‘The Curse of the Werewolf’: Oliver Reed found the beast inside 50 years ago

May 08, 2011 | 7:29 p.m.

curse of the werewolf The Curse of the Werewolf: Oliver Reed found the beast inside 50 years ago

There was always something menacing about British actor Oliver Reed. He had a thick bull neck, a sinewy frame, dark eyes, a noticeable scar on his face and a flat nose. He was a notorious boozer and rabble-rouser,too, a life as rough as his visage. The presentation wasn’t always gentle, either; when he appeared in the 1980s on David Letterman’s show, for instance, he would answer questions only in German. If there was a beast inside, it came out during his first starring role, the blood-curdling “The Curse of the Werewolf” from 1961.

The only werewolf film from Hammer Film Productions, the Terence Fisher film was feted Saturday night at Pitzer College in Claremont with a 50th anniversary celebration that  featured a life-size sculpture of the hirsute monster, a creation of Mike Hill.

curse of the werewolf promo The Curse of the Werewolf: Oliver Reed found the beast inside 50 years ago

"The Curse of the Werewolf" (Hammer Films)

“The Curse of the Werewolf” finds Reed at his hair-raising best as Leon, the illegitimate child of an imprisoned beggar and the deaf-mute daughter of his jailer. Leon takes a job in a vineyard and, one evening, feels uneasy one evening when the full moon begins to rise. Faster than you can say “silver bullet,” Leon turns into a werewolf and kills a woman.

Hammer was important for Reed early on: He had roles in its “Sword of Sherwood Forest” and “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll,” both in 1960, and “The Pirates of Blood River” in 1962.  The anniversary got me to thinking about the snarl of Reed onscreen and off.

Directors did seem to love him. Michael Winner cast him in six films including one of Reed’s few comedies, “The Jokers” (1966), with a young Michael Crawford, and the 1967 film “I’ll Never Forget What’s His Name.” Reed worked with Ken Russell several times, on the 1967 TV biopic “Dante’s Inferno” and then in “Women in Love” (1970), in which he and co-star Alan Bates wrestled in the buff;  “The Devils” (1971); and “Tommy” (1975). Carol Reed, the actor’s Oscar-winning director, used his nephew to great effect as the vicious Bill Sikes in “Oliver!” (1968), which picked up an Ocar for best picture. Reed proved he could be a swashbuckler, too, playing Athos in Richard Lester’s version of “The Three Musketeers” (1973), “The Four Musketeers” (1975)  and “The Royal Flash” (also 1975).

Reed died of a heart attack in 1999 at age 61 while drinking in a bar during the filming of Ridley Scott’sGladiator.” The end went badly, and even star Russell Crowe — himself known for bad behavior — saw nasty full-moon fever in the soon-to-expire elder actor.

Crowe recalled later: “I never got on with Ollie. He has visited me in dreams and asked me to talk kindly of him. So I should … but we never had a pleasant conversation. I have seen him walk down the street in Malta drunk as a lord and just hit anybody he got near to — even a man walking with his children. I just found that to be — not impressive. He drank himself to death. He sat on a bar stool until he fell off it and carried on drinking … lying in his own piss and vomit he continued to drink till he passed out. What did the tabloids say he drank on the day he died? Something like 30 beers, eight or 10 dark rums and half a bottle of whiskey. In the end, he created such a weird energy around him that no one drinking with him cared.”

— Susan King


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5 Responses to ‘The Curse of the Werewolf’: Oliver Reed found the beast inside 50 years ago

  1. David Rubin says:

    Ah yes, those entertaining Hammer films…
    Thanks for this article about Oliver Reed. He was fun to watch on screen and always seemed to make his role (and the movie) more interesting. I once saw him in a scene with Roger Moore in a re-broadcast episode of the old television series "The Saint". Reed's roguish "bad guy" and Moore's gentleman hero worked well together. Nice mention of Russell Crowe, another fine "fun to watch" actor. Hammer was famous for their horror films and I was surprised to learn that they only made one werewolf movie. Speaking of werewolves, I wrote a story song called "The Werewolf Of Paris" (on my Adventure album) and I hope it will one day be made into a movie. Maybe Russell Crowe can play the lead?
    Best Wishes from Canada,
    David Rubin http://www.davidrubinmusic.com

  2. Susan Zoon says:

    Hammer Horror Films inspired me to become a horror author. My life long obsession with all movies dark and dreary led to my near reverence for the Hammer films. What they lacked in special effects was more than compensated for with great actors and slyly submerged Brit-Wit. I payed tribute to the style of the Hammer films and Tales From The Crypt in my short story collection, POST CRYPT.

    As for Oliver Reed, I always got the impression that he was a violent man. It was very interesting to read the quote from Russel Crowe confirming my suspicions. If you watch Reed's performances you can see the thinly disguised malice in how he holds his body in check and read the burning in his eyes. Perfect, really, in many of his roles.
    Thanks for the interesting article, Sue.
    Susan Zoon http://www.zoonart.com

  3. Jacko says:

    Wouldnt this have been better posted BEFORE the screening so people were aware of it????

  4. Less Lee Moore says:

    Has this writer even seen "Curse of the Werewolf"? It's pretty obvious in the film that Oliver Reed's eyes were blue and that he was not yet displaying the "noticeable scar" (which was obtained in a bar fight a few years after). I realize that Russell Crowe was in Gladiator with Reed, but a quote from him on Reed's propensity for violence seems pretty ridiculous. After all, this is a man who was arrested for throwing a telephone at a hotel employee.

  5. Mike Hill says:

    I agree with Less Lee Moore. This so called journalist hasnt even see the movie,and to resort to pointless quotes/lies from Crowe that have NOTHING to do with the film in question.

    Crowe was and is jealous that Oliver stole the movie.

    Susan King..you should be ashamed.

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