Monday, August 17, 2009

WEREWOLF coming to DVD on October 6th

by John Patrick Feeney

A weekly television series that aired on Fox during the 1987-1988 season, this cerebral little horror-drama borrowed its theme from the hit series THE FUGITIVE. In that classic, which ran on ABC from 1963 to 1967, Dr. Richard Kimble (portrayed by David Janssen) was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. On his way to execution a fortuitous train accident permitted him to escape from the custody of Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), and he set off on a cross-country search for the one-armed man he saw leaving his home the night of the murder. Always one step behind the one-armed man and a step ahead of the relentlessly pursuing Lt. Gerard, the drama focused on Kimble’s involvement in the lives of those he met during the course of the quest.

From its starting point WEREWOLF had college student Eric Cord killing his roommate, who’d been transformed into a werewolf by Janos Skorzeny, a thoroughly evil, ancient lycanthrope played by well known veteran actor Chuck Connors. During the struggle with his roommate, Cord (John J. York) was bitten and, destined to become a werewolf himself, learned he could only be free of the curse by tracking down and destroying Skorzeny, the source of his bloodline. While Cord pursued Skorzeny across the country, he himself was chased by bounty hunter Alamo Joe Rogan (Lance LeGault), who was after him for the murder of the roommate. The real threat from Alamo Joe was that he knew Cord was a werewolf and thus had his gun loaded with silver bullets, the classic means of killing such a creature (though one episode purported a silver-bladed knife equally as deadly).

The added dimension of WEREWOLF, horror genre aside, was Cord’s constant struggle against the beast within himself. Dr. Kimble’s innocence, whether he cleared himself or wound up a victim of injustice, was irrevocable. Eric Cord’s plight was more complex, more desperate. He had to destroy Skorzeny before he succumbed totally to the evil with which he had been contaminated. Even in his bestial form he could control his actions. He didn’t kill at random and, in the mold of the Incredible Hulk and other superheroes, used his supernatural powers only in self-defense or to aid those in distress, more often than not a common goal. In conforming to the show’s half-hour format, the producers did an excellent job imparting substance to the necessarily concise, swiftly paced stories. The special effects in scenes where Cord underwent the metamorphosis from man into beast were good, but the werewolf makeup was barely average. Compensating for this were the sets, camerawork and lighting which combined to produce a prevailing oppressive atmosphere that can only be termed modern gothic.

WEREWOLF’s other strength was in its rich characterizations, a tribute in part to the performances of mostly little known actors and actresses, few of whom survived the episodes in which they appear. The concrete individuals Eric Cord crossed paths with were as unsavory a collection of tormented souls and human outcasts as ever graced a nightmare: other werewolves, pimps, prostitutes and murderers, crooked cops, dirty politicians, mobsters, sadists, adulterers and adulteresses, psychopaths, bohemians, flakes, fanatics, screwballs and derelicts. The best of the lot were disillusioned individuals nurturing some dark secret of their own. They served to issue Cord warning and otherwise aided him, though often they were killed or driven insane by the web of violence and degradation surrounding them. And one was never sure just who was on what side. In one episode even a monk turned out to have been willingly transformed into a werewolf by Skorzeny (Unlike Cord, many of his adversaries were susceptible to the allure of power and immortality, save for the silver bullet, at any price). The monk is just one example of how WEREWOLF, by hopelessly blurring the distinction between good and evil, achieved a subtle, all persuading sense of revulsion and horror at both the normal and supernatural levels. In the end, the viewer was left applauding the body count because no one appeared worthy of salvation.

Curiously neglected by the media, WEREWOLF never enjoyed the popular appeal of its contemporary, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, or the enduring fame of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, but maybe – like DARK SHADOWS – it will become a cult classic someday.

(Revised review originally published in Temple of Schlock #4, February 1988)


Ronin said...

I thought everyone had forgotten about this show. Thanks for the info. Did you know there was a 900 phone number for this show? This was during the era when EVERYONE had some type of 900 number scam going on. I did call the number for this show. I got a message lasting 1 minute in which this serious toned guy was talking about a reported "sighting" of a werewolf in America. He ended with a firm request to "contact us" if "we" get any info on actual werewolves. I just wonder how many people took that seriously.

Amanda By Night said...

I posted a link to this article on my blog. Thanks for the heads up!