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Details

Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Oliver Reed, Clifford Evans, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Peter Sallis
Year: 1961
Length: 92 min
Rating: FSK 16
Region: B
Disks: 1
Label: Anolis Entertainment
Release Date: Aug 29, 2014

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio: German, English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: German

Extras
  • Audio Commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen and Volker Lange
  • “Making Of The Curse of the Werewolf,” featurette
  • “Lycanthropy: the Beast in All of Us,” featurette
  • “The Props that Hammer Built,” featurette
  • English Trailer
  • German Press Book
  • Graphic Novel from The House of Hammer Magazine
  • German title and end sequence
  • Image galleries

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In 1961, after having successfully started their own Dracula, Frankenstein, and Mummy franchises, Hammer Film Productions were ready to tackle the subject of Werewolves. Producer Tony Hinds, writing under the pseudonym, John Elder, decided to adapt Guy Endore’s 1933 novel, The Werewolf of Paris, but because Hammer had elaborate period Spanish sets left over from an aborted project, their Werewolf film ended up being set in 18th century Spain. With Terence Fisher directing, and with British film icon, Oliver Reed, onboard in his first starring role, Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf went on to become one of the company’s classic films.

Now, German company, Anolis Entertainment, has given the film the HD treatment it deserves, and the English-friendly blu-ray release is worth anyone’s money.

Richard Wordsworth in Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

Richard Wordsworth in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

The Film

In 18th century Spain, an orphan boy is born to a servant girl as the result of a vicious rape. To make matters worse, he is born on Christmas Eve, which in Spanish villages is considered an insult to heaven. As little Leon grows up, he finds himself unable to control his hunger for blood, and he eventually transforms into a snarling beast.

Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf considerably simplifies the sprawling narrative of Guy Endor’s book. The basic motif of werewolf as offspring of evil deeds perpetrated by people against one another is preserved, but in Tony Hinds’ adaptation, it is condensed and made more cinematic. Some changes had to be made for altogether different reasons. In the book, the werewolf child is born as a result of his mother being raped by a priest, but there was no way that Hammer were going to get that past the British censors, who’s patience with some of the company’s previous output was already stretched thin. So, in the film, the mother is raped by a beggar who has become animal-like from many years of confinement in a dungeon prison. The other element introduced by Hinds’ script is the love story between Leon and the daughter of his employer, which takes center stage in the drama. No doubt, this was director, Terence Fisher’s favorite part, as he had a particular fondness for the horror film as tragic love story.

Richard Wordsworth in Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

Richard Wordsworth in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

In his Forward to a modern edition of Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris, Psycho author Robert Bloch wrote, “Filmed by Hammer in 1961, as Curse of the Werewolf, the script owed little to the original story except, perhaps, a fervent apology. More than thirty years later, Guy Endore was still being cheated of his just due.” This is extremely unkind and hyperbolic in this reviewer’s opinion, for, despite the film’s considerable simplification of its source material, Curse of the Werewolf remains faithful to the book’s basic themes, and is one of the best films Hammer ever made. Its release on blu-ray is a cause for celebration.

Clifford Evans and John Gabriel in Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

Clifford Evans and John Gabriel in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

Video

Anolis Entertainment has somewhat cornered the market with this blu-ray release of Curse of the Werewolf. This is not simply because of it being the first HD release of this title anywhere in the world, but also because the HD master owned by Universal Pictures, and which will likely be released at some point by Final Cut Entertainment, is cropped to 2.00:1, while Anolis’ HD master is cropped to 1.85:1. The difference is considerable, and can be fully appreciated in this screencap comparison. Quite aside from that, Anolis’ restoration and 1080p presentation is very film-like, with natural film grain intact, but not coarsened by edge sharpening. On a rare occasion, one sees a very slight halo around a dark object silhouetted against a light sky, but this is very minor. Color looks healthy, and not amped up, and the overall contrast looks good too, although detail can consolidate a little in some of the darkest shadows. There is a minor stability issue right after one of the reel changes, but again, this is very minor. Overall, this blu-ray presentation of Curse of the Werewolf is unlikely to be surpassed for many years to come.

Clifford Evans and Justin Walters in Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

Clifford Evans and Justin Walters in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

Audio

There are two DTS HD-MA 2.0 mono tracks: German and the original English. Both tracks sound full and vivid, giving Benjamin Frankel’s dramatic score a pleasing body of tone, if without quite the amplitude of a stereo recording. Dialogue in both languages sounds crystal clear and very easy to follow. Both tracks are original vintage recordings, and this blu-ray presents them truthfully. There are optional German subtitles.

Oliver Reed and Hira Talfrey in Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

Oliver Reed and Hira Talfrey in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

Extras

This would not be an Anolis Entertainment release without a ton of extra features. First is an audio commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen and Volker Lange. This is in German only, so I can’t comment on it.

Next is a 46-minute Making Of documentary, produced by Final Cut Entertainment, and featuring classic horror artist and film historian, Mike Hill. Also interviewed are Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Don Mingaye, Oliver Reed (from a 1992 audio tape), Margaret Robinson, and Jimmy Sangster. The doc also features many behind-the-scenes images and archival film footage. Surprisingly, I did not find this as interesting, or informative as some of Final Cut’s previous featurettes, the doc’s largely opinion-driven narrative being a little “all over the place.”

Next is a mercifully short, 3:27-minute featurette, Lycanthropy: the Beast in All of Us. This again feels like opinion-driven fluff from Final Cut Entertainment, featuring Mike Hill and Catherine Feller giving us their take on Lycanthropy, manic depression, and the implications of said diseases for the human psyche.

Next, we are given, what I think is a more interesting 23-minute traversal through Wayne Kinsey’s collection of Hammer’s props, The Props that Hammer Built. We are shown close-ups of Les Bowie’s original model castle, used in Kiss of the Vampire, The Gorgon, and Dracula: Prince of Darkness; an original vampire bat from Brides of Dracula; a rubber heart from Evil of Frankenstein; and other props and costumes.

Next is an original theatrical English-language trailer; a journey though the original German press book; another journey though the original graphic novel of Curse of the Werewolf, published in House of Hammer Magazine; original German main and end titles; and two poster and image galleries.

Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) [Click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

If you’ve been waiting to see Curse of the Werewolf in HD, you can rest assured that this blu-ray release from Anolis Entertainment lives up to this company’s impeccable standards, and will likely be the best HD version of the film for a long time to come, mainly due to it being cropped to 1.85:1, unlike the HD master prepared by Universal Pictures for other companies, which is cropped to 2.00:1. And with an overall superlative 1080p presentation, one can appreciate why Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf so easily takes its place among a small handful of classic werewolf films.