Saturday, August 29, 2009

CULT TV FLASHBACK #89: She-Wolf of London: "The Juggler" (1990-1991)

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the horror genre experienced a dramatic resurgence on television thanks to syndication (and the successful path blazed by the high-rated Star Trek: The Next Generation).

This TV era gave viewers Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1991), Freddy's Nightmares (1988-1990), Monsters (1988-1991), Dracula: The Series (1991), and also this relatively obscure one season effort, She-Wolf of London, created by genre icons Tom McLoughlin and Mick Garris.

Forecasting the birth of UPN and the WB in the mid-1990s, She-Wolf of London was designed to be the flagship program of the Hollywood Premiere Network (by Universal Studios), but things didn't work out so well. The hour-long horror series ran on WWOR Channel 9 in New York and KCOP in Los Angeles, but the series' first true national exposure occurred with a prime-time rerun on the Sci-Fi Channel in 1992. By then, of course, She-Wolf was long canceled...

She-Wolf of London invoked the title of the 1946 (Universal) horror film starring June Lockhart, but adopted a totally new premise. The 1990s series involved a beautiful American graduate student in England, Randi Wallace (Kate Hodge), who was bitten by a werewolf and therefore became one herself. The "cursed" Randi sought help with her "condition" from a local professor of mythology, the erudite and initially skeptical Ian Matheson (Neil Dickson). Soon, however, Ian saw Randi's transformation with his own eyes and realized he had to help.

Accordingly, Randi moved into the Matheson family's London bed and breakfast with Ian's "Mum" (Jean Challis), his nosy Aunt Edna (Dorothea Phillips), and a young American cousin, Julian (Scott Fults). Very soon, a (subdued) romance developed between Matheson and Randi. Aunt Edna always wondered what all that howling emanating from the basement was all about...

Each week on She-Wolf of London, Randi and Ian would investigate some mythological "creature of the week" in England. They looked into a bog man ("The Bogman of Leitchmour Heath,"), zombies ("Can't Keep a Dead Man Down,") a succubus ("She Devil"), a diabolical circus ("Big Top She Wolf"), even an insane asylum ("Moonlight Becomes You.")

Created in the style of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1975), She-Wolf of London was an old-fashioned-style series built on the sturdy pillars of character repartee, atmospheric locations...and a cool monster of the week. A few years later, The X-Files would hone, evolve, and literally perfect this style of horror TV storytelling, but She-Wolf remains an interesting missing link in genre history, landing between Kolchak and X-Files.

At the time of broadcast, the series drew mostly positive reviews. Variety noted that "Hodge makes an intelligent character out of the cursed young student, and Dickson gives the professor humor, a shade of early James Mason, and an absurd air...Writers-creators Tom McLoughlin and Mick Garris have the good sense to play Randi's predicament with a semi-straight face." (October 15, 1990, page 79).

One particularly atmospheric She-Wolf of London story was entitled "The Juggler," (by Jim Henshaw; directed by Gerry Mill) and first aired on October 30, 1990....right before Halloween. Here, an ancient Satanic cult sought revenge against a British reverend, Parfrey (John Carlin) after being evicted from the Church of All Saints on All Hallow's eve. The wrathful cult leader thus summoned the (French) mythical creature called the "Bell Ringer" (or Juggler), a demon known to prey on the children of enemies. This Devil Clown thus went after Parfrey's daughter, Liza (Claudia Bryan), in part because she had been given a gold ring which focused the Devil Clown's evil attention upon her.

In the course of the episode, Ian and Randi investigated the Juggler, and young Julian -- who had fallen for Liza -- ended up in mortal danger, wearing the Juggler's ring himself. At the same time, Randi continued to learn about her "wolf" powers, here developing a keen sense of smell, that -- according to Ian -- would "tell her everything" she needed to "know to hunt" down enemies. Naturally, before "The Juggler" is done, that new ability comes in handy in stopping the villain of the week.

Heavy on slow-motion photography, classic architecture (the crypts underneath the church...), Dickensian-style apparitions, and misty, gloom-laden night shooting, the story of "The Juggler," -- the so-called "Devil Clown," -- shows off the solid production values of She-Wolf of London, which were far superior to contemporary American-lensed efforts like Freddy's Nightmares or Monsters. The pace of "The Juggler" is a bit slow and plodding by today's standards, but like most She-Wolf episodes, it nonetheless boasts a palpable love for the classic movies of the genre, and develops in a manner that respectfully pays tribute to them.

After approximately a dozen episodes as She-Wolf of London, the entire series relocated to Los Angeles and became known for the last half-dozen shows as Love & Curses. This continuation featured an increased concentration on romance and humor over the serious horror. Today, both iterations of this syndicated one-season wonder remain unavailable on DVD, but some die-hard fans still remember She-Wolf of London with real devotion.

3 comments:

  1. John,

    Thank you for the kind words of appreciation for "She Wolf".

    The pilot episode was a labor of love for Tom McLoughlin and Mick Garris, who had been given access to the Universal Library by UPN in the hope of developing a couple of series for the new network.

    I got to read it while Tom and I were both working on the "Friday the 13th" series and was asked to join them in writing the show when it was picked up.

    Unfortunately, the pick up took longer than expected and by the time it was ready to go I'd signed on with "Top Cops" at CBS. Good career move since that show ran 4 seasons, but it meant "The Juggler" was the only episode I got to write for a series that deserved a much longer life.

    The only other detail I can add is that I've never seen the episode. It never played in Canada.

    Thanks again,

    Jim

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  2. Hello Mr. Henshaw!

    I'd love to interview you about your work on She-Wolf and Friday the 13th and other horror shows.

    If you're so motivated, e-mail me at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com and we can set something up.

    Regardless, thank you for the kind words,

    JKM

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  3. Love She-Wolf of London and just wanted to make sure everyone knew the DVD set is officially scheduled for next February.

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