I Was a Teenage Werewolf is a 1957 American horror feature film starring Michael Landon as a troubled teenager and Whit Bissell as the primary adult and Yvonne Lime as his girlfriend, Arlene. It was co-written and produced by cult film producer Herman Cohen, directed by Gene Fowler Jr. and was one of the most successful films released by American International Pictures (AIP). It was originally released as a double feature with Invasion of the Saucer Men.
Poor Tony Rivers (a rare film role for Michael Landon, best remembered for never-ending TV series like Bonanza, Highway to Heaven and the execrable Little House on the Prairie); it seems the whole world is against him – classmates, his dad, the cops – such is the life of a small town teenager in 50’s America. Kindly, if starchy, Detective Donovan suggests a chat with local shrink, Dr Brandon (Whit Bissell, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Soylent Green) to help tame his anger issues.
A thoroughly unconvincing Halloween party at a ‘haunted house’ sees him attacking one of his friends, perfectly understandable given the rendition of his new ‘crazy record’, “Eeny Meany-Miney-Moe” that he has just ‘treated’ his friends to.
Realising himself that he is genuinely out of control, he visits Dr Brandon, who is full of patience and advice but decides hypnotherapy is exactly what will do the trick and if that’s not enough, a serum he has happened upon which will revert Tony to his primal state, stripping away the layers of conditioned control and urban sensibilities.
Inevitably, an attack is reported upon one of Tony’s group of friends and the police swoop in to investigate, taking care to take note of the local janitor, Pepe (rent-a-Russian Vladimir Sokoloff, from The Magnificent Seven and countless other films), who rattles on about fanged beasts, wolves and the Devil’s own brood, having originally come from the Carpathian Mountains.
Further visits to the doc are similarly unhelpful, indeed Rivers is revealed to be a baseball jacket-wearing werewolf, attacking and killing a teacher in the gym and a police dog. Tony seeks the doc’s help in desperation, though ditching the distinctive jacket might have been a better idea, whilst the police and his daffy girlfriend, Arlene do their best to protect the local citizens whilst saving the tragic jock.
There are few horror titles which are as evocative as I Was a Teenage Werewolf, immediately a klaxon announcing bad make-up, bad acting, drippy 50’s pop culture trappings and throw-away chaff. In actual fact, it is a well-made, well-shot drama which, though having the worst song and accompanying dance routine in the history of cinema, is a more successful commentary on teenage life than many alien invasion/nuclear bug films were at decrying The Bomb.
Landon, almost squeaky in his youth (he was actually 21 years-old) plays the role of every-man perfectly well, whilst his generic group of friends and sundry adults prove to be a more believable agitate than a parade of well-known names.
The name of Samuel Z. Arkoff at the beginning of a film should always make your heart swell with excitement and that is indeed the case here, despite the resistance he met bringing to the screen a middle class teenager who was actually a monster, a shocking notion at the time. American International Pictures used the film as a launch pad for several ‘teenage beast’ flicks, including I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and How to Make a Monster but it was Werewolf which made upwards of $2 million from an initial outlay of approximately $82,000.
Whilst the werewolf make-up looks somewhat hokey on stills, it is perfectly serviceable in the film, Landon’s incredibly wide-eyed, twitching alter-ego a real treat and quite sensibly avoids any transformation sequences. The make-up came courtesy of Phillip Scheer. whose work can also be seen in Attack of the Puppet People and Black Zoo. The surprisingly jazzy title theme is by Paul Dunlap who wrote for scores of 1950’s and 60’s no-budget genre films but always under the veil of being a true ‘artiste’.
The 1950’s attire, lexicon (“This party’s really percolating”!) and more especially the title have ensured that it lives on vicariously through The Cramps song of the same title, copycat ‘I Was a Teenage’ (Mummy/Serial Killer/Zombie ad infinitum) titles and television comedy sketches, often lampooning the absurdity but rather missing the fact it’s a pretty good film.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA
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