blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957, Gene Fowler Jr.)

I Was a Teenage Werewolf opens with a reasonably impressive—for 1957–schoolyard fight. Throughout the film, director Fowler will have these entirely competent low-budget action sequences, with much thought put into them by Fowler and his uncredited editor. It’s not because they’ve got ambition with Werewolf; they’re just trying to pad the runtime.

To its seventy-six minutes.

Anyway. The opening fight: troubled teen Michael Landon is at it again with the roughhousing. Someone slapped him playfully on the back, and Landon doesn’t like being touched, so he went from one to nuclear.

Responding police detective Barney Phillips says Landon’s out of chances. He’s got to go to the aircraft plant psychiatrist to get himself head-shrunk. Of course, Landon’s not into any of that mumbo jumbo and walks off. Sort of.

He walks over to his waiting girlfriend (Yvonne Lime) and is shitty to her in a different way, but it’s 1957, and she’s going to do what he says.

Landon’s issues about being touched—he initially recoils at Lime’s embrace, but if he’s initiating, it’s fine—those issues will never be addressed. When Landon goes nuclear again—beating up on his friend Ken Miller (who deserves it for his ghastly song)—he’ll end up seeing the shrink. The aircraft plant thing is a red herring (unless the plant’s in the middle of downtown), and evil psychiatrist Whit Bissell doesn’t care about Landon’s anger management issues. Bissell’s been waiting years for this perfect test subject; he’s going to give Landon a serum to revert him back to his primal stage. The problem with the modern world is too much thinking; we need to regress to the missing link and start over.

Aiding and abetting Bissell is reluctant fellow scientist Joseph Mell. There could be a whole movie about their antics over the years, with Mell cautioning Bissell not to kill this or that person and Bissell doing it anyway.

Werewolf’s about Landon’s anger issues for the first act, plus setting up the town—he and his fellow kids (he’s the leader of a significant clique) have a clubhouse where they dance, play slapstick pranks, go to second base with girls, and drink root beer probably. It’s entirely inconsistent with Landon’s previously established character. Especially since none of these kids seems to know about his fighting. It’s Halloween when the movie starts (something else entirely unimportant), which means end of October.

Landon’s had the cops called on him for fighting six times already this school year or something.

As time passes, Landon eventually turns into a werewolf—more like reverts to the missing link, but whatever—and starts killing his classmates. At that point, it becomes a police procedural for chief Robert Griffin, with already established Phillips the backup. Landon spends most of the second half of Werewolf in his makeup. He’s an enthusiastic werewolf (missing link), even if the teeth are exceptionally silly.

The finale warns of the dangers of… psychiatrists. The story’s moral is if a boy’s mother dies, he’s broken; just put him out of his misery there. Otherwise, he’ll end up in the gas chamber, and especially don’t send him to aircraft plant psychiatrists. They’re all just out to destroy modern civilization.

Unfortunately, the movie’s too rushed in the third act to embrace any of these big swings. Werewolf pads with teen exposition, fisticuffs, a posse with torches, and slapstick. When it’s actually interesting—like Landon’s dad, Malcolm Atterbury, waiting for news about his murderous son—it’s in a rush.

The best acting is Atterbury, followed by Guy Williams as Griffin’s initial sidekick (who loses his spot to Phillips because the film’s got a weird structure). Bissell’s an over-the-top caricature. Mell’s an under-the-top caricature. Vladimir Sokoloff plays the Maria Ouspenskaya part (it should’ve been Lon Chaney Jr. in a cameo), proving they could still be racist to Eastern Europeans in 1957.

Landon gets a lot to do being an inexplicable jerk and running around in his Larry Talbots. But he doesn’t get an actual arc—when he’s on the run, knowing he’s a murderous werewolf (missing link), the movie’s about everyone but him. So no character arc. His showdown with Bissell doesn’t even pay off.

Lime’s second-billed, but… has very little to do by the film’s end. She starts having very little to do after her second scene. Werewolf’s got no time for love.

The film’s got some definite camp value—Bissell alone—and there’s not-bad low-budget filmmaking on display, but Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel’s script sinks it.

11 responses to “I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957, Gene Fowler Jr.)”

  1. You are correct about Malcom Atterbury giving the best performance. The scene where he talks to his son about controlling his anger is the most believable scene in the film. I always liked this movie. And its virtual remake, BLOOD OF DRACULA!

  2. I’ve never seen this one, and I may pass, although it would be interesting to see Michael Landon in such an early role.

    Too bad about the script, though. It’s a great premise.

  3. John L. Harmon

    A fun review! I haven’t seen this film in a long long time, but now I need to revisit it again sometime when I have nothing else to watch.

  4. mercurie80

    I think you definitely hit the nail on the head about I Was a Teenage Werewolf. It could have been a lot more fun with a better script. Still, I have to admit I enjoy seeing Michael Landon (who I first encountered as Little Joe on Bonanza) play wicked and seeing Whit Bissell in yet another B-movie.

    1. Yeah, if I remembered Landon starts as a troubled teen, I’d forgotten. Very interesting to see him being a bad kid.

  5. I enjoy this film mainly for Whit Bissell’s campy performance (though Bissell always seems campy in his films, no matter what the subject). I also like your description of Vladimir Sokoloff’s character as the “Maria Ouspenkaya part,” which is what all low-budget horror flicks need. The film does have one well-done scene, when Landon stalks and murders the girl in the high school gym. Otherwise…at least there’s Whit Bissell!

    1. Yeah, i feel like HUD is the only time Whit Bissell isn’t seriously campy. The gym scene was so strong (seemed like a CAT PEOPLE nod) I expected the rest of the monster attacks to be better….

  6. Thank you for this very enjoyable contribution to the blogathon! In the late 1950s, writer-producer Herman Cohen seem to be obsessed with the theme of manipulative adults regressing teens into monstrous states — the I Was a Teenage… pair, Blood of Dracula, and Horrors of the Black Museum. It was an interesting pop culture take on the juvenile delinquency scare that gripped America in the ’50s. Your review is a good reminder that even lowly Bs with script and pacing problems usually have their share of moments that make them worth seeking them out.

    1. Thanks for hosting! I keep seeing the other Cohen pictures mentioned and think I need to check them out!

  7. Great review! I think this is the movie Kevin Arnold watches in the zit episode of “The Wonder Years.”

  8. Michael

    I must admit I have never watched this film entirely because Landon’s werewolf teeth are so ridiculous looking they completely turned me off the movie. Talk about superficial! But, based on your review, it doesn’t sound like I missed much.

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