Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Did you ever see that show "Werewolf"?

In the Summer of 1987 the Fox Broadcasting Network was still in its infancy, broadcasting only on weekends through YOUR local affiliate.  Many shows were tried in those early days and many failed to make the cut.  A particular favorite of mine, insane adolescent that I was, was Werewolf.
photo courtesy of werewolftv.com, the unofficial  site for Werewolf top notch all around
As a fan of werewolves this show provided me with something heretofore denied to my youth, a weekly series featuring a protagonist that was a werewolf.  In retrospect I realize that the concept was not original at all.  In fact the concept was identical to another favorite of my youth, The Incredible Hulk, airing from the late 70s into the early 80s and starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno as Bannner and Hulk, respectively.  In short the protagonist, David Banner (as opposed to Bruce Banner in the comics) wanders the Earth as he is presumed dead (killed by The Hulk, which is himself), meeting people, having adventures and avoiding investigative reporter Jack McGee, who is searching for this mysterious "Hulk".  Any given episode featured David wandering into town, making friends with a single mom/blind artist/activist/diner owner/research scientist who was being harassed by a drunken, abusive boyfriend/major corporation/biker gang/ninja cult and then saving them by getting locked in a closet, getting very upset and turning into Hulk.
Now replace David Banner, brilliant research scientist with Eric Cord, graduate student and replace Jack McGee with "Alamo" Joe Rogan, bounty hunter and replace the big, green, muscled Hulk with big, hairy, fanged Werewolf and you have Werewolf.
Well mostly.  There were differences between the two.  In the first place The Incredible Hulk was an hour long and Werewolf was only 30 minutes.  Hulk usually made two appearances per episode whereas Eric's bestial half only made one per show (usually).  Hulk was the product of Banner's emotional instability, coming out when Banner was enraged, but Eric's transformations into the werewolf were controlled by some never-fully-explained biorhythm.   Finally, while Banner was wandering to find a cure for his transformations and avoid unwelcome attention, being presumed dead, Eric was dogging the founder of his 'werewolf bloodline' Janos Skorzeny while running from the bounty hunter Rogan, as unlike Banner, Cord was definitely guilty of murdering his roommate and jumping bail.
photo courtesy of werewolftv.com
If anyone remembers The Incredible Hulk they will remember that Hulk was all about showing his great strength without actually punching people in the face.  He would throw things a lot.  He would throw tables, turn over cars and trucks, throw bikers through windows and the like.  Hulk smashed, certainly, but grabbing and throwing seemed to be his real M.O.  Werewolf had to keep the violence to manageable levels, so for the few seconds to few minutes that Eric's hairy alter ego was on screen he usually did a paw-swipe maneuver that left bloody claw marks on the face or chest of his foe.  Occasionally a darker fate was suggested with off-screen violence.  I'm saying some people got eaten.

As with any monster product a mythos had to be developed.  Every monster movie, book, comic or television show eventually creates its own rules.  The rules to werewolf seemed to be as follows:
1. A bite transfers the werewolf curse but not a scratch (as shown in episode 112: "A World of Difference pt 2" when Rogan realizes that he will not become a werewolf as his injuries were claw marks not bite marks).
2. The only cure for the curse, aside from death, is to 'sever the original bloodline' (this comes from An American Werewolf In London, which is the first use of such a concept).  This is what causes Eric to seek out Skorzeny in the first place.
3. The only ways that a werewolf can die are suicide, another werewolf and a silver bullet (this last one seems to be very, very conditional as on two occasions Rogan shot Cord with a silver bullet and Eric did not die.  The first was in the 3rd episode "The Boy Who Cried Werewolf" and then again in the two part "A World of Difference", where Eric died, but rose from the dead in the morgue when his curse forced the physical change in him).
4. The change is controlled by some biorhythm thing not directly related to lunar phases, but presaged by a swelling in the hand of the werewolf that becomes a pentagram and finally begins to bleed shortly before the change.
5. Older/powerful werewolves, presumably comfortable with their curse, can change at will and can force the change in younger wolves.  Skorzeny did this to Eric early in the series.
6. Werewolves appear to be immortal.
7. Becoming a werewolf might heal existing trauma, suggested when an old sailor wanted Skorzeny to make him into a werewolf.  He seemed to think it would replace his missing limb.  If so, this would likely be only in werewolf form.

A metarule for the series would seem to be that Eric will always be ready to turn into his wolf form when trouble threatens.

