"Werewolf" is a horror, but not as intended. A new entry from Fox Television, the series bows as a two-hour movie at 8 tonight on Channel 5, boasting transformation effects a` la "The Howling" and spooky, wolf's-eye-view photography a` la "Wolfen."
But the boasting ends there. "Werewolf" is encumbered with the kind of thick, angsty pretentiousness that often makes "Miami Vice" such a stupefying bore. The most arduous, groany rock music is poured over it, and just when you think director David Hemmings couldn't possibly make it move any slower, he cranks it down to literal slow motion.
The premise combines "The Fugitive" with well-worn lycanthropic hoodle-doodle. The nominal hero, Eric Cord (John York), will spend the series running not only from full moons, but also from a bounty hunter who wants his furry hide. Eric shot and killed his best friend, but only because his best friend asked him to. He was a werewolf and he bites Eric before expiring.
Eric is also running after the nasty old wolf (Chuck Connors) who bit the friend in the first place, because if you "sever the original bloodline," you lift the curse, or so he's been told. Connors, for his part, almost bites off his own eye patch in the quest to overact.
York,meanwhile, is an ineffectual whiner whose heavy-hearted act wears thin quickly. "Werewolf"? It's really "Werewimp." There can't be many living actresses who are less adept, or have bigger eyebrows, than Michelle Johnson, who plays Eric's tag-along girlfriend Kelly.
Frank Lupo's script makes a stab at metaphor. The werewolf curse is likened to "cancer," at one point, and earlier, Lupo seems to be referring to AIDS. The friend who asks Eric to kill him (Raphael Sbarge) tells him to do it "because you love me, and because you're going to see this terrible disease that I have, and because you love me."
This only adds a certain tastelessness to the show's already woeful funk. Perhaps Lupo means to lighten it up with such lines, later, as Eric's dusk-time remark, "Oh, Kelly, we'll have to worry about that tomorrow. Right now you have to tie me up and lock me in the bathroom."
Now, is it scary? A prefatory scene is, when a werewolf attacks and presumably devours a Volkswagen Beetle containing two screaming teenies. But too often the show traffics in the usual fade-outs, including telegraphed dreams-that-seem-real. "Maybe it's ending," says Johnson near the fade-out. "No, it's just beginning," says York ominously.
"No," a disenchanted viewer is likely to add, "it really is ending." Not with a bang but a channel-switching click.