“Well, Dad it didn’t pass me by. It landed on my face.”
It’s funny how the reputation of Teen Wolf has changed over the years. After being a surprise hit off the back of Back To The Future’s success and then a camp cable broadcast classic, it’s now somewhat of a cult favourite that inspired a steamy teen TV drama. It’s certainly a weird journey for a movie about an awkward teen becoming a popular werewolf, but then again there’s been nothing like it before or since, especially with a star like Michael J. Fox at the center. The flick is every bit as charming as it is cheesy, a relic of the 80s that still brings smiles to anyone who loves the sight of a werewolf in sunglasses surfing a van (aka anyone with a soul). Shout! Factory have gone ahead and released the film on Blu-ray, so now you can finally check out that possible penis flashing in HD at the end and determine for yourself if it really happened (spoiler alert: it didn’t).
So Michael J. Fox stars as an awkward teen going through changes. There’s hair where there was no hair before, his voice seems to rasp n’ growl at times, his physical abilities have changed. You know, puberty! Actually no, he’s a werewolf. Just a friendly one crammed into a bizarre puberty metaphor. Of course with it being the 80s, the fact that Fox’s teen transformed into a werewolf meant that he instantly became a cool dude with skyrocketing grades and basketball stardom. It’s ridiculous fluff, but goddamn if it isn’t amusing. Teen Wolf strikes just the right balance of sincere entertainment and howl-inducing campy crap. It’s charming. It’s relatable. It’s hilarious. It’s just also not necessarily deliberate in achieving those qualities.
Some movies are timeless and some movies age horribly. But then there are those oddball cases like Teen Wolf where a movie ages into a perfect time capsule. Obviously it’s still possible to make movies about teenage werewolves (there was that whole Twilight franchise after all), but there’s no way to make one this unapologetically goofy anymore. Everyone involved knew they were making a comedy and got genuine laughs, but the roving collection of 80s fashion and characterization clichés makes it even better. Everyone in the movie is an unapologetic type, every plot beat comes exactly as expected (or in hilariously unexpected ways, like when a whole school accepts when Fox turns into a werewolf mid-basketball game because he can slamdunk). It’s the tale of an average kid who desperately wants to be special, then learns that he was actually special all along. He just needs to become a werewolf basketball star to figure that out. A fairy tale from a simpler time.
Of course, the fact that it’s Michael J. Fox at the center of it all undoubtedly is why Teen Wolf was so successful and enduring. He is quite funny, quirky, and relatable in ways that shouldn’t be possible in a teen werewolf picture. He makes it special along with the rest of the 30something teenagers in the cast. The distributors strategically moved the release of Teen Wolf to come out after Back To The Future to capitalize on what they assumed would be a success. It worked, but Teen Wolf continues to endure because it’s such an oddly relatable and insane 80s fantasy that you can’t help but feel charmed and giggle away from start to finish. The filmmakers did stumble onto something special here, even if it was in a cornball genre picture.
To realize how special Teen Wolf truly is all you need to do is check out the Jason Bateman starring Teen Wolf Too that Shout! Factory also released alongside this disc (along was some amusingly apologetic special features from all involved). That flick is straight up horrible, enjoyable only for camp value. It doesn’t deserve to be revived and remembered like the original. It’s there only for Teen Wolf completists (they exist), while the original actually tapped into something special with its mixture of era-defining clichés and charming fantasy.
Shout! Factory gave Teen Wolf a fresh 2K scrub job for this release and it goes without saying that this is the best the film has ever looked. That’s a mixed blessing though. The low budget feature was clearly shot on cheap film stock with minimal resources. Colors and details are stronger than the flick has ever seen before, but they still look a little faded and grainy. The make up effects aren’t done any favours either. Seams are visible, but that just adds to the campy charm and there’s so much personality in the final wolf make-up that it still works. So, Teen Wolf looks particularly dated and cheap in HD, but these are qualities that have helped the film endure as a campy classic. So, it actually adds to the movie in a weird way. The cleaned up soundmix allows those awkward wolf grumbles and corny synthesizer score to sing louder and cleaner than ever before. Sure, it’s only a stereo track with no surround, but it’s not like the movie would benefit from that. This is undoubtedly the best presentation of Teen Wolf ever, for better or worse.
In terms of special features, there’s only one but goddamn is it ever a doosy. Have you ever wanted to watch a 2.5 hour documentary about the making of Teen Wolf? Probably not, but you get one here and it’s glorious. Sadly Michael J. Fox doesn’t participate, but all things considered that was inevitable. Every other conceivable cast and crew member does pop up though. It all starts with comic book writing legend Jeph Loeb (The Long Halloween, Superman For All Seasons) describing how he pitched the movie along with ten other hastily compiled concepts as a 23-year-old film school grad, couldn’t believe Teen Wolf was chosen, and then wrote it in 3 weeks (which really makes sense). After that everything from the milkshake only werewolf make-up diet to the way extras slowly recognized Fox as a TV star over the course of the shoot to a Zapruder film level analysis of the possible penis flashing moment gets some screen time (the 2K full negative scan reveals that not only are there no genitals, but the extra is definitely a young woman. So feel free to put that legend to rest). Is it excessive? Sure, the doc is almost twice as long as the movie and there was no real need to spend almost an hour discussing every cast member or to devote an entire segment to Fox’s basketball double. But hey! No one shows cult movies the love that Shout! Factory does and this ridiculously detailed analysis of Teen Wolf is one of the most amusing special features that they’ve ever produced.
Does this deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
So what we have here is another delightful Shout! Factory release and a Blu-ray for Teen Wolf that not even the flick’s most devoted fans could have anticipated. It’s perfect for any 80s trash culture lover. The fact that the studio also released Teen Wolf Too simultaneously is hilarious and features some of their typical apologetic special features for a cornball movie that didn’t turn out right (apparently Jason Bateman wasn’t even in the make-up for many of his scenes). But that one is only for the most obsessive bad movie lover. Teen Wolf on the other hand? Well, that’s just a treat for anyone who felt like a high school outsider and developed a sweet tooth for 80s movie cheese. For those fine folks, Christmas just came early.