Teen Wolf/Teen Wolf Too Review
Horror filmmakers have always been drawn to the werewolf myth. The sub-genre has a rather poor track record, but it has endured through the years, leading to the current resurgence, and interest in this cinematic creature. Films like Dog Soldiers and Wes Craven’s up-coming Cursed have given the werewolf genre a new lease of life, though their ties to previous films are readily apparent. The 80’s was certainly the heyday for these pictures, resulting in The Howling, and what many consider the apex of the genre - An American Werewolf in London. Making a lot of money at the international box office, these films sparked a flurry of imitations, some good, some downright pathetic. One of the imitations was Teen Wolf, a low-budget high school comedy, that just so happened to have a werewolf at its core. Inexplicably popular in its day, it later spawned a cartoon series, and its own sequel - Teen Wolf Too - which has been thrown into the same package by MGM. Have these relics of a by-gone era aged well, or should they be put down by a silver bullet?
Teen Wolf - 6/10
Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) seems like your ordinary student. He’s bright and plucky, with a place on the school’s basketball team. Teenagers like him are going through changes, but Scott’s situation is a little different. His body is taking on a life of its own; transforming into a hairy, primeval beast. His teeth become sharp, and his fingernails elongate into claws. Something is very, very wrong. According to his father Harold (James Hampton), their family tree has carried the werewolf gene, and now that he’s entered his formative years, Scott has taken on these lycanthropic features. However, it isn’t all bad news. During a vital basketball match, Scott loses control of his new-found abilities, turning into the Wolf for all to see. While amazed, his team mates don’t react in fear, instead letting Scott/“The Wolf” to win the match. Soon, he’s the talk of the town, and the bewildered Scott goes from put-upon fool to local sensation...
The “werewolf as puberty” metaphor is certainly nothing new. Actually, it’s been done to death, starting way back in the 50’s with I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Since then, the concept has reached it’s apotheosis in films like Ginger Snaps, speaking to the core audience with a good-natured wink. Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer covered the theme - just replace Fox’s basketballer for Seth Green’s guitarist, and you’re on familiar turf. But the formula works so well, and no film has mixed the school and werewolf clichés quite like Teen Wolf. It’s so literal, without being scary or horrific. It’s an all-out comedy, with a supernatural element thrown-in. In fact, now I mention it, the werewolf aspect seems like an afterthought. If you adore high school pictures, this might win you over. For hard-core horror fans, the thought of a friendly werewolf might seem like sacrilege. You certainly won’t find brutal dismemberment here. At least screenwriters Joseph Loeb and Matthew Weisman aim to bring new ingredients to the mix, since Scott can turn into the Wolf whenever he wishes; even at day.
Director Rod Daniel’s handling is workmanlike, but he clearly has an affection for the classic Hollywood monster fare, turning Fox into the 80’s equivalent of Lon Chaney. In a modern setting, the make-up effects inspire laughter rather than chills, but that my friends, is the point. The work of artist Christopher Biggs is crude, but oddly likeable. It fits the material like a glove, but compared to the legendary transformation in American Werewolf, it falls flat. You’ll have to settle for a series of quick fades, and quick-cutting to do the “transformation” - a far cry from the same-shot theatrics of Rick Baker’s artistry. That isn’t to say that the film is devoid of technical competence, since Tim Suhrstedt’s photography is warm and welcoming. The locations even feel authentic (shot, incidentally, in the same school and town as A Nightmare on Elm Street.)
But I do commend the filmmakers for making the best of these materials. Shot on a very tight budget, the picture was clearly made to capitalise on Fox’s success with TV’s Family Ties. Made before his meteoric rise to superstardom in Back to the Future, Teen Wolf later received a release due to its success. This studio tactic efinitely paid off, since Teen Wolf made back its investment several times over. Audiences were seeing this film for Fox, and what little charm it has, is due to his engaging performance. He jumped at the chance to play such a role, employing a great comic-timing, and that “Everyman” persona that made Marty McFly a character for the ages. Fox raises Teen Wolf from mediocre to compulsive viewing. In most respects, he goes a long way to ensure that the film is impossible to dislike. Then again, its humour is pretty broad, and the audience is asked to suspend their disbelief more than usual. For instance, is it really believable that the town would take a werewolf with a grain of salt? You’d think that they’d react in fear at such a mythical beast, but most of them seem turned on. It makes one yearn for fiery torches and pitchforks!
