Studio: Scream Factory
Director: Rod Daniel
Writer: Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman
Producer: Mark Levinson, Scott Rosenfelt
Stars: Michael J. Fox, James Hampton, Scott Paulin, Susan Ursitti, Jerry Levine, Jim MacKrell, Lorie Griffin, Mark Arnold, Matt Adler, Mark Holton, Jay Tarses
An ordinary high school basketball player becomes suddenly popular when he discovers he can transform into a werewolf.
I was ten years old when “Teen Wolf” originally released in 1985. Despite an affinity for both werewolves and Michael J. Fox, thanks to “Family Ties” and “Back to the Future,” I somehow made it all the way through that summer and well into the 21st century without seeing the film, or wanting to.
I probably assumed it was too family friendly for my “edgy” adolescent sensibilities. It had been three years, but I was still miffed at my mom for tricking me into seeing “E.T.” by telling me it was about an alien, giving me salivating visions of a xenomorph bursting through torsos. Imagine my pouty disappointment when Spielberg’s classic served up Reese’s Pieces and floating bicycles instead. I remember gazing around the theater at all the sobbing children in 1982 and thinking, “what a bunch of babies.” No way was “Teen Wolf” fooling me twice with PG-rated sentimentality masquerading as a monster movie.
Had I seen “Teen Wolf” then at the age I am now, chances are I would have felt like many of the critics who disliked it at the time. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film “aggressively boring.” Variety trotted out adjectives like “lightweight,” “lackluster,” and “terribly feeble.” While those words are harsh, the truth is, they aren’t exactly inaccurate.
“Teen Wolf” is as straightforward of a formula as E=mc2. Michael J. Fox plays Scott Howard, a Peter Parker of sorts who has a few pals and plays on his high school’s joke of a basketball team, but is mostly an ordinary dork. If you’ve seen even one 80s teen comedy before, or just five minutes of one, then you’ve seen everyone in Scott’s social circle too.
If Scott were dying of thirst in the desert, self-centered siren Pamela wouldn’t take two seconds to spit in his face. Nevertheless, Scott’s hormones want what they want. And they want Pamela, even though she is dating Mick, the bespectacled chess club geek. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course Mick is the handsome jock/bully with good hair and a bad attitude, perfectly fitting for the rival who will eat the comeuppance certain to be served by Scott in the climax.
The girl Scott should really be after is Boof. They live on the same block and have been friends since childhood, so Scott only sees Boof as a tomboyish buddy. But she is patiently waiting for Scott to realize the better option is right in front of his face, if only his eyes weren’t blinded by hearts for someone who wants little to do with the real him. Will Scott come around and get together with the good girl in the end?
In addition to these major players, others in Scott’s orbit include his class clown best friend Stiles, who checks the box for wisecracking comic relief. Then there is hard-nosed vice principal Mr. Thorne, who gets on Scott’s case only slightly less than Mr. Strickland gets on Marty McFly’s. Last but not least is doting dad Harold, a strong single father whose arm-around-the-shoulders wisdom encourages his son to steer the wheel the right way.
When Scott discovers he has an inexplicable ability to spontaneously transform into a werewolf, he isn’t the only one who undergoes a change. Everyone above begins behaving differently too. Stiles cashes in on the teen wolf’s town-wide popularity through merchandising. Pamela suddenly perks up for the hirsute hero who singlehandedly leads his basketball team to the championship game.
Less enthused about Scott’s newfound popularity is his father, who worries Scott’s ego is ballooning his hairy head. And Boof, who only wants Scott to be himself. Can Scott work through the pressures of sports, romance, friends, and family as a wolf to find out what kind of human he really is?
“Teen Wolf” telegraphs its tale of teenage transition from the title card through the end credits. Anyone in any remote doubt over how any setup will end is either brain dead or has never seen a motion picture before.
That’s why I can see exactly how an adult viewing the film for the first time in 1985 couldn’t help but look at his/her watch with a yawn. “Teen Wolf” is tired, trite, and typical.
With hindsight spanning three decades however, it’s impossible to not acknowledge that the film has honest intentions. Pacing often drags, or becomes stuck in extended sequences such as the overlong big game finale. But the sincerity behind the simple writing, earnest acting, and unpretentious directing suits “Teen Wolf’s” corny style, which works like gangbusters for the movie that it wants to be.
Naturally, the movie’s main magnet is prime time Michael J. Fox. Fox is dialed back slightly, yet you could still mix scenes of Scott Howard with Marty McFly and someone without knowledge of either would have trouble telling who is who. Because Michael J. Fox is peaking into his star power here, “Teen Wolf” towers over pedestrian plotting and by-the-book building blocks to be an amusing star vehicle with classic 1980s charm.
Had I a nostalgic tie to the movie, I might appreciate it more in adulthood. Even though it isn’t a touchstone from my childhood, I give the film a generous seven out of ten score for its huge heart of well-meaning entertainment.
Now go away “Teen Wolf!” I want my werewolves with blood on their fangs and bodies at their feet. You’re not wooing me with your saccharin sweetness. Okay, maybe just a little. I’m not a monster after all.
Review Score: 70
Scream Factory Collector’s Edition: “Teen Wolf” director Rod Daniel passed away in 2016. And if Michael J. Fox isn’t going to appear in retrospectives for his other projects, which he usually doesn’t, you can’t expect him to do on-camera interviews about “Teen Wolf” either. This means no one is ever going to get a new Audio Commentary or Special Features participation from the two voices that people want to hear from most.
Never one to be deterred, Scream Factory does the next best thing to ensure that the Blu-ray Collector’s Edition contains a big bonus. Included on the disc is a full-length documentary on the production of “Teen Wolf” featuring practically everyone involved with the film except for Daniel and Fox.
NEW Never Say Die – The Story of Teen Wolf: Ten lengthy chapters cover the script, the cast, production design, make-up, editing, music, and much more. Certain segments sag, such as too many minutes spent recollecting minutiae with Michael J. Fox’s basketball double. But for the most part, the sustained enthusiasm of interviewees presents provocative insight entertainingly while painting a picture of a fondly remembered set seemingly blessed by serendipitous magic.
Some of the best anecdotes involve little revelations like Eric Stoltz, whom Michael J. Fox famously replaced on “Back to the Future,” being at the top of a short list for potential replacements if Fox fell through on “Teen Wolf.” You may also be surprised to learn that Meredith Baxter’s maternity leave from “Family Ties” played a big part in getting the movie made. All in all, “Never. Say. Die.” offers a terrific treasure trove of trivia on the making of the movie.
Final Word on the Infamous “Penis” Scene: One of the first thoughts plenty of people had when they heard Scream Factory was building their Blu-ray from a new 2k scan was, “we can finally figure out that supposed penis scene once and for all.”
For those who don’t already know, thanks to “Family Guy” and a VH1 special, urban legend long had it that an extra pulled out his package during the celebratory scene immediately before the end credits. Whether this person did or didn’t had long been debated, even informally debunked. But Scream Factory has the official verdict by including a segment specifically about it on the new documentary, putting the last nail in that coffin.
Long story short, it didn’t happen. Through the magic of technology, specifically examining the film outside the widescreen frame, this Collector’s Edition definitively proves that an exposed penis isn’t even possible because the extra in question is actually a woman. Maybe Scream Factory will tackle “Three Men and a Baby” soon so we can finally get closure on that movie’s ghost story as well.