Family friendly horror comedies are generally hit and miss—and the glut of ho-hum and just plain crappy sub-sub-genre offerings from the 1980s proves it. Wicked Stepmother, Haunted Honeymoon, My Best Friend Is A Vampire, My Mom’s A Werewolf… seriously, you don’t want me to keep going.
But every now and then during the Reagan and New Coke years we’d get a halfway decent horror movie that was (generally) acceptable for junior high viewing—The Monster Squad, Gremlins, Killer Klowns from Outer Space. You know the usual suspects. But standing head, paw and basketball shorts above ‘em all, of course, is 1985’s Teen Wolf, a movie that may very well be the closest any movie has gotten to condensing everything great about the 1980s into one motion picture.
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To be fair, the concept for Teen Wolf isn’t terribly original. In fact, one might go as far as to say the movie is nothing more than a blatant rip-off of Full Moon High, a movie that came out four years earlier about a high school football player who comes down with a bad case of lycanthropy. Alas, that movie was pretty dreadful, making Teen Wolf one of those rare “wannabe” movies that actually outclasses its source inspiration in every way.
There are a lot of things that make Teen Wolf such an entertaining horror offshoot. Obviously, Michael J. Fox’s performance as Scott Howard gives the movie a lot of appeal it probably wouldn’t otherwise have had with someone else in the lead. By and large the werewolf special effects, themselves, are definitely a lot better than those in more “legitimate” horror flicks from the decade. Perhaps the most intriguing/endearing thing about the movie — and the thing that’s kept it a cult classic is the fact that it’s basically a formula coming-of-age high school movie that doesn’t let its absurd plot twist keep it from abandoning its tried-and-true, non-horror-centric premise. Ultimately, this is a movie that has more in common with Porky’s than An American Werewolf in London. I think that makes it a more holistically engaging and entertaining movie than if the filmmakers went with a more traditional, violence-laden genre take on the story.
As I was saying earlier, there are a lot of things that make Teen Wolf such a fun little throwback, and today I’d like to put an emphasis on five specific elements of the picture that I believe make it one of the most enduring horror comedies of the decade. So what are you waiting for? Comb back your sweet mullet, sock on your dandiest Day-Glo tank top and get ready to rock out with your fangs out … it’s long past time we gave this Me-First Decade masterpiece the retroactive reverence it rightly deserves. Oh, and for some added fun, I’ll even throw in a few Teen Wolf Trivia Tidbits in-between entries, because who doesn’t need more random stuff culled from IMDb in their lives?
The soundtrack of this movie is just pure synth jock jam awesomeness from start to finish. Pretty much every song in the movie feels like it could fit into a training montage in a Rocky movie, from James House’s pulse-quickening “Flesh on Fire” to Dee Palmer’s heart-rendering “Silhouette” to Mark Safan’s adrenaline-dumper “Win In The End.” Teen Wolf is filled to the brim with tunes that’ll make you want to bang your fists in the air and do … uh, whatever people back then used to do, I guess? If you can’t find at least one song in this movie to add to your workout mix, you might as well give up on music altogether. You won’t find too many movies with a soundtrack this authentically retro, this authentically diverse and this authentically awesome from the 1980s (or any other decade, for that matter.)
Teen Wolf Trivia Tidbit No. 1: Film composer Miles Goodman had hundreds of film and TV credits to his name before his death in 1996. Among other movies, he served as the primary composer for La Bamba, Problem Child, What About Bob? and The Muppet Christmas Carol—he was even nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on 1986’s Little Shop Of Horrors.
The Party Scenes
The party scenes are usually a highlight in most any 1980s movie, regardless of genre (Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Back To School, Elm Street 2 … need I keep going?). Thankfully, Teen Wolf is no exception, as it features some of the most boisterous hootenanny sequences of the decade. I mean, this is a movie where a fat dude motorboats Jello off a classmate’s yabbos and a teenage werewolf bites a beer can and drinks it sideways—you mean to tell me you wouldn’t mind missing a soiree like that when you were in high school? (Oh, and before you answer, here are three little words that might sway your opinion: Whipped. Cream. Bikinis.)