Having only 30 minutes to tell the story each week, the plots were as tightly scripted as a classic EC horror comic.  In most cases Eric was already established in an area and getting ready to leave to continue his search for Skorzeny when the 'action' happens.  Through a little expository dialog we are made to understand the situation, care for the guest stars, and know the villains all in time for the comfortably predictable plot to reach the GIANT HAIRY BEAST DENOUEMENT we so desire.
Consider this classic example, the episode entitled "Running With the Pack".  It opens with Eric working at a real Mom and Pop diner.  We see the Pop has his arm in a sling and the couple are trying to get Eric to stay on for a bit instead of leaving.  He agrees and in comes a pretty young girl heading to LA to be a star.  We get enough info to know that Eric is like the son they never had and the girl is all innocent and small town.  Enter Rogan, start suspicion, Rogan leaves, enter two bikers.  They cause trouble, some resistance, more bikers arrive.  Lead up to what will end in theft, carnage, destruction and rape.  Eric tries to fight, bravely, all while panicking that his sign has shown and he will wolf-out soon.  Humiliate Eric and "good" people, finally Eric transforms, destroys bikers, and last thing we see is girl and older woman protecting the now missing Eric from Rogan's inquiries.  That's a normal episode.  Thankfully bikers never attack when Eric is not in his 'time of the month' so to speak, because unlike with Hulk, if you lock Eric in a closet he's staying there.
Eric left a girlfriend behind when he hit the road and for most episodes he was true to her, but every so often his Guest Star Seeking Hormones won out and he would get romantic.  That's okay, telly demands some romantic tension.  Many times he would find Skorzeny, by the way, only to be disappointed in his ultimate quest.  In order to tie up loose ends the bail bounty was dropped from the plot making Eric a plain-old fugitive from justice and making Rogan's quest personal.  Eventually it was even revealed that Skorzeny was not the patriarch of the bloodline and a dapper, ancient and wise werewolf named Remy was brought in to be the chief nemesis.  Shortly after that revelation the show was cancelled.  Or rather not renewed for a second season.

It might seem that I am not a fan, as I kid the show for being a Hulk rip-off or poke fun at the werewolf biorhythm which seems tied to plot convenience, but the truth is I loved the show when it was first run and still love it today.  Unfortunately official DVDs are unavailable so all us true fans must employ bootlegs (thank you again, Frau Punkinstein for my lovely bootlegs).  The show ran for one season from 87 to 88 racking up a total of 29 episodes (counting the 2 hour pilot movie, which provided the origin and setting).  The make-up work was great for television (and honestly for some movies I've seen), utilizing full-body suits, masks and gloves.  The actors in the werewolf suits were great at expressing with the body for the very short amounts of time they were on-screen.  Rick Baker was the designer for the werewolves, and honestly he is possibly THE greatest expert on werewolf makeup and design living today.
To get some perspective on this fanboy's love for the show, understand that it was 1987 when it debuted.  This was the same year that The Lost Boys came out and revolutionized vampires for us.  This was only 2 years after the publication of The Vampire Lestat, which ruined vampires for us.  There were simply NO monster TV shows on at the time, and here came Fox to give us a great take on the werewolf story.  I, already a fan of werewolves, finally had a show for me.  It was well-scripted and well-acted for what it was and had Fox had more a presence in the broadcasting world, perhaps it would have had a second season.  As it is I have my memories.  In this era where Stephanie Meyers has RUINED werewolves and nearly everything has to be GOSSIP GIRLED into a sex-orgy of melodramatic bullshit, it is nice to think back to a werewolf show where the werewolves did what werewolves are supposed to do...get hairy and tear things up.

Werewolf, 5 lit pumpkins, learn it, love it.

Until next time, keep your pumpkins lit.


  1. I have never heard of "Werewolf" before! Where was I in 1985? Oh yeah, in college and drunk. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kelly, you have got, and I mean GOT to get your hands on some Werewolf. Having watched it recently I can say that my nostalgia is not poorly placed. It is a joy. You can even watch it drunk, the plots aren't that complex.

  3. I wrote several of the Incredible Hulk scripts and was story editor on the Werewolf series. If you want some hilarious behind the scenes stories about those shows, check out my blog: My Hollywood MisAdventures. Here's the episodes in progress link: http://tinyurl.com/4gblmxm

  4. Allan,
    That explains quite a bit, actually.