Teen Wolf (1985)
Dir. by Rod Daniel
Starring Michael J. Fox, Jerry Levine, Susan Ursitti and Lorie Griffin
Average high school student Scott Howard learns that he is from a family of werewolves when he transforms for the first time after a party. He uses his new form’s enhanced athletic prowess to become the star of his high school’s basketball team and to attract the attention of the popular girl he has a crush on, much to the chagrin of his two best friends.
I’ve seen the transformation scene itself a couple of times, and caught random chunks while channel-surfing, but this is actually the first time that I’ve seen it all the way from beginning to end.
Back when I started this rewatch series, I’d intended not only to watch movies that I had actual nostalgia for, but popular and cult-classic movies from the era of my childhood that I’d somehow never actually seen. In the year that I’ve been writing, however, I’ve only managed to review one movie that I’d never seen before: the infamously bad fantasy movie Krull. I was having a conversation online with a friend about the Teen Wolf TV show last month, and I released that I’d never seen the original film version. I decided that it would be perfect for getting back to one of my original goals.
While I can definitely say that I enjoyed Teen Wolf quite a bit more than I did Krull, I still can’t say that I thought it was great. Now, there’s nothing that I really found offensive or anything. It’s a perfectly okay movie. But that’s all it really it: okay. Once the novelty of seeing a werewolf playing basketball wears off, it’s pretty much a very standard 80s teen romantic comedy. It’s the trope of the clueless guy who doesn’t realize that his female best friend is interested in him, while he pursues the popular girl who really isn’t interested in him at all and is just trying to make her real boyfriend jealous. That sort of plot narrative was getting tired even in 1985, and it’s definitely past its sell-by date in 2021.
The movie was made on a very low budget, even by 1980s standards, and it definitely shows in the makeup that they put Michael J. Fox in for his werewolf form. It’s basically a facial appliance and some shag carpet, and reads more as a Bigfoot or missing link-type character than it does anything lupine. I’ve never really liked the “wolfman” style of werewolf anyway – give me a muzzle or go home – and I’ve seen better prosthetics at sci-fi conventions (Literally. Micah Ebbe, a contestant on SyFy’s Face Off makeup effects reality show, has been at Detroit’s Penguicon scifi convention before. I bought a really nice mask from him).
The only really memorable scenes were the ones that I’d seen before: Scott’s first transformation, which is the only one shown on-camera; the first time he plays basketball as a werewolf; and the scene of him “surfing” on top of a van in wolf form. This last one I’m sure has been imitated by multiple drunk college students, with predictable results. The rest of the movie is just kind of boring. Michael J. Fox is still pretty good in the role, as always, but he’s surrounded by a bunch of stock character tropes without much in the way of personalities outside of their defined roles.
All in all, this is definitely a case where coming at the movie without any nostalgia for it didn’t do the film any favors. There’s a good idea at the heart of the movie (a teenage werewolf dealing with both positive and negative aspects of his affliction), but the execution leaves something to be desired and the script could have used a couple more drafts. It’s actually rare that an MTV-produced remake could be the better version of the concept, but I think that’s where I’m at on this one.
-There’s a scene where Scott briefly gets a role in what appears to be a school play version of Gone With the Wind as a cavalry officer, in full period costume. That got me thinking: is there a werewolf equivalent of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Because I’d watch the hell out of a Civil War werewolf movie.
-There was a sequel starring Jason Bateman, and there were plans to do a third movie with Alyssa Milano that ended up never happening. I think that’s a shame, even if I didn’t enjoy this one, as female werewolves are few and far between in Hollywood. The only major movie that focuses on a female werewolf that comes to mind immediately is Ginger Snaps, and that’s a Canadian movie.