Teen Wolf Trivia Tidbit No. 2: Apparently, director Rod Daniel was hellbent on making the party scenes as realistic as possible—in fact, legend has it that he even went to Nebraska (the movie’s canonical setting) to interview miscellaneous teenagers about their beer-bashing behavior and used it as inspiration for the flick’s raucous kegger sequences.
The Van-Surfing Scene
In hindsight, there’s a lot of things that occur in Teen Wolf that us, as a more modern, enlightened audience, might find a bit concerning. You know, like all of the casual homophobia in the dialogue, or the fact that at least 50 percent of the movie concerns teens in pursuit of and/or directly engaged in underage drinking. And, of course, there’s the part where Michael J. Fox literally claws his date during a closet tryst—you can determine the unfortunate implications of that scene for yourself. Then, there’s this totally awesome—and totally idiotic—scene where the titular Teen Wolf air guitars to The Beach Boys while riding his best friend’s van like a three ton surfboard and does, like, seventeen backflips in slow motion. Granted, this is all happening at, like, 10 miles per hour in a residential subdivision. Considering how impressionable us kids of the ‘80s were, I am just shocked this didn’t lead to at least one or two Jackass or Beavis and Butt-Head-style copycat lawsuits.
Teen Wolf Trivia Tidbit No. 3: No, that wasn’t Michael J. Fox himself personally surfing atop the van during the scene. Believe it or not, the person behind the wolf makeup in the sequence wasn’t even a stunt actor—it was all the handiwork of co-star Jerry Levine (who played best bud Stiles) and a couple of strategically placed cables allowing him to do all those flashy handstands and splits.
Jay Tarses doesn’t just steal the movie as Fox’s basketball mentor, Coach Finstock. He practically runs away with it, pawns it for half-value, breaks back into the shop after closing, steals it back and resells it to the original owner at double the original price. Virtually every line of dialogue Finstock has in the movie is pure gold. These range from his rant about the IRS to his less than inspirational “inspiring” story he tells the team about a third stringer to his attempts to get the other team’s coach to forfeit the game as a means of beating the traffic. Of course, this brings us to his most iconic line of dialogue, which in a way, also represents some of the sagest wisdom ever presented in the celluloid medium:
“There are three rules that I live by: never get less than 12 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.”
Take heed, schlubs like Quentin Tarantino. Now that is how you script quality dialogue.
Teen Wolf Trivia Tidbit No. 4: Speaking of dialogue, Teen Wolf was co-written by Matthew Weisman and Jeph Loeb. If the latter sounds familiar, that’s because he’s since gone on to become one of the most famous comic book writers in the world, working on such acclaimed series as Batman: The Long Halloween and Superman For All Seasons. He’s also had some experiences in TV, too, having served as a writer for Lost and the co-executive producer of Heroes.
The Infamous Bit Player “Exposure” Scandal
In a movie with so many memorable elements—the scene where Teen Wolf’s dad shows up in full werewolf makeup for the first time, all of Stiles’ hilariously raunchy T-shirts, the fact that the main love interest in the movie is named “Boof,” etc.—perhaps the most famous thing in the movie is … well, literally somebody’s thing. Next to the infamous “ghost kid” scene in Three Men and a Little Baby, there probably isn’t a more freeze-framed moment in Blockbuster history than the parting shots of Teen Wolf, where for all the rubles in Russia it looks like some mischievous extra in the stands TOTALLY yanked their Donger out. For those of you that aren’t too keen on putting NSFW inquiries into the Google search bar, the long-running rumor is that towards the very end of the movie you can briefly spot an extra in the audience seemingly exposing himself. Apparently, the urban legend is popular enough that it was featured on both a VH1 special and an episode of Family Guy. Although, even now the video evidence is inconclusive as to whether that’s really a wiener making a cameo appearance … indeed, some YouTubers offer visual evidence the extra in question is actually a female, thus adding pop culture conspiracy theory atop pop culture conspiracy theory. Regardless, the urban legend has only added to Teen Wolf’s legacy over the years—like a cherry atop an already great sundae, except in this case, the cherry may or may not constitute a form of felonious public indecency.
Teen Wolf Trivia Tidbit No. 5: Yes, we all know that Teen Wolf was resurrected as an MTV drama, but did you know that the original Wolf not only inspired a really bad sequel sans Fox (Teen Wolf Too) but even a short-lived animated series? Well, consider yourself formally enlightened now.