Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SHE-WOLF OF LONDON / LOVE & CURSES

Back in 1990, Universal Studios produced three syndicated television shows that they hoped would become the foundations for a fifth television network. One of these was a campy supernatural comedy that borrowed its title from one of the studio's 1946 gothic mysteries.

SHE-WOLF OF LONDON tells the serialized story of a young American graduate student named Randi (Kate Hodges, RAPID FIRE), who travels to England to study with a handsome, if a bit stuffy, mythology professor named Ian Matheson (Neil Dickson). While on a weekend camping trip on the moors, Randi is attacked by a werewolf and bitten, becoming afflicted with the curse of lycanthropy. For the next 20 episodes, Randi and Professor Matheson investigated supernatural occurrences across London - and then in Los Angeles - always hoping to find a cure for Randi's curse.

SHE-WOLF is a bit of a mixed bag. It seems to take the producers three or four episodes to find quite the right tone for the show and the characters, achieving a pleasant balance of tongue-in-cheek humor and horror. Then, with episode 15, the show relocates its characters to Los Angeles, changes the name to LOVE & CURSES, and becomes almost purely a comedy. My understanding is that the series began as a co-production between Universal and a British company, but the British producers dropped out a little more than halfway through the season, forcing the location (and title) change.

It's too bad. The episodes shot in the UK have a nice gothic atmosphere and casts of unfamiliar British character actors, while the L.A. episodes, well, look and feel like pretty much every other 90s syndicated show shot in L.A. The tonal shift to screwball comedy was disappointing, too, although some of the later episodes are still a lot of fun. In some ways, the best episodes of the show (in my opinion, that would be episodes 4 through 13) foreshadow the serio-comic approach that series like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER would so successfully employ just a few years later.

Universal has released this one season series as a marketing tie-in with their remake of THE WOLF MAN. While fans of the short-lived show will be glad that it's now legally available, there are a few problems with the set.

All 20 episodes are included on four single-sided discs and are presented with 1.33:1 full-frame transfers. Unfortunately, picture quality is pretty poor. It appears that the show was shot on 16mm stock, because the transfers are very grainy and soft. I even noticed a few video artifacts that suggest that the transfers were derived from videotape copies rather than film originals. It's all watchable, but it's also clear that very little effort went into preparing the set. Additionally, all twenty episodes sport the LOVE & CURSES title card, which will no doubt disappoint purists, and probably confuse newbies.

For fans of the show, I recommend picking it up. It's not the greatest presentation, but it's complete, and probably a better long-term investment than your old VHS copies taped off the TV. Werewolf fans might want to give it a spin, too - even though not every episode features the titular she-wolf. It's not a bad show - I enjoyed it quite a bit - but it's very uneven.

BUY: She-Wolf of London: The Complete Series