May 12, 2018
Teen Wolf (1985): a recap (part 1 of 3): Beavers vs. Dragons
In 1985, Michael J. Fox appeared in a wildly successful science-fiction comedy film that made over fifty times its original budget, became an instant ’80s classic, spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, and developed a cult following that goes on strong to this day.
He also appeared in Back to the Future that same year.
But today, we’re talking about Teen Wolf. Following the success of Valley Girl (1983), Atlantic Entertainment Group decided they wanted their own cheap teen movie that could be a mega-hit. With his writing partner Matthew Wiesman, Jeph Loeb penned a script in three weeks about an average teenage boy who finds out he’s a werewolf. Instead of being chased out of town with torches and pitchforks, the teen would become a better basketball player.
Michael J. Fox shot the movie while Family Ties was on a production break due to the pregnancy of Fox’s TV mom Meredith Baxter-Birney. Although Teen Wolf was completed first, the film was released two months after Back to the Future. While Back to the Future dominated the box office that summer, Teen Wolf also did extremely well, earning about $80 million against its $1.2 million budget, which is roughly what it costs to shoot a Crest commercial today.
Critics were not impressed by the movie—Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it “aggressively boring“—but Teen Wolf‘s financial success allowed for a sequel starring Jason Bateman in his first major film role, a cartoon spin-off, a spiritual successor (1989’s Teen Witch starring Robin Lively, which was originally envisioned as a female version of Teen Wolf), and a pretty decent MTV adaptation that ran for six seasons.
Michael J. Fox has distanced himself from the movie, saying in his autobiography, “Looking back, I had no idea what I was thinking,” but Loeb is pretty proud of the film, saying, “It really set out to be the movie that you saw, and I don’t know how many people are lucky enough to say that in this business.”
So who’s right here? Is Teen Wolf a painfully dated ’80s embarrassment like fanny packs, acid washed jeans, or Reaganomics? Or is it prime example of how comedy can be combined with the supernatural horror?
Put down the silver bullets and enjoy the full moon, because we’re about to go back to high school and transform into a teen wolf.
The film opens on our very sweaty hero Scott (seriously, in all of the basketball scenes in this movie, everyone looks like they just hopped out of the shower and didn’t have time to towel off) playing basketball against his school’s rival, the Dragons. Scott misses a free throw, and the Dragons take control of the ball again. Come on, kid! Get’cha head in the game! Scott certainly needs some musical encouragement from Zac Efron, because he’s running himself ragged on court while his team, the Beavers, are losing 11 to 51.
To be fair, the Dragons look like a bunch of ringers brought in from a minor league basketball team. I know Michael J. Fox was 24 when he filmed this movie, but sweet Lord, the Dragons look like they should be playing the parents of high schoolers, not playing against them.
Everyone is bored watching the Beavers lose, and they don’t have smartphones to entertain themselves, so the coach tries to forfeit the game so everyone can go home early. Unfortunately, the other coach refuses to let a forfeit sully his players’ county records, and he insists there’s a lot to learn from losing. Huh, says the guy who’s not losing!
In the last seconds, Scott steals the ball away from Mick, a Dragons player, by growling at him, and makes a last-ditch effort to score a shot before the buzzer runs out.
Everyone holds their breath in suspense.
Sadly, Scott does not make this last-second, entirely irrelevant shot, to the heartbreak of everyone in the crowd. To be fair, everyone should be amazed that someone as tiny as Michael J. Fox was able to chuck the ball halfway across the court, but no, everyone wants to sulk about how much the Beavers suck.
In the locker room, the players snipe at each other, and Scott complains about the stinky liverwurst sandwich belonging to his teammate who’s basically the Young Chris Farley.
Thankfully, a guy named Stiles is here to rally everyone’s spirits. Stiles is great, you guys. Now I know why all those Tumblr fangirls were always freaking out over Stiles. At first I thought it was because of Dylan O’Brien’s boyish good looks, but no, the character of Stiles radiates coolness. He just walks into the guys’ locker room like it’s no big thing and immediately tries to hustle everyone for some cash to buy a keg for the party later that night. He even tries to hustle the Dragons!
Scott gives Stiles two bucks for the keg and finishes changing out of his uniform. He notices a six-inch long chest hair and tries to ask Coach Finnstock about “going through changes.” I guess even in the ’80s, sex education was pretty much nonexistent.
