In Defence Of… Teen Wolf

Damon Carter returns with his continuing adventures of the In-Defence Of kind. In this instalment Damon takes a look at Teen Wolf.

Whilst flicking through Britain’s top selling film magazine a couple of months ago I discovered two things: Firstly that one of my most loved childhood movies was now available on Blu-Ray, and secondly, that the reviewer didn’t like it.

It is not an uncommon occurrence for anyone who was brought up on many eighties American movies to get bizarrely defensive over trashy films. The films we are groomed on hold great memories of just discovering film and despite their faults we look upon these gems as classics. I guarantee everybody has one in their collection, a film that they have watched so many times they’ll find themselves quoting the lines to strangers. My film that really shouldn’t work but actually does is Teen Wolf. The reason it works is its star an actor with so much charisma he always illicit a smile whenever on screen.

Teen Wolf (directed by Rod Daniel in 1985) is a simple tale. Michael J. Fox plays Scott, an American teenager stuck firmly in the inbetweener bracket with a collection of other kids who are cast aside by the jocks and the cheerleaders. Scott is struggling to get through high school, getting noticed by girls and getting served beer at his liquor store. He could probably just about handle this if it weren’t for the fact that when anxious he tends to turn into a wolf…..a teen wolf if you will. The interesting twist to this movie is a teenager having to go through puberty twice and not being able to control his own body which ratchets up the tension when he tries to keep it covered up. Bizarrely he finds that when he does embarrassingly change during a basketball match (and inherits the skills of Michael Jordan), his peers accept him even more and he becomes the most popular kid in school. From there he alienates his real friends and has to make some decisions about himself and what he wants. No prizes for guessing how it ends up.

Inspired by I Was A Teenage Werewold and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the film is a high school comedy, a sports drama and in places a teenage horror movie. There is nothing amazing in the cinematography, the plotting is loose and extremely unoriginal at best and the acting isn’t necessarily ground breaking, bar one. But the film is entirely rewatchable thanks to its charms.

Despite the now dated look of the film there is much to enjoy in Teen Wolf with some fantastic and terrifyingly memorable scenes which are nearly always followed by sharp comedy. Scott tries to buy beer and nearly transforms but instead delivers a terrifying line (eyes outlined with red) to the shopkeeper with a Freddy Krueger like drawl “give me a keg of beer”. His first transformation is like a tame version of John Landis famous London set horror but it still disturbs, whilst we the audience contemplate his father finding out his big secret Scott confronts his father who stands before him looking like a Care Bear. It’s these comedy moments that have added to Teen Wolf’s cult status over the years.

All of the standard characters are present here with the headmaster lurking after Scott, The enemy Jock, The unobtainable girl, the Jim Carrey-like friend, the interesting kitsch girl, a fat guy called Chubb’s, the overbearing dad and two of my personal favourites Coach Finstock and Theatre Director Kirk Lolley. The two latter characters are served with some highly quotable lines and some brilliantly managed comic timing. Observe Jay Tarses performance as a man that really feels like he should be giving Scott advice during the film and consistently baffles him. – 

Coach Finstock: Look Scotty, I know what you’re going through. Couple years back, a kid came to me much the same way you’re coming to me now, saying the same thing that you’re saying. He wanted to drop off the team. His mother was a widow, all crippled up. She was scrubbing floors. She had this pin in her hip. So he wanted to drop basketball and get a job. Now these were poor people, these were hungry people with real problems. Understand what I’m saying?
Scott Howard: What happened to the kid?
Coach Finstock: I don’t know. He quit. He was a third stringer, I didn’t need him.

And then there is simply the best piece of advice I have ever heard from anyone about life. –

Coach Finstock: There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.

Although technically the film is not outstanding, there is something to be said for the sound editing in the film. Scott tries to get through a class and seems haunted by the words “wolf” which slips in and out of his concentration. The heartbeats are so fierce that they threaten to burst from the screen; this all culminates in him running from class and engaging in one of cinemas longest comedy slip-ups.

In terms of soundtrack we are treated to the standard trashy eighties pop music such as “Big Bad Wolf” by Bunny & The Wolf Sisters. The Beach Boys “Surfin U.S.A.” play over the memorable scene of van surfing and there’s an odd choice of “Way To Go” by Mark Vieha during the Harlem globetrotters montage, which just about works despite feeling really misplaced. The main power ballad in this is the shamefully plot spoiling “Win In The End” by Miles Goodman. A song so confident that it deserves to be on everyone’s workout playlist.

In 1985 Michael J. Fox was riding on the crest of a wave after starring in the seminal Back To The Future which saw the actors stock rise quickly. He quickly followed that film with Teen Wolf which went straight into the US box office at number 2, number 1 being Back To The Future Fox epitomised the everyman look that audiences craved. Small in stature but big in character always standing up against the big jocks and trying to win the girl. His comic talents are clearly underrated as not only is he a fine comedic perfomer but an intelligent actor who knows when to let other actors have their moments. Fox makes Teen Wolf a film worth watching because for an hour and a half we want him to beat the jock and get the girl.

Still not convinced, well just as the film ends with an embrace between father and son, look to the top left of the frame, an extra exposes their crotch and goes down in movie history. Unbelievable.

Coming soon to IN DEFENCE OF…….

The blockbuster season is approaching and it’s time to look at those money making sequels and strange superhero movies that have been unfairly trounced over the years.

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2 Comments

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  1. I bloody love Teen Wolf for all the reasons in this article.
    Also, love how Chubb looks about 28 in this.
    Stiles is one of the best 80s sidekicks a wolf could wish for.

    • an absolute classic.

      Scott looks like he should be a wall street banker but yet he’s playing basketball at high school

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