Yet, some of the sequences work better than they had any right to - the previously noted transformation is amusing, with Scott lamenting his “disease” in front of the bathroom mirror. His dad pleads with him to open the door, and when he does, Scott comes face-to-face with an ageing Wolf. It’s a wonderful touch, and despite donning that phoney make-up, Fox’s acting chops shine through. The rapport between the cast is the greatest strength on show, taking the ridiculous scenario in their strides. James Hampton is good value as Mr. Howard, but it is Jerry Levine as Stiles that lingers in the memory. He’s sarcastic, opportunistic, and cool in that Ferris Bueller-type way; a product of the era. He’s a cliché for sure, but a fun one at that. And boy, does that “car surfing” look fun...
However, Teen Wolf is swamped by its predictable nature. Daniel treats the film as a high school movie first, and werewolf tale second. Therefore, you’ll know exactly what to expect. I watched mockingly, as he trotted out the old reliables of teen angst and self discovery. Scott wonders which girl to choose from - the pretty bitch, or good-natured wallflower. He deals with the basketball team’s losing streak, and helps boost moral. And he also battles with the school bully. But all of this pales in comparison to the syrup-drenched finale, which takes its cue from every sports comedy ever. Scott, deciding it’s better to be himself than the Wolf, helps his team mates win the match, and in classic style, there is plenty of slow-motion and crowd reaction shots. You could have wrote the screenplay yourself, since the outcome is so signposted; I almost gagged on the final freeze-frame of the team in hysterics. It might have worked well, but Daniel pushes the message of independence to breaking point. In most respects, it spoils the quirky and eccentric comedy that came before.
It may be mauled by its flaws, but Teen Wolf remains a charming diversion, especially for younger generations. It’s terrifically dated now (just look at those mullets!), but for some reason, I kept watching till the end. As a piece of entertainment it works, and for those with nostalgic attachments, a rental is recommended. Nothing to “wolf-out” over then, but it’s sure to leave a smile on your face...
Teen Wolf Too - 1/10
The success of Teen Wolf must have been a nice surprise for its distributors. Naturally, the overwhelming urge to produce a sequel must have blinded their senses, since nobody asked for one. None of the original filmmakers returned. Heck, Michael J. Fox wanted nothing to do with it either. His replacement is the uber-bad Jason Bateman (the son of a producer), a guy without an iota of Fox’s charm. In fact, the only returning cast member is James Hampton, who seems rather bored to be there. In most respects, Teen Wolf Too existed purely to make money, and the studio’s shameless incompetence makes it a truly awful film.
If director Christopher Leitch even attempted to produce something original, it might have been bearable, but Teen Wolf Too is from the same school as Escape From LA. It fabricates everything from its predecessor - every minute of the story is a carbon-copy, with a few flips enabled to make it seem “fresh”. Bateman is Todd Howard - the cousin of former Wolf, Scott - who is attending college. Here, he takes on the werewolf properties, and becomes a successful boxer. You see what they did there? They replaced basketball with boxing. That sound you hear, is the screenwriters scraping the barrel...
Nothing about this film works, and despite being more of the same, it feels like a different entity. It has none of the humour or class of its forerunner, so I won’t be recommending it anytime soon (the fact that it’s #38 on the IMDb’s “Bottom 100”, speaks for itself.) This dog has definitely had it’s day.
Despite being largely forgotten by the 80’s generation, MGM still treat Teen Wolf and its sequel to a decent disc. What it lacks in extras, it makes up for in pleasing audio and video. As the disc loads up, simply select what film you want, and proceed to some garish static menus. The menus are good, but someone thought it was wise to have symbols to display the options, instead of text. Call me a dumb ass, but it took me nearly a minute to realise what the different options were. But that’s nit-picking. On with the review...
The Look and Sound
Teen Wolf and its distant cousin look great on DVD. Naturally, the original looks slightly better, and the anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is well above-average. There weren’t any major faults that stuck out - the transfers for both films are sharp and full of depth, despite having two features on the same side. Teen Wolf Too could have been a bit more colourful, but clarity is the order of the day here. A few hints of age do show up, with a smidgen of grain cropping up here and there, and some softness to the image. That said, these prints are in tip-top condition.
As you’d expect, the audio isn’t up to scratch, but it gets things done. Presented in Dolby Digital Stereo and Mono mixes, each Teen Wolf isn’t terribly active when expressing itself, with the sound mainly coming from the front of the sound field. A few incidental effects are sprinkled about, but it’s nothing you’ll really notice. But I did. It’s my job. Ultimately, MGM’s treatment of the films is admirable, and the presentation gets the thumbs-up.
Nada. Not a darn thing. Would it have hurt to put a trailer on this disc? Apparently so.
Fun, frothy and utterly silly, Teen Wolf is crude, but entertaining. A fine way to waste two hours, it’s a must for all Michael J. Fox fans. (The less said about the sequel, the better.) Kids will really wolf this up...
Last updated: 28/05/2018 21:12:14