I take a look at one of the two movies that made Michael J. Fox a star in 1985.
Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) is a high-schooler who dreams of fame despite being on the perpetually losing varsity basketball team. He has a crush on popular girl Pamela Wells (Lorie Griffin), but she both is uninterested and also dating Scott’s basketball rival Mick (Mark Arnold). He also constantly ignores the fact that his best friend “Boof” (yes, that’s her nickname)(Susan Ursitti) has a crush on him, something even Scott’s father Harold (James Hampton) notices. However, he starts to find himself undergoing strange changes: Hair growth, teeth and nails getting sharper, and even his ears changing shape. It turns out that Scott is a werewolf, but when he changes during a basketball game and wins it mostly single-handed, this makes him a sensation. His friend Stiles (Jerry Levine) starts to even merchandise the new “Teen Wolf,” but Scott soon learns that even though he’s starting to stand out, he may not be getting what he really wanted.
I really don’t know how I was allowed to watch this movie as a kid, because these are among the most messed up high schoolers ever. The first party we see Scott attend has a game that involves tying two people together in their underwear, covering them in shaving cream, and seeing if they can untie themselves. We then watch Stiles dump a bowl of green Jell-O down a woman’s shirt and tell Chub (Mark Holton) to eat the Jell-O. Stiles’ assistant is wearing panties and a corset. We see Scott get laid as a werewolf, which is borderline bestiality. My point being, the PG rating in 1985 was so much better than it is now.
I don’t think it’s really being crazy to say that this movie would probably have failed outright without Michael J. Fox. His natural charisma and likability shines through even under the wolf makeup, but without that this movie would be forgettably generic. The ‘80s and ‘90s had a ton of films which boil down to “loser gets some magic thing and becomes popular, but learns that popularity makes you lose yourself.” They even adapted a proposed female Teen Wolf sequel into Teen Witch, but it still uses that exact same formula. Granted, I also like Teen Witch, but that’s because Robyn Lively also has so much natural likability that you ignore the fact that her movie doesn’t even really have a conflict.
The other thing that stands out about this movie is just how insane parts of the premise are. First, werewolves are real, but apparently it’s hereditary rather than passed on by biting. For some reason, Scott’s father, who is also a werewolf, apparently decided to hide that from him, something that is not only stupid, but borders on dangerous. Second, everyone reacts with shock at werewolves being real, but then get on board with it in, and I checked, 80 seconds. No one even asks any real follow-up questions. No one questions whether or not lycanthropy gives him an unfair advantage (it does, he literally is faster and stronger than any human can be), they just take the win. Third, there’s Scott and Pamela and Mick. Scott becomes popular and Pamela sleeps with him, only to reveal that she’s still with Mick and apparently was just trying to make him jealous. It seems completely out of nowhere and mostly serves no point but to cement that Pamela is not the girl for Scott. Seems like overkill when her constant rejection should have made that obvious. Last, there’s the van surfing sequences. Apparently, in this small town in Nebraska, pretending to surf on top of a moving van is en vogue. It looks cool, sure, but also seems like there’d be at least a few dead kids associated with this.
Until this viewing, I didn’t know this film was written by Jeph Loeb, the guy who wrote Commando and the comic Batman: The Long Halloween and was the head of Marvel Television since 2010 (he’s expected to resign next month). Despite his penchant for one-liners in other work, the only line that I really remember from this film is the coach’s speech to Scott:
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.
Despite all of this, though, the film is a classic for a reason, and that reason is because it’s just fun. It’s not particularly insightful or clever, but watching a werewolf dunking a basketball and doing handstands on a moving car is pretty great. The weird characters are memorable even if the plot is somewhat generic. The soundtrack isn’t the best, but it is very, very ‘80s. The costuming is likewise. I get why it had wildly mixed reviews, because it’s not a great example of filmmaking, but it’s also fun.
Overall, I still think it’s fun.
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