blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Teen Wolf (1985, Rod Daniel)

Teen Wolf is a rather dire Wolf. The best things about the movie are James Hampton as the dad and the werewolf makeup, which seems entirely designed to allow for a stuntman to play Michael J. Fox when he’s decked out.

Otherwise, it’s never better than middling and often much worse. Some of the problem is the script, though clearly not all of it, unless writers Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman introduced subplots to never address later, but most of it’s director Daniel and maybe editor Lois Freeman-Fox. Teen Wolf’s got absolutely no flow. Every scene feels like it’s the first time the characters have ever met… wait, I guess that one is script-related. Loeb and Weisman don’t do character arcs.

Ostensibly, Teen Wolf is about Fox accepting himself for himself and realizing his best friend Susan Ursitti is the right girl for him even though she’s not glamorous like Lorie Griffin. Griffin’s surprisingly not a cheerleader, instead doing a one-woman version of Gone With the Wind for theater teacher Scott Paulin. The film goes out of its way to suggest Paulin’s abusing her, but it’s always a joke because girls are property in Wolf. Paulin’s terrible. There’s not much good acting in Teen Wolf and some really bland bad acting, but Paulin somehow manages to be bad, bland, and eccentric. He’s atrocious.

Of course, Daniel doesn’t direct the actors. At all. Fox is all over the place, whereas Ursitti and Griffin are nowhere. Hampton handles it because he’s a professional, then other supporting actors just sort of luck into not needing much direction because the script’s so thin, or the film’s cut their characters down to nothing. Mark Arnold’s the bad guy; he’s Griffin’s boyfriend who goes to another high school. He’s on the basketball team, and they regularly trounce Fox and his team.

So, Teen Wolf is a bad high school sports movie with a werewolf subplot. When Fox turns into a werewolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright… well, wait, no. Fox can turn into a werewolf whenever he wants. The movie treats lycanthropy as peculiar but not unheard-of; it’s one of the script’s most successful moves because it allows Arnold to be a credible threat. He hates Fox for being different. The werewolf “curse” is an othering thing, not a bloodlust thing.

Griffin thinks it’s hot, Ursitti thinks it’s not, but Fox wants to be popular, so he’s going with blonde Griffin. But, again, Griffin’s not some popular girl; she’s the one being groomed and abused by the theater teacher. She hates her boyfriend and, seemingly, her life. Small wonder with both Arnold and Paulin treating her like their personal property and then Fox trying to do the same.

Though Fox is also miserable. He’s miserable before he’s the werewolf, miserable after. It doesn’t go anywhere.

Jerry Levine plays Fox’s obnoxious best bro. Levine needs some direction. He’s supposed to be an amusing wiseass. He’s a desperately unfunny one instead. Despite being filmed in Pasadena (in for Nebraska), Teen Wolf feels like a Canadian movie from the era that statement was a pejorative, and Levine seems like the one American who went north trying to make it. And then not.

Also, Daniel didn’t have Fox get rid of his Canadian “sorries.”

Besides Hampton and Arnold, the other decent performance is Matt Adler as Fox’s friend who doesn’t like the werewolf business. It’s not a subplot in the film (probably in the script, maybe even filmed), but Daniel and Freeman-Fox only leave it in the background of the finished product, with Adler not even getting to voice his discomfort. Other people talk about him when he’s not around.

But he’s got an arc.

Also, Fox’s teammates Mark Holton and Doug Savant get an arc. They watch him become an attention-seeking ball hog and don’t like playing anymore. Savant gets Teen Wolf’s biggest diss when he’s shut out of the third act.

Jay Tarses plays Fox’s basketball coach. He’s terrible but funny, like Daniel couldn’t screw up Tarses’s deliveries even when working against them. James MacKrell plays the mean vice principal. He’s bad and not funny.

Teen Wolf is a smelly dog. It doesn’t even help it’s only ninety-two minutes. Daniel and Freeman-Fox constantly use slow motion to drag things out.

Oh, and the original soundtrack… woof.

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