Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Teen Wolf (1985) * * ¾

High school student Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) is 17 years old, sick of being an average small-town studious nerd, and wishes to be special. His father runs a local hardware store. Scott is a basketball player on a losing team, and the girl of his dreams, Pamela Wells (Lorie Griffin), is dating Mick McAllister (Mark Arnold), a jerk from an opposing team. After another of the team's losses, Scott begins to notice strange changes to his body. While at a party, Scott keeps undergoing changes and eventually he returns home and undergoes a complete change and turns into a wolf, while his father demands that he open the door. He tries to refuse, only to finally give in and obey, to find his father has also transformed into a werewolf.

Harold: (upon seeing each other as werewolves) An explanation is probably long overdue.
Scott: An explanation? Jesus Christ, dad! An explanation? Look at me! Look at you.
Harold: It's not as bad as it looks.
Scott: Wait a minute, wait a minute, dad. You mean you knew about this? You knew about this and you didn't tell me?
Harold: I was hoping I wouldn't have to. Sometimes it skips a generation. I was hoping it would pass you by.
Scott: Well, Dad it didn't pass me by. It landed on my face. What the hell am I gonna do?
Harold: (Scott slams his bedroom door behind him) Scott, we really need to talk about this.
Scott: Forget it, dad. I don't want to talk. Go away.

Harold Howard (James Hampton) never told his son about the hereditary condition because "sometimes it skips a generation" and he was hoping it wouldn't happen to Scott. The condition involves only excessive body hair and strength. Scott first reveals his transformation to the public at one of his basketball games, after getting pinned in a pile-up. After momentarily stunning the crowd with The Wolf, Scott goes on to wow them with his basketball skills and he finishes the game with a quadruple double. He realizes that his full-moon transformation bring him girls, glory and a conflict of values. Turning into a werewolf is an asset in his popularity at school. It seems very obvious that the hairy change in teenage Scott is a metaphor for puberty.

Scott: Hi. I'd like a keg of beer please?
Old man clerk: You don't say.
Scott: Yeah. How much is that?
Old man clerk: You little bastards just don't give up, do you? Listen, no I.D. no goddamn beer. Can't you get that through your thick skull?
Scott: (his eyes turn red and his voice changes) Give me, a keg, of beer. (the clerk steps back in fear and gets a keg, then Scott turns back to normal holding some licorice) And these.

Scott subsequently learns to use his family "curse" to gain popularity at school, becoming the team's star basketball player, and learns to transform at will between his normal self and The Wolf. His basketball team goes from last to first, and Scott begins spending most of his school time as The Wolf. He also wins the heart of Pamela while ignoring the affections of his best friend, Lisa "Boof" Marconi (Susan Ursitti), who has loved him since childhood.

Meanwhile, Scott's other best friend Rupert "Stiles" Stilinski (Jerry Levine), a party animal with an entrepreneurial streak, quickly cashes in on Scott's new-found popularity, selling Teen Wolf T-shirts and other merchandise. Stiles' "wolfmania" reaches such extremes that he trades in his own vehicle for a van he names the "Wolfmobile".

Scott: Listen, Stiles. Do you know anything about a rash that's going around?
Stiles: Why, you looking to catch something?
Scott: No, I'm serious.
Stiles: No... but I heard Mr. Murphy, you know, the shop teacher?
Scott: Yeah?
Stiles: Got his dick caught in a vacuum cleaner.
Scott: Styles, I got something to tell you. It's kind of hard, but...
Stiles: Look, are you gonna tell me you're a fag because if you're gonna tell me you're a fag, I don't think I can handle it.
Scott: I'm not a fag. I'm... a werewolf.

Coach Finstock: Look Scotty, I know what you're going through. Couple years back, a kid came to me much the same way you're coming to me now, saying the same thing that you're saying. He wanted to drop off the team. His mother was a widow, all crippled up. She was scrubbing floors. She had this pin in her hip. So he wanted to drop basketball and get a job. Now these were poor people, these were hungry people with real problems. Understand what I'm saying?
Scott: What happened to the kid?
Coach Finstock: I don't know. He quit. He was a third stringer, I didn't need him.

After a freak encounter with Mick at the Spring Dance that almost turns violent, Scott wishes to be himself. During the final basketball game, Scott refuses to "wolf out" and insists on winning the game on his own. Coach Bobby Finstock (Jay Tarses) tells Scott that the team is doomed to fail without The Wolf, but Scott is able to prove him wrong. In a dramatic ending, Scott is able to rally the team back to within a point as time is expiring. Scott is fouled by Mick on the final play and given two shots. In a clear violation of the rules, Mick is able to stand underneath the basket as Scott attempts his foul shots. Despite having to jump to complete the free throws, Scott makes them both and the Beavers win the game.

Stiles: Boof, how the hell are you?
Scott: Say no.
Boof: No!
Stiles: Great talking to you.

Pamela attempts to get Scott's attention after the game is over, but he passes her by to lift Boof in his arms, kissing her passionately.

TEEN WOLF is a campy variation of the horrific I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), the Michael Landon classic. This version is given a 1980's spin with more emphasis on comedy and romance rather than horror. Lycanthropy makes Scott a big man on campus, more popular with his high school peers when he is a hairy athletic wolf. Although his werewolf makeup makes him look more like Bigfoot than Lon Chaney, Jr., Fox manages to convey his peppy personality even under all the hair. An otherwise routine teen comedy, this one works because of Michael J. Fox in one of his first leading roles. It was shot before BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985), sat on the shelf for some time, then given a major release on August 23, 1985 by by Atlantic Releasing Corporation. TEEN WOLF was a box-office success. With BACK TO THE FUTURE at number 1 and TEEN WOLF at number 2, a new teen star had been born.

