Michael J. Fox’s strangest movie remains a stupid, ridiculous joy
"Give. Me. A. Keg. Of. Beer."
Before Tyler Posey made millennial teens feel some type of way about werewolves, Gen Xers were swooning over a furry Michael J. Fox navigating young adulthood.
Werewolves have been beleaguered by a reputation that dates back to Ancient Greece. The full moon damns those affected to an eternity of painful nights, uncontrollable rage, and a tendency to get into hairy situations with silver swords and bullets. But in 1985, Rod Daniel’s Teen Wolf made the fuzzballs adorable, not abominable.
Hair in New Places
Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox), a 17-year-old student who plays on his school’s terrible basketball team, is tired of not getting noticed by the pretty and popular Pamela Wells (Lorie Griffin), even though his best friend, Boof (Susan Ursitti), hangs on his every word.
He’s also going through some changes, like growing awkwardly long strands of scraggly red hair from his chest, and being able to hypnotize cashiers into handing over beer kegs. He chalks such developments up to regular ol’ teen boy hormones, but when Scott starts growing claws, fangs, and a full beard after a make-out session at a house party, he starts to realize that this isn’t a belated growth spurt. His dad reveals that he’s inherited the family curse: lycanthropy.
It isn’t much of a curse for Scott, though. His high school soon succumbs to wolf fever, and he’s suddenly the most talked-about guy in town. But in the process, and try to restrain your shock here, Scott loses sight of what’s most meaningful to him.
The Quintessential ‘80s Movie
Teen Wolf exudes ‘80s nostalgia, dripping in the young adult tropes of the time and displaying them with gusto. Scott is hopelessly in love with a buxom blonde beauty, while his equally attractive friend is sidelined as a frumpy, undesirable option simply because she’s a brunette. Also, she’s inexplicably named Boof.
Meanwhile, Scott is tormented by a bully who we’re meant to believe is a high schooler despite looking like a man in his late 20s, his best friend wears a shirt that says “What Are You Looking at Dicknose?” and dances on top of moving vehicles to “Surfin’ USA,” and his single parent works at a hardware store, which inexplicably might have been the most common fictional parent profession of the 1980s.
These coming-of-age romcom cornball clichés are outdated — especially the best friend’s casual homophobia — but Teen Wolf nonetheless makes for utterly delightful escapist entertainment. It wasn’t interested in delivering frights, thrills, or even thoughts. It existed solely to provide a good, PG-rated time for tweens and teens, offering memorable scenes of heartthrob Fox strutting down the hallway with furry prosthetics and shades, slipping and sliding on wet floors, and making out with chicks.
However, the elements that make Teen Wolf such an iconic ‘80s monster flick also keep it from becoming a truly great movie that retains relevance today. The director’s desire to make Teen Wolf as family-friendly as possible doesn’t allow the story to have any real tension. Scott is accepted almost instantly in his werewolf form, he doesn’t have any real enemies, and in the end, the Howards’ patrilineal curse is shoved aside to focus on the ups and downs of high school basketball.
Despite its flaws, Teen Wolf is still worth watching, partially for its goofiness but mostly because it served as a blueprint for the MTV show that ran from 2011 to 2017. The remake proved shows based on movies can far exceed their source material, as it garnered positive reviews and was among a new generation of hot and spooky supernatural teen dramas ushered in by the Twilight craze.
Teen Wolf’s legacy still howls on. Five years after the MTV show’s conclusion, a spinoff movie is covering what would have happened on Season 7 of the TV show. It’s as good an excuse as any to revisit the original movie and refresh yourself on the franchise’s profound lore.
Teen Wolf (1985) is streaming on HBO Max. Teen Wolf: The Movie premieres on Paramount+ on January 26.