You guys, #ScaryMovieMonth is just days away! September has seemed to last forever for me this year, standing between the summer and October like an uninvited guest who will not leave. It’s a time of monster cereal and pumpkin-spice-flavored toothpaste even though it’s still wicked-hot outside where I live. It’s also a time to prepare thyself and get ready for the horror, THE HORROR, by watching movies that aren’t REALLY horror but are tangentially connected to the macabre. I’ve started watching Tremors and the sequels in preparation for the ghouls of October (not to be confused with the Boys of Summer), and I’ve also revisited an old friend of mine...Teen Wolf.
Let’s be clear: I’m not referring to MTV’s successful horror/drama television show. While I’ve heard good things, I’m smart enough to realize that I’m not the target audience for that show; I keep meaning to give it a shot, but I just never do. No, when I say Teen Wolf, I’m talking about the 1985 comedy starring Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly himself, Michael J. Fox; his casting in the lead was a bit of a risk because he was an unknown quantity when this movie was made. Family Ties was a success that was gaining momentum, but was built on an ensemble cast. Back to the Future had been filmed, but had not been released yet when this movie still in production. Frankly, no one was sure if Fox was going to be a breakout star who could anchor a picture. But with two feature films being released in theaters that year, 1985 would prove to be a fortuitous year for Michael J. Fox. One of those movies would be a smash hit while the other would not. Can you guess which is which?
It seems like this movie is trying to please lots of different people and be something to everybody. It has a monster for a star, teen drama, scatological humor, an important sporting event as its climax, and a misplaced ballad over the closing credits. These disparate elements don’t really belong in the same film, and a better movie would have focused on just one or two of these things. This movie also plays in broad archetypes (the girl next door, the mean popular jock, the sassy best friend), which I can overlook because MOST movies--at least the major studio ones--lay in archetypes and leave things like complex characterization out of the equation. Yet somehow there is a charm to this movie that makes it a perfect candidate for a late Saturday night as the clock creeps closer to midnight. Somehow it’s still an appealing movie. Despite the shortcomings, I always have a blast watching Teen Wolf. Where else (outside of a Jane Austen adaptation) can I see people surfing on top of a van to the music of The Beach Boys?
We can also thank the rest of the cast for making the movie unique despite their archetype characters. Actor-turned-TV-director Jerry Levine (Born on the Fourth of July) plays Scott’s nutty friend Stiles (could there be a more ‘80s name for a character?) and wears a t-shirt that delighted me when I was a kid. Susan Ursitti (Zapped!) is the girl next door. Lorie Griffin (Cheerleader Camp) is the girl who gets around. Mark Arnold (Trancers IV and V) plays the rival jock and bully, and James Hampton (every television show in the 1980s) plays Scott’s dorky dad who has a secret of his own.
Commando, which came out just a couple of months after Teen Wolf. Just as this was Loeb’s first feature film script to get made, it was also director Rod Daniel’s first theatrical film. Daniel came from television work, made a few films in the late 1980s and early 1990s that more often than not featured dogs (he directed K-9 with Jim Belushi and Beethoven’s 2nd) before once again returning to television work for the rest of his career. Maybe that’s why sometimes Teen Wolf feels like a made-for-TV movie.
Urban Legend Alert: for years there has been a rumor that an extra in a crowd scene during the basketball game at the end of the film had his penis out as a joke. It’s been hotly debated (well, as hotly as anyone could debate something related to Teen Wolf) for years, particularly in a pre-DVD era when you couldn’t make out fine details in the backgrounds. There are those who insist that you can clearly tell its his shirt tail. Well, the movie is now in HD, and there is no doubt whatsoever that this guy has his junk out in the scene. It’s as plain as the
While Teen Wolf is now a relic of the 1980s and likely has little to offer a younger generation of movie fans (particularly those who enjoy the more serious, sexy MTV series), it does still hold a certain appeal, especially for enthusiasts of corny 1980s cinema or MJF and his unique acting style. It’s a stylistic and thematic mess filled with clichés and archetypes that relies almost entirely on the performance of its lead actor and the gimmick of a werewolf who isn’t remotely scary. In spite of (or is that because of?) these faults, the movie is eminently watchable in the way that the best trash and exploitation cinema can be, and it’s because of these shortcomings that I love it as much as I do.