Pop Culture Flashback

Call of the Wild

Most people remember early ’80s teen cinema as the domain of John Hughes and Molly Ringwald. A happy few, however, remember Michael J. Fox dressed up like a cross between Chewbacca and Bill Walton (circa 1977) throwing down nasty dunks, chomping beers and doing backflips on top of moving vehicles. When Teen Wolf was released in 1985, the world was blessed with one of the most memorably cheesy and obscenely hilarious flicks of the modern age. This tale of a talentless high school point guard who escapes mediocrity when his latent werewolf genes spring into action spawned a much lesser sequel, a Saturday morning cartoon and scores of admirers. Nowadays, much of the film’s appeal is in the limitless unintentional comedy, especially the wildly crappy basketball scenes, featuring Fox’s “skills.” But there’s more going on in Teen Wolf.

In the early parts of the movie, Scott Howard (Fox) appears to be the paradigm of the hapless, charisma-starved nice guy. He admittedly sucks at basketball and he can’t get the attention of the object of his affection, Pamela, girlfriend of Mick, the rival school’s top basketball player. Scott’s luck turns around when his werewolf features blossom and he becomes the most fearsome basketball player around, and an icon at his high school. From here, Teen Wolf basically follows the typical zero-to-hero storyline where the protagonist is eventually led to forsake his newfound popularity and return to his nice-guy status. But a more keen evaluation shows that by the time the movie is half over, Teen Wolf has become the bad guy.

Consider the logic. Imagine you’re Mick, the big-shot basketball player with the hottest girl in town. Maybe you’re not the nicest guy in the world but, hey, you’re a big-shot basketball player with the hottest girl in town; people should cut you some slack. Now along comes this once-humble and talentless Alex P. Keaton lookalike who is turning himself into a werewolf all over the place. To make matters worse, he is using his remarkable werewolf speed, strength and agility to become the most astonishing basketball player in town. Then, benefiting from his illegitimate basketball success and his gimmicky werewolf persona, he messes around with your woman and supplants you as the most envied guy around. If you were Mick, you’d be bitter too.

Therein lies the primary conflict in the movie: All the gifts and glory being a teen wolf brings Scott versus Scott’s knowledge that he actually has become the bad guy, that he’s abusing his gifts. The blonde gal is symbolic of his transfer from good-guy underdog, to a larger-than-life, ego-driven punk on par with the movie’s antagonist, Mick. The shallow Pamela’s interest in Scott is a meaningful indication that his wolfy activities have been misguided. At this point in the film, Scott has, almost without his own knowledge, become what he had earlier despised. His teammates hate him for his selfish play. He scares his classmates by displaying his lupine rage when he claws Mick at the school dance.

In the end Scott has to recapture the adulation that his teen wolf persona had been able to obtain, by succeeding in a more honest manner, as plain Scott Howard, a skinny and hairless short dude. There is fitting drama in the movie’s final sequence as a non-wolfed-out Scott sinks his free throws to win the championship game against his rival Mick. Then, as Scott dismisses Pamela for Boof (the less attractive, yet less bitchy love interest) he takes his place as a champion of the underdog spirit.

Amidst the dopeyness of the basketball scenes and all the scattered goofiness, the overlaying theme of the movie is that integrity is more important than popularity and freakishly dense body hair. That and wildly, ridiculously, hilariously sucky basketball skills.

Tags