Legend of the Werewolf is a 1975 British horror feature film about a young man that turns into the titular beast and murders men who frequent a brothel.
Directed by Freddie Francis (Tales from the Crypt; The Vampire Happening; The Skull; et al) from a screenplay written by Anthony Hinds [as John Elder], the Tyburn Films production stars Peter Cushing, Ron Moody, Hugh Griffith, David Rintoul and Roy Castle.
The soundtrack score was composed by Harry Robinson (Twins of Evil; Countess Dracula; The Vampire Lovers; et al).
19th century France: After wolves kill his parents, a boy is somehow brought up by the pack. When he grows into a young boy, he is adopted by a shabby travelling show and named Etoile. Grown-up, Etoile (David Rintoul) turns into a werewolf and kills one of the troupe, so runs away to Paris.
Getting a job in a rundown old zoo, he develops a crush on a young woman whom he later discovers, much to his chagrin, works in the local brothel. Resentful and angry at her clients, he kills them one by one when the full moon is out. Meanwhile, the police doctor Professor Paul (Peter Cushing) investigates the murders…
Originally announced as Plague of the Werewolves (a rather misleading title, given the singular nature of the beast in the film), the Hammer connection is strong. The film is based on a John Elder screenplay that Hammer had rejected in the 1960s after The Curse of the Werewolf had failed to be a financial success. And if Tyburn’s The Ghoul was a disappointment, then Legend is even worse, failing on almost every level.
Looking at stills from the film, you’d be forgiven for expecting an atmospheric, well-crafted chiller. And if you only watch the closing moments, taking place in the Parisian sewers, you’d probably think you were right. These scenes, with Peter Cushing facing off against the werewolf, are creepy and poignant – they outdo Curse of the Werewolf in terms of pathos.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is terrible. The werewolf make-up, a clear but ineffective knock-off of that used in Curse… is poor, Freddie Francis’ direction dreadful and the acting shocking. It’s a rare bad performance from Cushing, who seems woefully miscast, while Ron Moody mugs furiously as if sending up his Fagin character from Oliver! David Rintoul, making his screen debut as the hapless young man who falls in love with a prostitute, is terribly wooden and as for Roy Castle, it makes his appearance in Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors seem like an acting masterclass in comparison.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
“Tolerable low-budget werewolf saga, rather restrictedly set. Ok for fans but the acting’s on the wooden side.” Howard Maxford, The A – Z of Horror Films
“British horrorizer in the Hammer mode, with Gothic atmosphere, superior direction by Freddie Francis and a fine cast headed by Peter Cushing…” John Stanley, Creature Features
“It is all too basic stuff, laden with some daft dialogue, but grounded by Cushing and enlivened by the valuable presence of esteemed comedy performers Ron Moody, Hugh Griffith and Roy Castle as the creepy zookeeper […] as well as the reasonably hair-raising werewolf transformation sequences.” Derek Winnert
“Legend of the Werewolf is distinguished by a jaunty star turn from Peter Cushing and a Graham Freeborn makeup for the lycanthropic Etoile […] But it quickly collapses under the weight of its inept attempts at Parisian verisimilitude, murder sequences unimaginatively shot with a red filter and subjective camera, and an extraordinarily grotesque performance from Ron Moody as a flea-bitten zookeeper.” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema
” …despite the fact that it’s a rehash of sorts, I really like this movie, at least partially due to the excellent cast. Yes, David Rintoul is no Oliver Reed, but the surrounding characters are all quite interesting, and I think the story has a better flow.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“Quite dismal horror picture with no redeeming features in its script, art direction or acting, with the honourable exceptions of Peter Cushing’s steely performance and the werewolf make-up.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook
“The werewolf makeup effects are not particularly scary. The attacks are inadequately conveyed through red filtered subjective camerawork and numerous closeups on the fangs. It is only Peter Cushing, who has a few comedic moments as a cheerful pathologist, who rises to the occasion.” Moria
“There is a certain grimy low-rent feeling that works in perfect harmony with a story concerned about prostitutes, criminals, and showmen. Everything moves along at a healthy speed and the script is smart enough to let a little black humor into the story, mainly through Cushing’s delight in handling human remains, and the double entendre filled dialogue from the denizens of the brothel.” Outpost Zeta
“Legend of the Werewolf contains some point-of-view shots that look to be way ahead of their time as the werewolf stalks and kills its victims. There’s little suspense in these moments and 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 although most old school werewolf films suffer from the same fate.” Popcorn Pictures
“This isn’t only bad per se, as the film has some bright moments, and Peter Cushing turns in another absolutely marvelous performance – but at the same time the film looks oddly out of place in the mid-1970s, fails to really hold interest due to its high predictability, and despite being at least solidly directed on a budget […] its main problem is it has exactly nothing new or original to offer to the genre…” Search My Trash
…strong cast, including Ron Moody, the acting is excellent and so is the story. The 19th-century French settings and characters recall the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec. Mike Mayo, Videohound’s Horror Show
Cast and characters:
Peter Cushing … Professor Paul
Ron Moody … Zookeeper
Hugh Griffith … Maestro Pamponi
Roy Castle … Photographer
David Rintoul … Etoile
Stefan Gryff … Max Gerard
Lynn Dalby … Christine
Renee Houston … Chou-Chou (as Renée Houston)
Marjorie Yates … Madame Tellier
Norman Mitchell … Tiny
Mark Weavers … Young Etoile
David Bailie … Boulon
Hilary Farr … Zoe (as Hilary Labow)
Elaine Baillie … Annabelle
Michael Ripper … Sewerman
Patrick Holt … Dignitary
John Harvey … Prefect
Pamela Green … Anne-Marie
Sue Bishop … Tania
Jim McManus … Emigre Husband (as James McManus)
Jane Cussons … Emigree Wife
Roy Lansford … Official (uncredited)
Hugh Latimer … Dignitary at Morgue (uncredited)
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, England from 19 August 1974.
Premiered at the Paris Festival of Fantastic Films in April 1975. Released by 20th Century Fox-Rank in the UK.
Roy Castle had previously appeared with Peter Cushing in Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965).
There was a novelisation of the film by Robert Black.
Making Legend of the Werewolf by Edward Buscombe is a 122-page book issued by BFI Publications that provides a full production history of the film (1976).