Leon is born with tainted blood and position, cursed with both lycanthropy and dehumanizing poverty. Terence Fisher’s horror show becomes a metaphor of social hierarchy, of the diminished class struggling against the power of entitlement.
The first act is narrated by an omniscient presence, explaining the brutality of a local Baron and his cruelty towards the villagers, excising taxation without representation, bleeding the poor folk of their livelihood. A beggar stumbles into this morass and is caged, where he is reduced to pure animal instincts, imprisoned for many years in the tomblike dungeon. He eventually rapes a young servant and her child is born, not of man and woman, but of base vicious desire and trauma. Leon is eventually raised by a loving family, strangers who discover his pregnant mother drowning in a swamp, thus explaining the narrator’s identity. But Leon is a bastard who doesn’t stand a chance, as the tidal forces of destruction pull his soul apart.
Fisher focuses his story upon Leon and his knowledge of the beast that lurks within, his discovery that only love can tame the savage wraith. But his love is endowed to a wealthy landowner, and the pull of social gravity is a irrepressible as the moon’s ubiquitous presence. Leon is an innocent born into this mystical poverty, sharing the same birthday as the Christian savior and suffering the same sacrifice: he begs for death to save their souls. Like Jesus, Leon was birthed in a world of shit and treated as such by Pharisees.
Oliver Reed’s physicality is wonderful to behold, a grueling and growling ballet of blood, an extroverted performance that transcends subtly, like the clotted wounds splashed in bleeding Technicolor. The basic cinematography propels the narrative but doesn’t rise above the mundane, though a few interesting compositions exist. For example, when the baby Leon is purged we hear a howling before a baby’s cry, and the swaddled child is lifted up to the camera while a portrait of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus dominate the background, setting up the parable.
Final Grade: (B-)