The cast also includes: Matt Adler (Lewis), Jim McKrell (Vice Principal Rusty Thorne), Mark Holton (Chubby), Scott Paulin (Kirk Lolley), Elizabeth Gorcey (Tina), Melanie Manos (Dina), Doug Savant (Brad), Charles Zucker (Malcolm), Harvey Vernon (Old man clerk), Clare Peck (Miss Mott), Gregory Itzin (English teacher), Doris Hess (Science teacher), Troy Evans (Dragon basketball coach), Lynda Wiesmeier (Rhonda), Rodney Kageyama (Janitor), Carl Steven (Whistle boy), Richard Brooks (Lemonade), Richard Domeier (Linebacker), Brian Sheehan (Cadet 5), Jay Footlik (Student 1), Richard Baker (Referee), Fred Nelson (Meechum basketball coach), Tanna Herr (The Beaver), Kris Hagerty (Fan 2), Mark L. Flowers (Dragon bowler), Larry B. Daugherty (Basketball player), Tamara Carrera (Student), and Cort McCown (Teammate). Miles Goodman composed the incidental music. Matthew Weisman and Jeph Loeb wrote the screenplay. Rod Daniel directed.

The soundtrack has some memorable 1980's movie tunes, such as "Win In the End," "Shooting For the Moon", and "Way To Go". The humor and themes are still relevant today too. Be sure to check out a classic film flub during the end credits: an extra wearing a red sweater is seen walking down the grandstands after the big basketball game with his schlong exposed. He quickly zips up before the crew could catch on. It's an unintentional gag in this howlingly funny comedy.

The basic premise for TEEN WOLF comes from I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF with Michael Landon playing Tony Rivers, a teenager with an uncontrollable temper that leads him into the hands of devious Dr. Alfred Brandon (Whit Bissell) out to make a name for himself. The doctor uses Tony for an experiment, giving him an injection that regresses him so far back in time that he turns into a werewolf. An adult human turning into a beast was nothing new in movies, but in 1957 the idea of a teenager doing it was considered fresh. The film was a huge hit for American International Pictures, and immediately became a classic of pop culture history. Today, the film is regarded by most critics as a cult classic and a source of camp humor. An unsuccessful comedy on the teenage werewolf theme came out several years earlier with FULL MOON HIGH (1981). The trend continued in the sitcom BIG WOLF ON CAMPUS (1999), which was more inspired by the TEEN WOLF cartoon spin-off than by the live action film.

For its Italian release, Fox's character name was changed from Scott to Marty in order to capitalize on the success of the Universal film. In Brazil, the film was released with the title O GAROTO DO FUTURO, which roughly translates as "The Boy from the Future", in another move to associate the film with the success of BACK TO THE FUTURE.

The movie was followed by a cartoon spin-off in 1986, and a sequel in 1987 titled TEEN WOLF TOO, with Jason Bateman starring as Todd Howard, Scott's cousin. On August 27, 2002 both TEEN WOLF films were released on a single-disc DVD by MGM Home Entertainment, the current rights holders of the films. In June, 2009, MTV announced that they would be adapting TEEN WOLF into a television series "with a greater emphasis on romance, horror and werewolf mythology".


Todd Howard (Jason Bateman), the cousin of Scott Howard has recently been accepted into Hamilton University on a full athletic scholarship--a boxing scholarship, although he has never boxed before. It seems the coach knows the family secret, and before long Todd is turning into a wolf just the way his cousin did, with very few special effects. Todd's eyes turn red, his forehead bulges and suddenly there's a shot of some horrified onlooker. Cut back to Todd, now in full werewolf makeup. Having never been good at sports he soon realizes that he is there for one reason--because werewolves run in the family. In this outing, basketball is replaced by boxing and high school girls are replaced by sorority co-eds. At first Todd is certain that Coach Finstock (Paul Sand) has got the wrong guy, but at the first boxing match of the year the wolf in him emerges. His friend Stiles is played by Stuart Fratkin in this sequel.

Stiles: (after Todds first transformation into the Wolf) You seem a little upset...
Todd: Upset? Me Stiles? Upset? (Stiles nods) I just had a beard over every inch of my body... fingernails the size of french fries... teeth from here to Texas... and she called me a dog... A dog...
Stiles: So...?

With his new found fame comes girls, top grades and even the Dean's car. But as the year goes on, Todd realizes that he is losing his friends and self respect. His jilted girlfriend confronts him in biology class and says, ''They don't like you, only the wolf." The boxing scenes are so awful they make ROCKY V (1990) look like Oscar material. It also has one of the worst depictions of college life on film, and there is nothing realistic about any of it. The women are portrayed as ditzy and the guys are just as incompetent. No college in the world would let Todd on its boxing team, wolf or not. In fact, there are even high school-like hijinks taking place in college classrooms. Witness the frog dissection scene and you'll understand. The wolf-like tendencies start to take hold after Todd dances with a blonde girl. All of a sudden, he has amazing strength and the hairier he gets the better his boxing becomes. He is now big man on campus but he starts to annoy people and everybody begins to dislike him except for understanding Professor Tanya Brooks (Kim Darby) and over-achieving student Nicki (Estee Chandler).

In both the TEEN WOLF movies, Fox and Bateman do not look like werewolves but like PLANET OF THE APES (1968) rejects. One improvement over the original is that Bateman’s acting actually improves with the amount of fur covering him, whereas Michael J. Fox was much better without the makeup gimmickry. Todd is much more jaded than Scott. The sole bright spot is veteran actor Paul Sand as the boxing coach. Critics almost universally panned the film. Siskel and Ebert gave it two enthusiastic thumbs down, with Roger Ebert complaining that they had picked, along with DATE WITH AN ANGEL (1987), the two worst movies possible. Nevertheless, TEEN WOLF TOO was a success at the box office.

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