Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source cable television
It is an endlessly annoying tendency of films to explore adolescence. This is mainly because the creative engine put-putting behind these films exploits rather than sympathizes with teenage characters. Hollywood has more trouble coming up with movies that deal realistically with adolescence than it does finding reasons to make sequels to Leprechaun.
For many of us our teenage years marked a notable change in our lives. Adolescence clings to our heels like a legless zombie that just won’t die and our teenage years end not with a bang, but a whimper. These years, the feelings and impulses related to them, are metaphorically represented in the film Teen Wolf.
In it Michael J. Fox is Scott Howard, the were-wolfen progeny of his father Harold. At school, Scott is a regular nobody. His best friend is Boof, a plain looking tomboy who walks him to school each day. To top it all off, Scott is the shortest player on the roster for the worst high school basketball team ever.
One day in the locker room, Scott notices an extremely long hair growing out of his chest. He yanks it out, and ignores the first clue to the film’s title. Over the course of the next couple of days, Scott’s voice deepens, he grows more hair, and he gains a preposterous sex drive. Sound familiar? Thought so.
Scott discovers that he unwillingly changes into a werewolf whenever he is angered or excited. His condition is soon publicized and Scott ends up becoming a very popular teenage were-wolf, eventually leading his basketball team, the Beavers, to the climactic championship game. The anecdotal happenings in the film are insignificant, because in theme Teen Wolf offers an unparalleled analysis of puberty, adolescence, and the all-to-familiar search for popularity in teenage film.
On a psychoanalytic level, Scott’s wolfen doppleganger represents the id. His impulses control his actions, and his purpose becomes a selfish quest to constantly flatter himself. He auditions for a play only to pursue the school’s most desirable blonde. On the ball court, he steals the ball from his own team and dunks, triumphantly stabbing his paws into the air, sustaining his enjoyment for how very cool he has become. His teammates gather at the other end of the court, eating candy bars and cursing his name.
Scott, minus the raggedy coiffure, represents the superego. Throughout the film, his moral conscience battles his impulses, which are manifested in the wolf man. Scott enjoys the exhilaration derived from the popularity he has gained yet the decisions he makes as a wolf are morally wrong. Near the end of the film, Scott must face a formulaic ultimatum, whether or not to play in the championship as a wolf. Losing either his newfound popularity or his true friends is at stake.
There is a special place in my heart for films that boldly attempt to decipher the mystery that is adolescence and explode its answers on to a big white rectangular screen. Despite the expected cheese inherent to any teenage film, there have been a select few that emerge from the surrounding schlock with ease.
There is Election, a wicked wicked wicked satire of high school politics. The film revolves around the die-hard attempt of a notorious overachiever, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), to win the student body election. Her vindictive teacher, Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick), out of spite, will do anything to thwart her plan. Advertised as a comedy, the film is a dark satire, eliciting as many cringes as it does laughs.
Virtually each film early in Christian Slater’s filmography is worth a peek. His first success was Heathers, a film comparable to Teen Wolf due to its allegorical characters. In the film Veronica (Winona Ryder) longs to be part of the in-crowd (comprised of three Heathers) while simultaneously hating what they represent. Veronica falls for a rebel, J.D. (Slater), and together they plot to kill each of the Heathers and to stage their murders to resemble suicides.
In Pump Up the Volume Slater’s a shy teen who’s only outlet for self-expression is a radio broadcast from his room. His evening shows grow in cultish popularity among his peers. At school, he hides behind a mask of anonymity only until a girl begins to discover his secret. It is a shame that Slater aged and deferred from the more reactionary films of his early career.
Sensationalism sells in Hollywood, and that is why teen movies continue to be unrealistic, vacuous star-vehicles aimed at snatching up the babysitting money from young girls. There will never be a movie starring a teenage character with acne, but there are movies about leprechauns that go to the limits of outer space to defend their pot o’ gold. The fifth installment of the Leprechaun series, Leprechaun in the Hood starring Ice-T, can be found at your local video store.