Legend of the Werewolf (1975)
"A Tyburn tale of terror"
A boy that was raised by wolves is found by a travelling circus who use him as a "wolf boy" attraction. Years later, under the light of a full moon, he kills a man and runs off into the city where he gets a job as a zookeeper for a fresh start. He also falls in love with a prostitute but soon his jealousy brings out his wolf side and he begins to kill off her clients.
After an unprecedented couple of decades of international success, British horror was on the slide back in the mid 70s. With Hammer nearly exhausted, Amicus' obsession with horror anthologies coming to an end and the growing dominance of American classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead, there wasn't really much life in the tame UK genre as audiences were tired of the same old formula and routine. Tyburn, a lesser known studio set up the son of long-time Anglo-horror contributor Freddie Francis, tried to break into the market at the worst time possible. They had little success and made this and the equally as feeble The Ghoul before disappearing into the wilderness again.
It's not for the want of trying. Legend of the Werewolf assembles a couple of Hammer's stalwarts - notably director Freddie Francis and star actor Peter Cushing - and attempts to copy the Hammer style of filmmaking down to a tee. But it's just low budget, dull and, at the end of the day, just one horror film too many when there's nothing original to tell. Saturation killed off any sort of originality these films had and you get the real sense of ‘been there, done that’ right from the start. Granted Hammer never really delved into the werewolf genre as much as it did Frankenstein or Dracula but the similarities between this and Hammer's Curse of the Werewolf are too uncanny (well they were both written by the same person).
There isn't really much a mystery as to who or what is killing everyone - we know what it is because we've sat down to watch a film called Legend of the Werewolf so we expect werewolves. It's that whole thing of waiting for the characters to play catch up with what the audience already knows. Freddie Francis was always one of Hammer's most underrated directors but here his direction is lifeless and flat. He's going through the motions just as much as anyone. The film just plods along from A to B quite happily. By the mid-70s, everyone more or less knew how the film would pan out but Tyburn stuck to their guns and continued to make them the way they thought people still wanted them made. The box office receipts would have told them that wasn't the case.
Legend of the Werewolf contains some red-filtered point-of-view shots that look to be way ahead of their time as the werewolf stalks and kills its victims but there's little suspense in these moments as it's obvious that no one knew quite how to handle the POV shots other than to add in a new gimmick. The werewolf make-up looks terrible too, though the werewolf isn't seen too many times for us to really scrutinise it, and there's no transformation sequence! Even the older werewolf films managed to get this right. At least there's a smattering of gore although this is mainly confined to close-up shots of bloody fangs after an attack. Don't get your hopes up too much as this werewolf doesn't do a lot of killing but given they're the only exciting moments of the film, you can't criticise too much!
As is the case with the majority of these horror films, it's the cast which is left to pick up the pieces. Peter Cushing adds his unmistakable touch of class to the proceedings and is easily the best thing about the film, especially when compared to the rest of the cast. If you're like me and you wanted to plough through his entire résumé, then he did star in worse films. Not many but a few. The other exception in the cast is Ron Moody who plays the sleazy head zookeeper. The performance is rather seedy and perverted which adds a creepy tone to the scenes in which he's in. Hammer legend Michael Ripper also pops up in an ill-fated cameo as an unlucky attendant who meets his demise in the sewers. Roy Castle is also on hand for an unwelcome comedy relief role as a photographer.
Legend of the Werewolf is a tame horror flick, not just in today's context but back in the day when George A. Romero and Tobe Hooper were raising hell over in America. It's was completely out of place in the mid 70s and is neither memorable, nor is it a terrible film. It's just...... there or thereabouts. For Cushing enthusiasts only.
Legend of the Werewolf
Director(s): Freddie Francis
Writer(s): Anthony Hinds
Actor(s): Peter Cushing, Ron Moody, Hugh Griffith, Roy Castle, David Rintoul, Stefan Gryff, Lynn Dalby
Duration: 85 mins