The year was 1985, and Michael J. Fox was the star in one of the hottest movies of the year, in which he played an ordinary teenager who found his life turned inside out due to circumstances beyond his control; a film which would go on to be considered a classic of 1980s film and continues to be referenced today. I refer, of course, to Back to the Future, but many of the same things could be said of his lesser 1985 work, Teen Wolf.
I saw Teen Wolf when I was a kid, of course, but I didn’t remember it very well. So when I saw that it was airing on the NBA channel (of all places), I decided to give it a look with adult eyes. This may have been a bit of a mistake, as besides the commercial cuts and the news ticker on the bottom, it quickly became apparent that the NBA channel was making some edits for censorship purposes. Apparently there is some concern that impressionable children might tune into a sports network in the middle of the night and hear the word “dick”. Still, even with some obvious changes here and there, I was able to watch it and feel like I wasn’t missing a whole lot.
So how does it hold up?
Checking IMDB, Teen Wolf originally came out a little less than two months after Back to the Future. It had to have been a bit of a disappointing follow-up as it hasn’t had the critical acclaim of the earlier film, nor the box office success. And they certainly tried to ride on the wave of Back to the Future‘s success.
Some graphic designer had a last minute scramble to add that text.
Unfortunately, Teen Wolf simply isn’t as good as Back to the Future. It has its charm, and it’s an enjoyable film, but it’s just not up to that level. There’s nothing to really dislike about it, but you have to be viewing this either through a big nostalgia filter or with a healthy appreciation for cheese. (Fortunately, I have both.)
Michael J. Fox plays Scott Howard, an unpopular, dorky kid who plays basketball for his high school team, a team so bad that the coach actually tries to forfeit one of their games. He gets along reasonably well with his teammates, particularly “Chubby” (Mark Holton), but only has a few friends, primarily Boof and Stiles (according to IMDB, the characters’ full names are Lisa Marconi and Rupert Stilinski, but you’d never know it from the movie), played by Susan Ursitti and Jerry Levine. (Levine has gone on to direct television episodes; Ursitti largely dropped off the face of the earth, with this as the peak of her career.) Stiles is the traditional 80s-movie high school con man, in the mold of Ferris Bueller but with less panache and skill. Boof is Scott’s friend from early childhood, and has a rather transparent crush on him, which Scott’s father encourages; Scott, however, only has eyes for drama student Pamela Wells (Lorie Griffin, who in a trend for this movie, had few other roles of note.)
Scott wishes he could be less “average”, and because this is a movie, he gets his wish. He starts undergoing changes, subtle at first, with growls escaping his throat, his eyes occasionally turning red, and hair starting to sprout on the backs of his hands. On the next full moon, he turns into a werewolf. Unlike most werewolf movies, there’s no transference of lycanthropy through being bitten; Scott’s father Harold (James Hampton), also a werewolf, explains that it runs in the family. He’d avoided telling Scott because he hoped Scott wouldn’t inherit it. (“Well, Dad, it didn’t pass me by. It landed on my face.”)
Scott finds that as a werewolf, he is more athletic and becomes an adept at playing basketball, gaining his team their first victory in a long time. His popularity soars as the school goes crazy for their werewolf all-star (only one kid is shown being afraid of him), except for Vice-Principal Thorne (Jim McKrell), who seems to dislike Scott even more than before (this is revealed to be due to an old rivalry with Scott’s father); he also has trouble with school jerk Brad (Doug Savant). At the same time Scott’s relationship with Boof sours as he becomes more obsessed with popularity, and his relationship with his team gets fractious due to him being a ball-hog. It’s essentially your standard “be yourself” school special, except with a werewolf. (This does lead to one minor irritation towards the end, when he insists on trying to not be the wolf; the wolf’s a part of him. “Be yourself” would logically include the wolf, just not the self-absorption he’d developed.) Of course, Scott does learn to be himself, and patches things up with his team and particularly with Boof. It’s an 80s teen comedy, it’s not going to end in disaster.
Teen Wolf is an enjoyable film, but it’s not a laugh-a-minute comedy, and it doesn’t break any new ground, and it’s not exceptionally well done. Would I pick it up on DVD? Sure, especially so I could see it uncut (which might raise it up just a little bit), but I probably wouldn’t pay much for it. Still, for nostalgic cheese, or a movie to watch with your buddies, one could certainly do worse.
OMG you made me wanna watch it again!
Like you, I saw it so many years ago, I don’t even remember it… Yeah, I definitely need to catch up. Thanks for bringing this up!
Well, I hope you enjoy it! Let us know what you think of it.
Have you seen the new TV series called “Teen Wolf”, which is “based on the original film”?
I think they’re being a bit generous with that claim. Sure, it has the same title, the main character is called Scott, and he is a werewolf.
That’s ’bout it. (Not a bad show, though.) 😉
I haven’t… I knew it was out there, but I haven’t tried to catch it. I’m not surprised it’s different though; besides the changes in mood due to being a 2011 show instead of from the 80s, just being a series will make some changes happen. I remember the cartoon series having some big differences as well (such as Scott’s werewolf-ism being a secret.)
I think you say something to the effect of “It’s not a laugh a minute comedy”, which is a valid point.
What do we think there average is there, then, what would the proper saying be? “It’s a laugh every five minutes comedy?” “A you’ll occasionally laugh comedy?” 😀
Silly movie. Nostalgia purposes only.
I saw a great tweet recently, forgot who made it… “Why would being a werewolf make you a better basketball player?” Now THAT I laughed at .
It’s an amused smile a minute comedy? 😀
Good question on the basketball thing… the only thing I can think of is that as a werewolf he gains more confidence in himself; in the opening scene with him trying to shoot a free throw and blowing it, he’s clearly over-thinking things.
One thing i never quite get on this movie, was basketball is what he played. I find it funny he may very well be the shortest guy in the school (what is he 4′ 8″ or 4′ 9″???? haha) should have been a sport that was more likely to fit him. Swimming or fencing is more believable. Teen Wolf Too was boxing i believe. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK MORGSTER!
Thanks, “Walter”. I take it Jake steered you here?
It does seem kind of funny to see Michael J. Fox playing basketball, but in a way, I think that was deliberate. The whole team is terrible, and nobody really looks like they belong there. It’s not like Chubby exactly looked like basketball material either…
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