Why We Heart: Legend of the Werewolf
By Andreas Charalambous
Legend of the Werewolf features some gory murders, great werewolf makeup, and plenty of red-hued 'werewolf cam' tracking shots. With Cushing leading the investigation, the film has a fine horror backbone. Yet on top of all the horror is the story of a boy raised in the wild and unable to integrate into a human society that has set limits on people of his 'breeding'. Etoile is a pathetic character, but one who desires what we all desire: to love, and to ultimately amount to something. The very rules of Parisian life keep those things from Etoile, and when he strikes back, he is striking back not because he is a monster, but because society is.
Here we have Tyburn's Legend of the Werewolf (1975). An interesting, unassuming take on the topic of Lycanthropy. Released hot on the heels of the studio's previous effort The Ghoul (1974), this is the story of boy-turns-werewolf, with an interesting setting and another excellent performance by the British Horror icon, Peter Cushing who also stars.
Films such as An American Werewolf in London (1981) - or American Werewolf in Paris (1997) for that matter - are just two examples of the old story retold in a fresh setting. The setting for this film is also Paris - 19th Century Paris to be exact. Here, we see the underclass of the era - a world of orphans, drunks, prostitutes and scheming politicians. This film does not show the side of the city considered to be one of the most romantic in the world.
If there is one noble character in the entire film, it is not surprising that he is played by the gentleman Peter Cushing - Paul, the coroner. As usual, Cushing is able to demand audience identification with minimal fuss. Purely by his sparkling intelligence and sincerity, he comes across as sharp and insightful. Those qualities make him a very different character from the rest that Paris has to offer - and there's also a bit of the Van Helsing’s about his sharp intellect.
Around halfway through the film, it goes from being about Etoile's personal story of revenge to the police procedural, and Cushing takes the lead role. In the best tradition of horror protagonists, Cushing shows compassion for his enemy, hoping to learn from it rather than simply destroying it. "You fools!" he shouts at the police, "Blundering idiots! Must you always kill?" Cushing's concern for his prey not only makes sense for a man of science, it reinforces the idea that the people of Paris are primitive, lustful people with base appetites that include murder.
The heroine of this film is Christine, an orphan. In her desperate search for wealth, she has become a prostitute. As equally desperate as she is to be genuinely loved, she refuses to marry Etoile for the simple reason that he has nothing. She is in search for a better life, and will not settle for less, and the film is unflinching in representing her as a desperate social climber. The film is littered with unsavoury men and women. There's the unscrupulous madam of the brothel, the brutal showman who treats his living human attractions like cattle, and the drunken (and rather scary-looking-in-an-Albert-Steptoe-kind-of-way!) zoo keeper. With these examples in mind, the people of Paris are depicted as pretty horrible all round, and that's an interesting conceit. Etoile kills many of these nasty individuals but the audience's sympathy remains squarely with him. He does not like the hand life has dealt him (From being a baby taken and raised by a pack of wolves to becoming a feral child, then a circus attraction and his lycanthropic ways he finds himself in now). Not only is he a werewolf, but he finds himself being exploited by pretty much everyone within society.. a wealthy society which is also keeping him apart from the woman he loves. Etoile is the outsider not just because he is a monster, but because he is poor, and the film is really about a man railing against his social class. Lycanthropy is simply a tool that gives his protest teeth... bloody big ones!!