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Friday, April 26, 2013


A Curse Of The Werewolf Afterthought

A minor point, but on my mind since yesterday. This 1961 ad for Curse Of The Werewolf represents the first LA run. Note that there are as many drive-ins as hard-tops playing the film (Los Angeles having been called the "drive-in hotbed of the country" by mainstream Saturday Evening Post). With ozoners' greater capacity for crowds (larger lots could accommodate from 1000 to well over 2000 cars), it's a safe bet that more people saw Curse Of The Werewolf outdoors than in. Is this any way to watch a Hammer horror classic, especially for a first time? It's how I came to initial viewings of Brides Of Dracula and Curse Of Frankenstein, at our Starlight Drive-In. Sound as rendered by then-speakers was transistor radio lite. Here's where movies needed captioning like they now have on DVD's. A reason so many LA outdoor venues got Curse Of The Werewolf and like first-runs was formidable Pacific Drive-In Theatres' chain, which operated over three dozen car parks for movie watchers in the LA vicinity. Pacific power was such as to outbid hardtops for newest product, giving them premiering privilege day-and-date with palaces downtown and in Hollywood. Pacific was spread all over LA plus surrounding environs to reach a far wider patronage than indoor housing could hope to service. They were the ones who pioneered Cinerama as a drive-in attraction and would end up owning Cinerama negatives. The point of foregoing is just this: It seems to me we're better off with DVD's (let alone streaming HD) of Werewolf than audiences in 1961, or over interim since, could hope to be. What they got for a most part, at least in Los Angeles, was horns tooting, crummy sound, headlights bleaching screens, and distraction from corndogs or what went on in back seats. Just another instance of those Good Old Days being maybe less idyllic than lots want to remember.

5 Comments:

Blogger Mikeymort said...

The charm of the drive-in was that the movie was just one of the attractions (distractions?). Some had playgrounds, pinball arcades and picnic areas in addition to the movies.

1:11 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Interesting John, to see "Curse Of The Werewolf" paired with UI's "Shadow Of The Cat" (is it a true Hammer film? Nobody knows for sure!)"Shadow Of The Cat" is a terrific little "old dark house" thriller which seems to have completely disappeared from ANYONE'S radar. It's never been released to home video in ANY format that I'm aware of (I have a terrible-looking bootleg-DVD of it)and it has atmospheric cinematography a top-tier cast (Barbara Shelley, looking ravishing as usual and Andre Morell essaying a "dirty-rat" character for one of the few times in his distinguished career) a literate script and an excellent music-score. What's happened to this film? It's literally vanished off the face of the earth. TV showings are non-existent. Comments anyone?

Brad

5:43 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon checks in with observations on "Curse Of The Werewolf":


Your post on "Curse of the Werewolf" is terrific. Thanks for running those ads actually taken from a newspaper. Staring at these seductive ads (and I don't refer to the picture of Yvonne Romain, but read on) in 1961 when I was 8, I knew I didn't have a snowball's chance of seeing this, since my mom was still 'protecting' me from horror pictures, although I did sometimes get to go see a fantasy-type film. (One I wanted to see, "The Magic Sword", took her by surprise when it proved to contain several horrific elements! I lapped all that up, though. Mothers often didn't understand their little boys, did they?) I remember seeing Reed's baleful face staring out at me from the magazine stand in our local liquor emporium where my dad dropped in with me in tow to pick up a six-pack or something. Wow! THAT was startling, and as you see I've never forgotten it, either. Of course, it was the cover of one of the early issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, in its palmy days, and the picture of Reed was one of Basil Gogos's masterworks. I think all your comments, as usual, are apt. I might add, as a makeup artist now myself, that Roy Ashton's wonderfully instinctive and creative makeup for the werewolf impressed me immediately, as all good designs that are 'on the nose' do, and the proof is that I'm still impressed by it now, 52 (incredible) years later. I think all my fellow pre-teen monster fans were bowled over by this scary, feral werewolf. I always loved Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolf Man, which I actually didn't become familiar with until AFTER I'd seen Reed's werewolf, and I still think Jack Pierce's makeup is elegant and iconic, but it complements Ashton's work. There's no 'competition'. What also impressed many about Ashton's makeup I know is the fact that he elected to give the werewolf a silvery coat (and vs. Chaney, you see the monster's exposed torso and arms, of course), vs. say something brown---as Pierce's Wolf Man evidently was, on the basis of a color shot that's been reproduced showing him doing the final one for "House of Dracula" on Chaney Jr. Plus, you have those TUSKS, not just fangs! And, the blood---Hammer's breakthrough "little something extra" that gave all their monster remakes that extra spike to the drink. The other element, of course, was the busty babes, and Yvonne Romain is another continental stunner. In a way I'm sorry they squandered her as the misused servant girl / mother of the werewolf, since the young lady who plays Reed's love interest is not in the same ballpark. I have the DVD and it reflects the rich colors you refer to in your text. I think Arthur Grant's cinematography is quite good, but I personally feel something additional was lacking that was lost when Hammer's management decided for whatever reason to stop using Jack Asher, who'd done "Brides of Dracula", and of course "Curse of Frankenstein" (I think...I should have checked to make sure!), and definitely "Dracula" / "Horror of Dracula". He also shot "Hound of the Baskervilles". These are even more impressive essays in color photography, with many grace notes similar to the work of some of the best in the business, including in America. I think that the look of the films began to slip and that by the mid-'60s, it was not in the same category of visual elegance it---that 'look', I mean---had once attained. I blame the absence of Asher, myself. Oh, well.


