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.

Until then,

Jarv.

The full list in this series:

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

16 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series: Teenwolf (1985)”

  1. Droid says :

    “Shoot it, fat boy!”

    I loved this movie as a kid, and rewatched it for the first time in over 15 years recently and loved it just as much. Sure, it’s formulaic, and very, very cheesy, but it’s fun. I always preferred Boof to the dream girl. The dog whistle, 7 minutes in heaven, van surfing, the liquor store, Stiles selling merchandise, the first transformation scene and the WOLF DANCE!!!

    Michael J. Fox is a legend.

    “Give me… a keg… of beer!”

  2. just pillow talk says :

    I haven’t seen this in ages, and really my thought process was a bit like yours. I’ve felt for sure that I wouldn’t like it watching it now, just wouldn’t hold up. That’s cool that it reintroduced itself to you and generated good feelings about it. Fox was the king!

  3. just pillow talk says :

    So let’s tally it up so far..five out of eight films have generated at least a 3 outta 4….and my list will be…..

  4. Droid says :

    You know what this movie could use?

    A tiger in a hat.

  5. Continentalop says :

    This is the film that told me that Michael J. Fox was born to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Alas it will never be.

  6. Xiphos0311 says :

    damn good movie and fun. It’s one I will always stop and watch if I come across it on TV.

  7. Spud McSpud says :

    Ah yes, the apotheosis of Fox’s almost supernatural likeability. Team this up with THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS (one of those cheesy I-wanna-be-a-yuppie-but-keep-my-soul career comedies of the 80s) and BACK TO THE FUTURE, and I’m going to bed on Sunday night with a belly full of delicious roast and a magnificent wallow in top form 80s nostalgia. Fox embodies the most heartwarming corner of the 80s, and it’s indubitably his forever. TEEN WOLF is fucking brilliant, and I’ve held off seeing the sequel for fear of besmirching the original. Glowing review, Jarv, and it’s nice to see you, for once, not wrestling your sanity back into its cage after suffering something abominable, but enjoying a movie that stands the test of time 😀

    If you haven’t seen it, watch GREEDY. Michael J Fox channels his 80s likeability one more time for this early 90s comedy, where Kirk Douglas is the family patriarch who suddenly becomes very ill, and who contacts his entire family to let them know. Cue lots of evil relatives descending on the hapless Douglas to prove they are all worthy of his considerable fortune after he dies, and Fox’s increasing struggle to retain his morals as he cares for the old codger, but begins to wonder if being a nice guy means HE should have first dibs on the loot. Fox is almost completely on form in this, but the last scene with Kirk Douglas takes the plaudits. Douglas steals this motherfucker, and he is GREAT.

    Last great moment for Fox? He has a great cameo one-scene appearance in COLDBLOODED, a considerably odd but very enjoyable quirky thriller/comedy starring Jason Priestley as the world’s most boring hitman, and Fox as somebody he meets early on. The Parkinson’s has begun to take hold by this movie, but it doesn’t dim Fox’s incredible everyman charisma, which he uses here to great effect.

    Kudos, Jarv, for the warm props you’re giving to inarguably one of the greatest movie stars of the 80s 😀

  8. Spud McSpud says :

    Also, the guy who plays Stiles is Jason Gedrick’s best mate in IRON EAGLE. Hell, he’s practically playing the same guy! I like to think of IRON EAGLE and TEEN WOLF existing in the same 80s universe that I hope I go to when I die… 😀

  9. ThereWolf says :

    Have to admit… (whispers) ‘Teen Wolf’ didn’t do a lot for me. Fox is great in it though, no doubt about that.

    Maybe it’s a movie I should return to coz I’ve only seen it the once (when it came out). Everyone I knew liked it so I was pretty much the odd one out. I used to mutter in defence, “Werewolves should be serious…” or something like that. Don’t know what gave me that mindset.

    I don’t think like that now. But I still prefer a serious werewolf.

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