Format: Internet video on Fire!
The phrase “I was a teenage ________” has a long and storied history as the punchline of plenty of jokes. It started with I Was a Teenage Werewolf and its companion film I Was a Teenage Frankenstein in 1957. Werewolf was also the movie that launched the career of Michael Landon just before he hit it really big with “Bonanza.” It’s also a movie that was clearly watched over and over by Paddy Chayefsky before he wrote “Altered States.”
There’s not a lot of mystery about what is going to happen here, right? We’re going to have a teenager named Tony Rivers (Landon) who is going to turn into a werewolf. There are going to be a lot of connections to other films (there’s a lot of Rebel Without a Cause in this, for starters) and there’s a lot of werewolf lore that it stays true to the legends and especially to The Wolf Man.
Tony, we learn, is the sort of troubled teen who exists in movies He’s not a bad kid, but he gets in a lot of trouble. He fights with people because people bug him. He doesn’t like to be touched. He even picks fights with his friends, which is how our tale begins. The fight is eventually broken up, and Tony is told by friendly concerned cop Detective Donovan (Barney Phillips). Tony doesn’t want to, though, not even when his girlfriend Arlene (Yvonne Lime) tells him the same thing.
It's not a surprise to learn that Tony’s mother is dead and his father (Malcolm Atterbury) is not inattentive, but is overworked. Even Arlene’s parents are a hassle to Tony, mostly because they tell him (literally) to bow to authority. At a Halloween party, Tony loses his temper one last time too many, and finally he agrees to get some help.
Sadly for Tony, help in this case is going to come from Dr. Alfred Brandon (Whit Bissell). Brandon is a psychiatrist, but he’s not really that interested in treating Tony. His delusional belief, which drives the movie, is that mankind is essentially a lost species and has evolved poorly. The only hope, he thinks, is to revert mankind to its feral past and start over. Tony is going to be the test of his theory despite the objections of his assistant (Joseph Mell).
So how does Tony become the titular werewolf? Essentially past life regression through hypnosis at the hands of the bad doctor. Tony becomes a werewolf when under stress and, well does what werewolves do. In this case, that’s kill the people around him, which tend to be his fellow high schoolers.
The basic story here is pretty good, although it is really short at just 76 minutes. The story is not the reason this showed up in the 8th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. No, that’s pretty much everything else that’s going on here. Allow me to present a prime example of this.
I Was a Teenage Werewolf is clearly a teen movie meant for a teen audience. What that means is that there’s going to be a musical number, sung by Vic (Ken Miller). It is one of the weirdest and worst-produced musical numbers I have ever seen in a film. It genuinely looks like the scene was recorded, and then the song was dubbed back in at a slightly faster speed. Vic is off tempo for a substantial amount of the song and no one seems to notice. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen since Dick Contino’s super-high pants and off-center belt in Daddy-o
I haven’t decided if I like the werewolf makeup on Michael Landon. I appreciate the bouffant hairdo, but the teeth are all over the place. I guess for the budget it’s good enough, and probably good enough for a lot of teens in the 1950s.
While I Was a Teenage Werewolf is not anyone’s magnum opus, it does actually do some things right. The core of the werewolf story is that the werewolf is, in the classic sense, both tragic and pathetic. We feel sorry for the werewolf even though he’s a killer because none of this is his fault—this is done to him, and he’s damned by it anyway.
Why to watch I Was a Teenage Werewolf: It’s formative for teen horror.
Why not to watch: It was goofy enough to be an MST3K movie.
Classic undemanding fluff 50's teens could watch at the drive-in while talking to each other and missing very little. It isn't as awful as many in the same category but negligible nonetheless. As for Michael Landon, you've got to start somewhere!ReplyDelete
One of the joys of cheap horror movies is seeing people before they were stars. A few weeks ago, I caught a $2 showing of the original The Blob in theater, and it wa a ton of fun.Delete
I think I'll a MST3K version of the film.ReplyDelete
You wouldn't be wrong to choose that, honestly,Delete