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July 10, 2006

Getting Hammered with Oliver Reed

curseofwerewolf.jpg

Curse of the Werewolf
Terence Fisher - 1961
Universal Region 1 DVD

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Night Creatures
Peter Graham Scott - 1962
Universal Region 1 DVD

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Paranoiac
Freddie Francis - 1963
Universal Region 1 DVD

In an early scene in Curse of the Werewolf, 18th Century Spanish nobleman Anthony Dawson is hosting a party for his new bride, with his fellow noblemen as guests. The animality of these men is suggested by their behavior towards the begger that appears naively looking for a handout. Elements of this scene made me wonder if it had been a source of inspiration for Neil Jordan and Angela Carter's film, Company of Wolves in which the dinner guests turn into wolves before running off into the forest. Almost as much as in Carter's short stories, Curse of the Werewolf keeps its Freudian themes of sexuality and primal urges at a continual boil near the surface.

More clear in retrospect is that Oliver Reed's performance, at least briefly, was Hammer Studios' attempt at combining horror with a kind of James Dean-Marlon Brando hipness factor. Near the end of the film when Reed is in full werewolf make-up, wearing a ripped shirt, I was ready to hear him bellow, "Stella!". One could argue that I was a Teenage Werewolf got there first, but Oliver Reed, more than Michael Landon, nailed the inarticulate rage of Brando and Dean within the context of a horror movie, a kind of "Monster without a Cause".

Reed probably didn't help himself with his constant drinking, fighting and belligerant attitude, but he was only in one other truly good film during his time with Hammer. As the leader of a biker gang in Joseph Losey's The Damned, Reed anticipates the outlaw antics of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. Even though he is the title character, Reed doesn't appear in Curse of the Werewolf until the halfway point. It was his performance that dominates the film and suggested that Reed was capable of more than being a supporting player. Even though the pacing gets a bit sluggish at times, Curse of the Werewolf also manages to be one of the few Hammer films that actually holds up to multiple viewings with its handsome use of color and set design, to the inevitable, tragic ending.

Night Creatures is actually one of Hammer's few non-Horror films from the early Sixties, and primarily a vehicle for Hammer mainstay Peter Cushing. The original title, Captain Clegg had no commercial value for American audiences. The basic narrative, about 18th Century smugglers in the south of England, was also used in Disney's Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. Reed has a supporting role as a smuggler in love with Yvonne Romain. Reed is often called to appear earnest when he would be more comfortable glaring at someone with his patented smirk. It should be noted that publicity photos to the contrary, while Reed and Romain are both in Curse of the Werewolf, they never share the screen as Romain plays Reed's mother, and dies soon after his birth.

Paranoiac has a Psycho inspired title, family plots, and seemed written with Reed in mind. Not only is Reed the title character, but in addition to sneering and smirking his way through the film, he declares his love of alchohol. A better cinematographer than director, Freddie Francis was creative with the atmospheric imagery, particularly the shot above of Reed seen from the point of view of his drowned victim. The various resolutions to the lunacy of Paranoiac are not unexpected. As silly as the film gets, the ending is still satisfying, similar to the satisfaction of a really good cheeseburger.

Posted by peter at July 10, 2006 03:30 PM