Hammer had already made films for Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and The Mummy. Surely it was time for the werewolf, with this being the first furry horror film shot in color, as well as Oliver Reed’s first starring role.
This wolf — Leon — has a wild origin story. His mother (Yvonne Romain, Devil Doll) was a mute jailer’s daughter who was assaulted by a beggar who had the gall to complain at a nobelman’s wedding and ends up imprisoned for 18 years. She had turned down the rich man herself and was sent to the dungeons, which caused her to be impregnated. Once released to “entertain” the nobleman, she kills him instead and runs into the forest.
She gives birth and dies. Because the beggar had died right after attacking her, that makes young Leon an orphan. He’s raised by Don Alfredo Corledo and his housekeeper Teresa. As he was born on Christmas Day, that means that he’s cursed to become a werewolf, already hunting for the blood of goats before he’s even out of puberty.
Leon finds work in a winery, but become despondent when he realizes that his station in life will never allow him to marry the owner’s daughter. When a co-worker takes him to a house of ill repute, his wolf nature comes out and he ends up killing one of the girls and his friend.
Too late, our hero learns that the love of a good woman can keep the wolf in check. Seriously, British werewolves are crazy, because you can become one without being bitten. You just need to not be born on December 25th. And man, if you’re unlucky in love, people are going to get, well, wolfed down.
Eventually, Leon’s adoptive father must make a silver bullet and take care of matters. All of this period drama longing seems to take forever to get to that transformation though. I remember this airing on UHF TV in my single digit years and just fiending for the moment that the man became wolf. It takes nearly sixty minutes of the movie’s 93-minute run time before we get to see Reed go fully hirsute.
Before being released, the British Board of Film Classification gave Hammer Films this edict: This movie could either have scenes of sex or violence, but not both. So they went with violence.
The publicity shots for this and the images of Reed in full werewolf mode were pretty popular. The actual film doesn’t live up to what was in my mind as a kid, but it’s still pretty fun.