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USA's 'Wolf Girl' Bites

USA Network's Wolf Girl is a bizarre, sometimes disturbing movie that never really lives up to its creators' description as "chilling."

This insensitive "fantasy thriller" set in a traveling sideshow contains so many references to "freaks" that it could well be dubbed Freaks & Geeks — if a network sitcom hadn't already taken the title.

Producer J. Miles Dale has lengthy sci-fi credits on his resume. However, Dale, director Thom Fitzgerald and screenwriter Lori Lansens fail to develop any real suspense.

The title character is 17-year-old Tara (Victoria Sanchez), afflicted with a disease that causes excessive hair growth all over her body, thereby giving her a wolf-like appearance. (Paul Jones gets the credit for the special makeup.)

Soon after the troupe arrives in a small American town and posts signs ("Come see the freak show"), Tara meets Ryan, a geeky teen and self-proclaimed "aficionado of freaks" (Dov Tiefenbach). Sanchez and Tiefenbach's portrayals are the only performances that give this offbeat film some heart.

Ryan — whose mother (Lesley Ann Warren) is a cosmetics-research scientist who has developed a serum that removes body hair — gives Tara a chance at a normal life.

Once the drug starts to work, Tara becomes something of an addict, seeking bigger dosages in her rush to become normal. (Because this is a USA movie, there's a gratuitous nude shower scene in which Tara notices that clumps of her hair are falling off.)

The trouble is that the drug has barely been tested on lab animals.

Tim Curry portrays Harley, the father figure and ringmaster for the sideshow, whose motley crew includes midgets, a 600-pound woman, "the crab man" and a hermaphrodite called "Cristoph/Christine" (the latter a cameo by Grace Jones).

Curry, who at times resembles Joel Grey's nightclub emcee in the film Cabaret, at one point gets a surprisingly risqué ditty, "The Plucking Song," past USA's censors.

Although Tara becomes more aggressive as her appearance improves, Harley allows his concern to be offset by the sideshow's increased attendance.

Tara and Ryan are bullied throughout by four teens from the town. The leader, Beau (Shawn Ashmore), turns out to be a closet hermaphrodite — and he's found out by Tara, who just happens to peek into his window at an inopportune moment. That leads to a bloody climax that defies belief.

Toward the end of this contemporary version of The Wolfman, torch-wielding townsfolk search the woods for Wolf Girl — a scene right out of Frankenstein.

Wolf Girl bows on USA on Oct. 16 at 9 p.m.