Looking for more classic horror reviews from Jules?
Director: Gene Fowler Jr
Starring: Michael Landon, Whit Bissell, Yvonne Lime, Barney Phillips
Outside of atomic horror and paranoia, there was one other big new fear gripping the world of the 1950s, one that only made its appearance in the latter half of the decade but has been a constant presence ever since – teenagers.
With America already reeling from those very real worries, the idea of these uppity young people suddenly rebelling without a cause seemed to cause no end of consternation. Naturally, Hollywood wasted no time in cashing in.
From high school dramas to beach parties, every aspect of teenage life was strip-mined immediately, so it was only a matter of time before the horror came calling.
It was AIP who were first off the bat, cranking out a series of films that took their inspiration from the Universal classics of the ‘30s and ‘40s, but with a hip, modern spin. New takes on vampires and Frankenstein’s Monster were in the post, but smartly, the studio chose the legend of the werewolf to update first.
Tony Rivers (Landon), is an average teenager at Rockdale High, but one with a vicious temper. Incapable of keeping out of trouble, he can be triggered into violence with the slightest of provocation. Even a friend tapping him on the shoulder can set him off.
A local policeman, Det. Donovan (Phillips) tries to convince Rivers to see a psychiatrist, but he refuses. His behaviour gets worse though and eventually his girlfriend Arlene (Lime) talks him into taking the policeman’s advice and seeing someone about his uncontrollable temper.
The psychiatrist in question though, is Dr. Alfred Brandon (Bissell), a practitioner of hypnotherapy and more recently the inventor of an experimental serum. Believing the only way to save mankind is to “hurl him back to his primitive state”, he has came up with a chemical that regresses the patient to his most primitive instincts.
When he starts using it on Troy though, he grows hair, fangs and claws. He has been turned into a werewolf and only one thing is on his mind…to kill.
Out of all AIP’s teen horror flicks, I Was A Teenage Werewolf is probably the best known, but it’s not the best of the series, by some margin.
It’s an entertaining romp fir sure and the juxtaposition of James Dean-era teen melodrama and vintage horror is wonderfully done. Landon’s werewolf is a nasty, feral beast and every bit as effective as any wolf man who had came before. It feels dangerous, like a true wild animal that’s been let loose in the supposedly-safe world of American teenagers.
Shots of him stalking around the school and other familiar places feel somewhat…wrong, as creature like this don’t belong in such areas. Worse, his murder of Theresa (played by Playboy’s Miss May centrefold Dawn Richard) is genuinely upsetting and brilliantly brought to life, with us seeing through her eyes as she perceives the werewolf advancing on her in upside down as she hangs from the gymnasium equipment. Simple, but effective.
As the unfortunate eponymous Teenage Werewolf, Michael Landon gives a believable performance, but it’s hard to feel any sympathy for a character who is unpleasant from the off, which is to the film’s detriment. Cinematic werewolves are invariably tragic characters, victims in their own right with no control over their actions. Tony Rivers is indeed a victim, but in not letting us seeing another side to his aggressive and volatile personality, all that is left is a young man who is an animal whether he is in wolf form or not.
That’s the main issue with I Was A Teenage Werewolf and it’s a big one, but despite such a failing, there’s a lot here to appreciate. With a bit more thought put in though, it could have been much, much better.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy