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.