It is somewhat surprising that Guy Endore’s libidinous leftwing lycanthrope picaresque Werewolf of Paris has never been faithfully adapted to the screen. Written in 1933, it is to its monster what Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker’s most famous novels are to their own: the definitive modern encapsulation of the lore. It chronicles the historical adventures of a young man conceived through an unholy act between a servant girl and a priest who is cursed with voracious carnal appetites. As a teenager he fights in the Franco-Prussian War and eventually allies himself with members of the Paris Commune, rubbing shoulders with Blanqui and Courbet while engaging in a comprehensive catalogue of sadomasochistic acts with a smitten young heiress. It’s gleefully devious and anthropomorphically perverse, but its politics are deeply felt. Endore, who went on to a career as a Hollywood screenwriter (and ironically received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for The Story of G.I. Joe) had rich, devout communist ties that he retained during the blacklist period; concurrently, he wrote investigative nonfiction pieces on civil rights causes including the Scottsboro Boys and the “Sleepy Lagoon” murder.
Although Endore was under contract at Universal at the time, his novel was not used as the basis for its Lon Chaney Jr. classic The Wolf Man. But when launching its own series with The Curse of the Werewolf, Hammer wisely turned to the source — only it had to be adapted to film on sets constructed for another, abandoned project set during the Spanish Inquisition. The story sticks to the skeleton of Endore’s novel, particularly in the early scenes reflecting its protagonist’s lineage and childhood, before eventually forgoing the source material’s historic sweep in favor of lurid melodrama. But its greatest virtue is presenting the first starring role of Oliver Reed, who brings genuine measures of pathos and sex appeal to his role as an extraordinarily angsty teen. That he doesn’t appear until halfway through the film makes it something of a slow burn. But his eventual, if short-lived, werewolf transition is one of the highlights of Hammer horror. Until someone fronts the cash for the massive period epic that Werewolf of Paris deserves—and, considering the successes of Twilight and Fifty Shades, maybe that’s not such a bad idea—Hammer’s take is nothing to bark at.