Jarv’s Birthday Series: Teenwolf (1985)
Huzzah! What a fucking result this was. I can’t tell you how pleased I was when I saw it on the list (release date August 23rd 1985 in the USA). I was having a bit of a panic about this seeing as the two films before I’d never heard of, and the horrible spectre of Dirty Dancing is lurking 2 films on. So, I reckoned that I was clearly in for a bit of a break, and there are few more pleasant stopping points than a Michael J. Fox comedy from the 80’s. Thank the Lord.
Actually, I was a bit trepiditious about this one. It’s a film I saw hundreds of times when I was a child, but haven’t seen since about 1988. As a result, and worrying about being a bit burned by other childhood classics that didn’t stand the test of time (As happened with Droid’s Weird Science review, although I like that one much more than he does), I did put off watching it until the other night. Which, in hindsight, was a mistake as there’s nothing to be afraid of here. Nothing at all. Sure, it is a bit cheesy, mostly because it is an 80’s comedy after all, and the wolf does look more like bigfoot than a werewolf, but all in all, I’m ecstatic to report that for the most part Teenwolf holds up surprisingly well.
I think everyone will have seen this film, but nevertheless, this is the plot summary. Nice kid Scott (Michael J. Fox) is struggling at high school a wee bit. He’s on the basketball team (the least likely basketball side ever assembled), is mates with “Boof” (Susan Ursetti) and Stiles (Jerry Levine) and spends his entire time fantasising about hot cheerleader type Pamela (Lori Griffin). However, what Scott doesn’t know is that locked away in his gene pool is the (dum dum dum) WEREWOLF gene, which manifests itself one night. No sooner has he become a fully-fledged wolf, than his basketball skills improve no-end, he’s one of the popular kids (even down to getting a part in the school play) and Pamela is willing to drop it all and do the nasty with him. The Principal doesn’t like Scott much, even less so once he becomes Teenwolf, and the whole farrago culminates at the school Prom, where Scott realises he’s been making a dick of himself, so resolves to play the Championship game as a human (something that would inevitably lead to humiliation). Cue unlikely win, and new modest Scott learning who his real love is (if you can’t guess this, then there is something wrong with you. Even as an 8 year old, I guessed it).
This is a pretty formulaic film. It’s essentially a high school comedy about a kid trying too hard to be cool and forgetting who he is. The Werewolf stuff is actually mere window dressing to the drama that plays out between the pupils at the school, and while probably metaphorical for something, just adds a twist to what would otherwise be a bit of a flagrant John Hughes rip off. Nevertheless, it is a supremely entertaining one for the most part, and there are so many individually enjoyable moments in this film that I’m not even going to consider ripping it apart. It just exists, and I can happily suspend disbelief just as easily as the opposing basketball team does when confronted with the wolf for the first time. Seriously, if I was playing sport and one of the opponents turned into a fucking werewolf, I have to say that would be game over as far as I’m concerned. Not here, the kids just take it in their stride and carry on playing.
There’s a reason that this film rocks along so well: Michael J. Fox. He’s just so damned likeable here, and his comic timing is perfection- take the delivery of the line to Stiles in the van. They’re preparing to do their usual van surfing idiocy, when it cuts away, he transforms into the wolf, puts a hand on Stiles shoulder’ and says “These waves are mine”. It’s a pretty ropy line, but the delivery is done with such charm that it instantly becomes AWESOME. Fox really is the heart and soul of this film, and he carries it ably on his small shoulders. Incidentally, the follow up to the street surfing scene which plays out between Scott and his dad (James Hampton) is another great scene, an emotional counterpoint to the van riding silliness we’ve just seen. Hampton is stupendous here, you can see his disappointment in his son, and that he has the sad knowledge that Scott is behaving like a dick and will hopefully get better but there’s nothing he can do about it to contend with. It’s a lovely moment.
The rest of the acting was never going to really compare to the Fox show, but all of them do well in their own way with only Griffin being a bit wooden. However, it’s a hard part to play, so it would be very unfair to criticise too much. It doesn’t help that she looks about 10 years older than Fox here, and that the character has the depth of a teardrop, but she’s probably the weakest link. The writing on the whole, actually, is a bit hit and miss. The dogwhistle scene early on is well done, but there are several clunky scenes in it, not least of which is Howard turning up at the prom and threatening the Principal to save Scott’s ass. This, actually, feels totally out of place in the film- it’s an unpleasant and menacing moment that was probably not needed. Scott hadn’t actually done anything that bad, and for his father to turn up and basically threaten to eat his head teacher is a bit out of order, as is the even clunkier attempt to shoe-horn “history” between the two men into the story.
Overall, this is an almost ideal Sunday afternoon film. I could happily sit down after my roast dinner and watch it. There’s a lot of heart and it’s a lot of fun, and who really could ask for more than that for a film of this type? Michael J. Fox was really a stupendous comic actor in his day, but more importantly was a truly likeable screen presence and in a film that has as much heart as this one he’s absolutely in his element. I give Teenwolf 3 Delicious Sunday Dinners out of 4, and it has jumped right up my viewing list as a result. Maybe I’ll watch it again at Christmas.
Next up is the gloriously sleazy Women in Prison parody Reform School Girls. A truly unexpected surprise and a hugely entertaining one.
The full list in this series:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London (4 out of 4)
- 1982 – Class of 1984 (3 out of 4)
- 1983 – Fire and Ice (1 out of 4)
- 1984 – Cal (1/2 out of 4)
- 1985 – Teen Wolf (3 out of 4)
- 1986 –Reform School Girls
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing
- 1988 – Married to the Mob
- 1989 – Millennium
- 1990 – Darkman
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery(TBC)
- 1993 – Hard Target
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers
- 1995 – Desperado
- 1996 – Freeway
- 1997 – Mimic
- 1998 – Blade
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle
- 2000 – Bring it On
- 2001 – Heartbreakers
- 2002 – Simone
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning
- 2005 – The Cave
- 2006 – Invincible
- 2007 – War
- 2008 – Death Race
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
- 2010 – Piranha 3D
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian