A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “Teen Wolf” – 35th Anniversary

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “You Are An Animal!”. A 35th anniversary celebration of “Teen Wolf”, the 1985 film that proved the cultural dominance of Michael J. Fox was not a fluke. Coming off the small screen success of “Family Ties” and the box office sensation that was “Back To The Future”. Filmed before but released after “Back To The Future”, Michael J Fox’s “Teen Wolf” was a major success at the box office, grossing over $80 million worldwide in 1985, off of a tiny $1 million budget. Although it was savaged by critics at the time of its release, it proved to have a significant effect on pop culture, launching an urban legend in Hollywood, an animated series, a sequel starring Jason Bateman and spawning one of MTV’s most successful tv series of the last decade. In his first leading role, Michael J Fox contributes his customary comedic ease, spazzy reactions and broad physical comedy. Even with unfinished subplots and Fox’s compressed character arc creating gaps along the way. The feature has too much fun with the wolf material to even care. Say what you want about “Teen Wolf”, but where are you ever going to see a wolf break dance? Which only helps in making it more difficult to find the movie distasteful, when it barely takes itself seriously and has a great deal of fun.

You got to hand it to Michael J Fox. Here was a young charismatic inspiring actor from Canada, standing at 5’4″, who dropped out of High School to live his dream of making it big in Hollywood and make it big he did. Fox would become a household name as Alex P Keaton in the NBC sitcom “Family Ties”. While “Family Ties” had a rough start, season two had slowly found itself becoming a ratings hit. 

His fame rose steadily due to the increasing success of “Family Ties”. By the end of the series production and while filming the “Back To The Future” trilogy. Fox had needed more security than he did at the start of his Hollywood journey. However not only was his roles as the money loving Republican on “Family Ties”, or as the 1955 teen who went “Back To The Future”, helping in contributing to his professional career. But so was his first big leading role that many weren’t aware he had actually made before “Back To The Future” became a smash hit. 

That movie was his role in “Teen Wolf”, as a high school Basketball player turned werewolf. “Teen Wolf” had become an unexpected hit in which no one expected it to be. Although “Family Ties” saw it’s ratings sky rocket from the number seventeen spot, to becoming the number one most watched sitcom on tv. “Teen Wolf” was able to film due to a break on the “Family Ties” production in late 1984, to accommodate star Meredith Baxter Birney’s pregnancy and maternity leave. “Teen Wolf” had cost less than $1 million to produce and was filmed in only a matter of weeks. 

“Teen Wolf” was already into it’s production when “Back to the Future” had started filming with Eric Stoltz as its star. Michael J Fox who was unable to make “BTTF” at the time because of his TV schedule, had made “Teen Wolf” instead. Once “Teen Wolf” had wrapped and through many negotiations. Michael J Fox was brought in to replace Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly.

Because “Teen Wolf” was shot so quickly mistakes during shooting were overlooked and remained in the films final cut. Such as scenes where you can clearly see dolly tracks in the reflection of the window or the films basketball scenes repeatedly showing the same shots occuring during different points of the game. Even during the film’s famous scene of Stiles (Jerry Levine) car surfing, on the Howard’s Hardware van as it drives by the same Jack In The Box location two different times.

“Teen Wolf” production company Atlantic Entertainment Group wanted the Michael J Fox Film to be a small high school movie of their own, once they noticed that “Valley Girl” was an inexpensively produced movie that made a big profit. Recent Columbia film school grads Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman, successfully pitched “Teen Wolf” which was their first script in 10 to 15 minutes. They had to finish writing the script in three weeks in order for the busy “Family Ties” star Michael J Fox to approve it.

In the 90s, co-screenwriter Jeph Loeb started writing for DC Comics, where he wrote several “Batman” stories. Loeb later won the prestigious Eisner Award several times for his contributions to comic writing. Loeb has later become a producer and writer on TV’s “Superman” series “Smallville” that ran from 2002-2005. Loeb also worked on NBC’s tv series “Heroes” from 2006-2009, which was created by “Teen Wolf Too” screenwriter Tim Kring.

“Teen Wolf” director Rod Daniel had only worked in TV before “Teen Wolf”, directing shows including “Newhart” and “WKRP”. Daniel would go on to direct the Kirk Cameron and Dudley Moore body switch comedy “Like Father Like Son”, James Belushi’s “K-9” and Joe Pesci’s “The Super”. 

While other directorial candidates described the movie as just being about a werewolf. Rod Daniel said it wasn’t about being a werewolf, but about a father and son. Rod’s son Lucas had later said he had a great childhood because his father worked out his issues with his own dad by directing “Teen Wolf”.

If you’ve noticed that the ‘teen’ actors seemed too old to be high school students, then your correct. As Michael J Fox was 23 when the movie was filmed, Stiles (Jerry Levine) was 27, Chubby (Mark Holton) was 26 and Mick, the movie’s villian who was played by Mark Arnold was 27. 

Actress Susan Ursitti, who plays the good girl Boof, had appeared in a few key roles during the ’80s after “Teen Wolf”. She starred alongside Scott Baio in “Zapped” and “Charles In Charge” and also guest starred in “21 Jump Street”. She retired from the film business in the ’90s and in recent years has served on the Los Angeles Advisory Board for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Jay Tarses, who played Coach Finstock was a writer/producer on “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Buffalo Bill”. He also wrote “The Great Muppet Caper” (1981) and “The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984). While Jerry Levine who played Stiles, had later produced and directed “Everybody Hates Chris” (2005-2009).

After originally reading for Coach Finstock, Michael J Fox had asked James Hampton to read the part of his father, too. Hampton who got the part of Scott Howard’s (Fox) father, said the werewolf makeup made him feel claustrophobic which had taken him four hours to apply. Mark Arnold, who played villain Mick, was starring in the role of Joe Perkins on the soap opera “Santa Barbara” after shooting “Teen Wolf” had completed. Since his contract was expiring and he wanted to be available to promote “Teen Wolf” when it was released, the show’s producers decided to have his character get shot and fall out of a window. 

It’s often debated whether Michael J. Fox who stands a mere 5’4″ in real life was actually throwing down reverse jams, on a 10 foot rim in the movie. Actually that was Jeff Glosser, a basketball player from Loyola Marymount University, standing in as Fox’s Wolf double during the film’s basketball scenes. Even with two weeks of basketball coaching Michael J Fox, he didn’t cut it on court. 

It was decided that Jeff Glosser was much better and Glosser had to wear the werewolf makeup for 12 hours and was only able to drink milkshakes or eat soup. Glosser’s name was initially misspelled in the credits and Michael J Fox had made sure that the error was corrected before final cut. The jersey worn by Michael J Fox was sold to Dina Collection (Beverly Hills pawn shop) for $30,000.

The “wolf transition” shots were all filmed last in a quickly shot 21 day production. Director Rod Daniel has said when test audiences first saw Scott’s dad turn as a werewolf “they went insane”. He said the laughter was so loud “it obliterated the next minute of the film”. Daniel has also voiced all the growls in the movie. He routinely joked, “And I didn’t get a nickel”. 

The Howard family home used in the movie was located on the same block as 1955 George McFly and Lorraine Baines houses from “Back to the Future”. Not only that, but the Howard House is the exact same house that George McFly was spying on a girl undressing before Marty was hit by 1955’s Lorraine’s father. 

The final scene of “Teen Wolf” where Scott has to make the winning shot without turning into the wolf, has long been in frequent discussions of cinematic urban legends. Because of a 2009 “Family Guy” episode which fueled the rumor that in the last shot of Teen Wolf, as everyone is celebrating the Beavers win, one extra flashes his genitals. Many have tried to convince viewers that this is true but in fact if you go back and look at the scene again, all you can really see is a pair of white boxers or briefs and it’s clearly just a man with his fly down. It’s just one of the many added mistakes the filmmakers hadn’t noticed. 

Despite it’s impact on pop culture. “Teen Wolf” was not well received by critics, including Vincent Canby of the New York Times who, didn’t like “Teen Wolf”. He wrote in his review that was published on August 23, 1985, “For a film that’s so innocuous, ‘Teen Wolf’ is aggressively boring. It doesn’t even know much about high school life, since the members of the basketball team that Scott’s team must play for the big championship attend his high school. Is there such a thing as an intramural, all-state championship?”. 

He saved his only backhanded compliment for the film’s star saying, “The film is overacted by everybody except for Mr. Fox, who is seen to far better advantage in ‘Back to the Future’”. Canby wasn’t the only critic to dislike the film as “Teen Wolf” is only rated 47% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. But when screenwriters Loeb, Weisman and director Rod Daniel went to an afternoon screening on opening day, only four people showed up. After a depressing dinner they went to Westwood, a “college town”, for a 7:30 p.m. showing and found their spirits uplifted as they discovered the showing was sold out. That audience was ecstatic and had a great time.

An animated series adaptation of “Teen Wolf” aired on CBS for two seasons from 1986 to 1987. Townsend Coleman voiced the lead role of Scott Howard, with James Hampton reprising his role as Harold Howard. The series retained the basic premise and most of the characters from the film, but made changes to the story, such as Scott attempting to keep his werewolf identity secret from the general public. It also featured new characters, including Scott’s grandparents and younger sister Lupe.

It’s rumored that Michael J. Fox disliked this film so much that he refused to return for the sequel. In an interview at the time, while “Back to the Future” was in production, he lamented, “Steven Spielberg’s down the street making great movies and I’m playing a werewolf”. 

Even though Fox never returned for a sequel. The “Teen Wolf” name would be carried on in “Teen Wolf Too”, released in 1987 that starred Jason Bateman in his first leading role as Todd Howard, Scott Howard’s cousin. Funny if you think of it as Jason Bateman is the real life brother to Justine Bateman, who played Michael J Fox’s sister Mallory on “Family Ties”. Only James Hampton and Mark Holton returned from the original film. 

It received negative reviews and failed to match the success of its predecessor, grossing $7.9 million on a $3 million budget. A second sequel starring Alyssa Milano was planned, but never filmed. While another female version of “Teen Wolf” was in the works that later developed into 1989’s “Teen Witch”. In 2011, the series “Teen Wolf” aired on MTV. It was loosely based on the movie. The MTV series took a darker and more serious tone, similar to the tone of “The Twilight Saga”.

In Italy, Michael J Fox’s character Scott was renamed Marty, after Marty McFly. In Brazil, the movie was titled “O Garoto do Futuro”, which translates to “The Boy of the Future” (even though there is no time travel in “Teen Wolf”), both country’s were just merely trying to capitalize on the success of “BTTF”.  However, “BTTF” was released on July 3, 1985 and was an instant smash. “Teen Wolf” was then released on August 23rd 1985, while “BTTF” was still doing gangbusters in multiplexes. It turns out America’s thirst for Michael J Fox was unquenchable, and “Teen Wolf” went on to open in second place at the box office that weekend, right behind “BTTF”, which held onto the number one spot after seven weeks. This made Michael J. Fox the undisputed star of the summer of 1985. He had the number one sitcom and the number one and number two films in theaters. “Teen Wolf” made a worldwide gross of $80 million on a $1 million budget. 

Michael J. Fox is one of Hollywood’s most charismatic stars and certainly one who is so ever-engaging. He proves that in his first leading role in “Teen Wolf”. Rod Daniels film is a charmer, perfectly content to stick to irrelevant adolescent concerns while following a formula that finds Scott caught up in his wolfy fame, alienating those who truly care about him. It’s always predictable where the picture is headed, but the journey has its rewards, primarily in the cast, with Fox contributing customary comedic ease. Jittery anxiety is a Fox specialty, but Daniel wields it superbly in the picture, urging Fox’s spazzy reactions and broad physical comedy.

Daniels handles the film so lightly, that nothing seems to stick with unfinished subplots and Scott’s compressed character arc creating gaps along the way. The feature has too much fun with the wolf material to even care. After all, this is a teen fantasy, of a world where a boy can transform into a werewolf in public and nobody bats an eye. Say what you want about “Teen Wolf”, but where are you ever going to see a wolf break dance? Which only helps in making it more difficult to find the movie distasteful, when it barely takes itself seriously and has a great deal of fun.

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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