The first woman werewolf howls into view
At last there's a TV serial that feminists can really get their teeth into. Ivan Waterman reports
Sunday 25 August 1996
Tune in to ITV next month for the three-part horror drama Wilderness and you will see two very different worlds collide in a manner that even the producer admits is pretty unlikely.
Britain's most celebrated TV scriptwriter, Andrew Davies, author of the screenplays for House of Cards and Pride and Prejudice, will be trying to bring believability to the tale of Alice White, a sensuous yet mysterious - to quote ITV - librarian. Alice was sexually assaulted as a teenager and as an adult is wreaking her revenge on men by using them for sex and then discarding them. But there's a complication.
Once a month, when other women have their periods, Alice turns into a wolf. She's been doing it since she was 13; she doesn't want to; indeed, her sense of social responsibility makes her shut herself up at night in a flat in Shepherd's Bush until her monthly affliction passes; but turn into a wolf she does. Unfortunately for innocent passers-by, but fortunately for lovers of blood and gore horror movies, she doesn't always make it to the flat in time.
The story is by the American novelist Dennis Danvers and was originally set in the USA and Canada, but Andrew Davies has reconstructed it for a British audience in London and Scotland. It stars Amanda Ooms, who is elfin-faced, 26 and of Swedish-Dutch parentage, and a number of faces more familiar to British audiences, including the seasoned Michael Kitchen, who played the Prince of Wales figure in Andrew Davies' House of Cards sequel, To Play The King. He is Alice's besotted psychotherapist. Then there is Ayla, who plays the wolf - who is a real wolf.
It's not just a horror film though, stresses the producer, Tim Vaughan, a former script editor of Emmerdale Farm. After confiding that there is lots of sex and lots of nudity in the serial, he insists that there are "important" aspects of the three-hour film which have to be taken seriously. "If you take the usual Hammer Films stuff, the werewolf always goes on the rampage, testosterone-driven on a full moon, dicing as many people as possible in a period of two days before returning to a normal life.
"What we have here is a girl who turned into a wolf for the first time at the age of 13, which is a clear allegorical significance in terms of the end of puberty and the beginnings of womanhood. The PMT thing cannot be ignored in the way that it holds women back.
"This is a feminine fairy story, not a werewolf story or pornography. This is menstrual. I'm as red-blooded as the next man, but do we really know how women operate? They are a puzzle, an enigma. That is the kind of territory we are exploring."
Ms Ooms has little doubt that she is striking a blow for women.Alice White, she says, takes strangers to hotels purely to satisfy her sexual needs. Any other form of involvement is a huge risk. "Surely this is a great male fantasy. Don't all men want to meet a strange, beautiful woman and have sex with her and then see her leave with no commitment? Aren't most men in this situation married in any case?
"This is a symbolic fairy tale about a woman who wants to take control of her life. All women feel like this... but once a month they are restricted. They have no choice. She wants the ultimate freedom."
Feminism apart, Wilderness is treading a well-worn path. Wolfman films date back to 1913, when the Canadian director Henry McRae hired Watuma, a white-hating, mixed-race Navajo to become a live wolf for his silent adventure, The Werewolf. Many similar movies have followed: they have almost all featured a star victim who, once bitten, is transformed by the sight of the moon into a hairy beast with a fearsome set of teeth. He kills at random and a silver bullet was prescribed as the best means of disposing of the half-human monster.
Hollywood stars, from Lon Chaney Jr to Jack Nicholson, have wreaked havoc under a full moon, while closer to home, Michael Gambon and even the late Harry H Corbett have followed in their pawsteps.
In Wilderness, special effects have been kept to a minimum, to avoid "morphing" as the on-screen transformation from one face to another is now commonly known, overshadowing the issues as hand. "We don't want to agonise over the transformation," explained Mr Vaughan. "All that hair and claws and howling bit has rather been done to death.
"This woman is looking for freedom. She feels trapped. She wants to get back to her roots. There is a parallel in all of this to PMT. Do I believe in werewolves? I am not completely barking. I do have a close eye on reality, you know."
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