6:57 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson offers a provocative spin on "Werewolf's" back stories:


I always thought it strange they lavished so much time on the opening sequences, introducing characters who have nothing to do with the rest of the movie.


They could easily have started out with the mute girl, a pregnant rape victim on the run, being found by her benefactors. I'd be surprised if some local TV stations didn't jump from the credits to that scene, making room for more late-night commercials.


Instead, we're introduced to what could have been one or two other stories altogether.


First, the hapless beggar is tormented and locked up by the decadent nobleman (note the sad and silent bride, telegraphing this is not a love match). We're thinking there's going to be some further drama between these two, perhaps a reversal of fates. There isn't.


We jump ahead to the nobleman as a decadent old wreck, throwing the helpless girl to the now-demented beggar. The beggar is no longer a pitiful and wronged man; he's an animal pure and simple. There's a sick irony in the girl being the only one who treated him with any kindness, but it's just there. The girl kills the nobleman who raped her by proxy and runs.


I somehow expected all this to figure as Reed fell under the curse, but it doesn't. The curse is purely a matter of profaning Christmas day with his birth; the crimes and tragedies leading to his conception were unknown to the surviving characters and irrelevant to the plot. Although it does seem they're going out of their way to make the curse arbitrary and unjust: Reed is innocent, his mother was innocent, and you could argue his dehumanized father was innocent. Usually God is invoked against monsters; here a man is cursed from birth because God is supposedly insulted. Maybe somebody at Hammer was edging beyond mere class commentary.


On the other hand the one clear villain is the aristocrat, who basically forced a madman and a virtuous girl to give life to a cursed soul. It's a crowd-pleasing moment when he gets knifed, but he's getting off light early in the game. I would have liked to see the werewolf bring the curse back home to him or his noble house somehow, instead of merely coming to the end of his own tragic and unexplained (to him) existence.

6:59 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer remembers theatre-going in general and Merle Oberon in particular:


If you're referring to film as film, then I entirely agree with you. A crisp, sparkling DVD from the finest source materials, projected by a superior system upon a large screen in a darkened room, may be the best way to see a film today. And a film, shown under those conditions, may open the heart and mind to worlds of meaning that cannot be known or experienced in any other way. Certainly, at this time in my life, it is the very way I would want to see a film.

The public settings in which films are still shown, however, bring other aspects into the experience which are not without value, with all their distractions. Boys who went to their neighborhood theaters to watch the latest Hammer presentation were probably oblivious to anything other than what was on the screen, and what they saw would be the subject of conversation at school the next day, with the other boys scattered about the theater or who'd gone to other showings, just as their anticipation of it had been. They had lived for it and would re-live it later, as the theater became the nexus between this film and their lives.

When I was much younger and had discovered the idea of romance, I went to a showing of "Hotel" at the Super 130 Drive-In not far from where I lived. Warners had re-released it in an attempt to cash in on the success Universal was having with "Airport," which had been made from another Arthur Hailey best seller. It was raining that night, however--hardly the optimum conditions for going to a drive-in--but I was infatuated with Merle Oberon and that was why I was there, to catch a glimpse of her in what was really a glorified cameo. And it was enough. Had I seen it at a theater or under other conditions, no doubt it would have been better, so far as the film was concerned. For myself, however, seeing it under those conditions--with those distractions, if you will--made it all the more worthwhile. A knight going to the joust, a poet letting a couplet fly to the ear of his lady fair, and even me, standing outside my car under an umbrella, were all making the same gesture towards love and beauty.

I saw "Hotel" not long ago and it remains an entertaining show. Apart from my enjoyment of it, though always a part of it now, will be the memory of a rainy evening many years ago, when I was young and love and life were still before me.

Daniel

1:34 PM  

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