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Friday, January 18, 2019

I was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)




The fifties weren’t just big bugs and aliens they also included the classics, like the werewolf. Here American International tweaked the formula to appeal to the drive-in crowd by making the tortured soul a teenager dealing with normal High School problems and the occasional instance where he runs off and turns into a beast!

Michael Landon is Tony, a high school kid with a terrible temper. It gets him into a lot of fights as he goes from smiling to fistfight at the drop of a hat. Friends aren’t safe from his anger, and neither is his girl. But he isn’t a bad guy, he just doesn’t understand why he gets so mad. At the suggestion of a helpful cop Tony goes to see a doctor that can help him with hypnosis. But the doctor has his own agenda and thru the use of chemicals and regression manages to take Tony’s anger and dial it up even higher. So much so that he returns to an earlier more primitive creature, the werewolf! Now when he gets mad or is startled, he turns into a killing machine. See what happens when you trust adults?

This movie is way better than its simple premise and thin plot should add up to. The single reason that I Was a Teenage Werewolf stands alone from the other silly movies that American International was cranking out is the performance of Michael Landon. He takes the material and turns Tony into a tortured but sympathetic kid. He starts off dismissing his anger as him just “burning easy” but as things play out understands that there are problems that need fixing. He wants to get better and be “normal” for his sake and for those that he cares about. None of this is obvious with the plot but comes across in Landon’s portrayal of the character. When he finally does seek out help and is taken advantage of it makes you mad. The audience is invested and rooting for Tony to get better, even though we know it won’t happen. I mean that wouldn’t make a very good movie.

You can't trust adults... dig it?
The pacing of the story is tight as the action gets rolling right away and establishes Tony’s temper in the first scene. While Landon is the best part of Teenage Werewolf I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get more time with the doctor that creates the monster within him. The character is very two-dimensional and not a worthy adversary of Landon’s werewolf. It also means when the comeuppance is had there isn’t that satisfying visceral reaction. We all want to see the bad guy get what he deserves, but here it is disappointing.

I've always enjoyed the makeup in this movie
The werewolf makeup is old school and consists of some appliances on the actor. We do get a repeated gag of white foamy drool spilling out that is nifty. I was surprised at how long it takes for us to finally see the creature as it appears at the forty-five-minute mark. Once he is on screen though we get a lot of it. Being a fifties movie there isn’t any gore and the kills all take place out of frame, which is to be expected.

Let me say again that Landon’s performance is the only reason to watch this movie. He is so damn good that I challenge anyone to watch I Was a Teenage Werewolf and not end up rooting for him. On occasion I find a low budget horror movie with an actor on his way up or way down that takes the material and creates something special with it. That is what we have here, and I recommend that everyone check it out. You will not be disappointed.


© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer

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