonment for the good-natured beggar, who becomes increasingly hirsute; meanwhile, Dawson loses his wife and becomes physically grotesque himself, much like Dorian Gray’s portrait. Although the voiceless Romain is cruelly abused for her attempts at generosity, kindness emerges in the form of Evans, Talfrey, Gabriel, and Feller — but even their ample love and protection aren’t enough to save Leon from his predetermined fate. Reed has magnetic presence and invests his character with enough pathos that we truly feel for him: his dual nature is entirely out of his control, and has nothing whatsoever to do with latent arrogance or sociopathy. This is one gloomy flick!
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Oliver Reed as Leon
- Hira Talfrey as Teresa
- Atmospheric cinematography and sets
No, but it’s certainly worth a look by fans of werewolf flicks.