Scott tries to quit the team, but Coach refuses to let him because, as crappy as Scotty is, he’s still one of the team’s best players. So Scott has to stay on the team and get humiliated game after game instead of doing something more fun like going to the mall or figuring out where babies really come from. Scott tries to complain about his sucky life to his best friend Boof, but she’s useless. When he worries about ending up like some average loser working in town at his dad’s hardware store, all Boof has to say is that she likes their town and his dad is nice.
Boof gets jealous when Scott bemoans the fact that Pamela Wells, hottest girl in school, won’t talk to him. She abruptly makes an excuse to leave and promises to meet Scott at the party later on. He’s a boy, she’s a girl—can I make it any more obvious? Boof is clearly going to be the nice girl next door Scott ignores for three-quarters of the movie in favor of the popular chick until he comes to his senses and decides to settle for her. It’s a formula tried and true, but at least in other teen movies, the girl next door actually seemed like a perfect match for the lead. Boof just seems boring. No wonder her character didn’t make it to the TV show.
While he’s working at his dad’s hardware store, strange things start happening to Scott, and I don’t think it’s the average puberty business for boys. Or maybe it is. Correct me if I’m wrong, gentlemen, but puberty doesn’t give you guys the ability to start hearing dog whistles or randomly sprout hair on your hands, does it?
Scott makes a delivery to the local high school to drop off supplies for the school play, in which Pamela is the lead. The drama teacher keeps yelling at her to be more sensual (gross) and demands mauve and cocoa paint for his backdrops (grosser). Scott tries to ask Pamela to the party, but she rebuffs him. I have to note that you can totally hear Michael J. Fox’s Canadian accent in this scene and others, especially when he says “sorry”, which comes out as “sore-y”. Maybe that’s why Pamela won’t go out with him.
Pamela’s boyfriend Mick also comes by to make fun of Scott and they leave rehearsal, still laughing at him.
Stiles picks up Scott from his house to go get the keg for the party. Earlier, Stiles tried to buy the keg himself, but the liquor store guy wouldn’t let him. You see, Stiles is already awesome, but a drunk Stiles would not be able to contain that awesomeness and everything would plunge into chaos. The liquor store owner is just trying to look out for the town’s well-being, but Stiles wants to kick back with a brewski!
He sends Scott to pick up the keg, but the owner still won’t give it to him. Scott’s eyes turn red, and he growls for the guy to hand over the keg. The owner immediately obeys. Satan has that effect on people.
On the drive to the party, Scott tells their other friend Lewis about his plans to flirt with Pamela. Lewis reminds Scott that Pamela is dating Mick, who is “like, 20 years old.” Thank you! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed that Mick looks way too old to be hanging around high schoolers. Lewis also suggests that Scott go for Boof, but thankfully, Stiles interrupts that terrible idea so he can jump on top of Scott’s van and car surf to the Beach Boy’s “Surfin’ USA”.
Scott almost crashes the car when he notices in the rear-view mirror that he’s grown pointy ears, but thankfully, Stiles is unharmed. They arrive at the party, which in my opinion, looks like it sucks. People are stuffed into the house shoulder to shoulder, and there’s terrible country rock music playing. Stiles gets annoyed that the host of the party made him get a keg of beer as admission (hello, having Stiles come to your party is a gift in and of itself!) even though the host already has a bunch of kegs. Clearly, this guy doesn’t know how to throw a party, so Stiles takes over.
He rounds up everyone, makes everyone draw names out of a hat, and pairs up the party-goers to complete a series of outrageous dares. One girl gets a bowlful of Jell-O dropped down her shirt, which Young Chris Farley is dared to eat. Another dare involves people stripping down to their underwear, getting tied together, and getting smothered in whipped cream, all while being timed to see how long it takes for them to wriggle free.
For his next dare, Stiles makes Boof and Scott go into the closet together to make out. I know, I too am shocked at the depths of Stile’s depravity. Stiles is a sick bastard, but dammit, he’s gotta shock the crowd and keep them going.
Scott is originally not into Boof, but she basically throws herself at him, so he goes along with her drunken kisses. He gets too rough during their make-out session and accidentally rips Boof’s sweater. She’s not into the rough stuff (boring) so she ignores him for the rest of the party.
Scott heads home and stumbles to the bathroom, feeling sick. He’s horrified when he look in the mirror and sees he’s transformed into…
While Scott is shocked by his transformation, his dad isn’t. Harold explains that the werewolf gene runs in their family, and in time, Scott will learn to manage it and enjoy his new abilities. Harold warns him that with great power comes a greater responsibility, but Scott isn’t interested in hearing rehashed advice from Spider-Man comics. He just wants to be normal, dammit!
Coming up in part 2: Scott’s in luck when the hottest girl in school just happens to be into furries.