I Was a Teenage Werewolf

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
I Was a Teenage Werewolf Movie Poster Image
Dated 1950s drive-in shocker has metaphorical bite.
  • NR
  • 1957
  • 75 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Tony is terminally hotheaded. We don't get to the origin of his anger -- his therapist and the moviemakers being too busy turning him into a monster -- but it's possible his mother's offscreen death has something to do with it. Most grownups, police, and parents are domineering, but the psychologist Dr. Brandon is a treacherous mad-scientist type. There's some old-fashioned sexism in the way the female characters are treated by their boyfriends.

Violence

Youthful fistfighting. Several people, one dog, killed by the werewolf Tony (though bloodshed is discreet). A shooting.

Sex

Harmless hugging and smooching.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking by grownups.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that several people and a dog are killed -- non-explicitly -- and there is some in-your-face schoolyard brawling (human and werewolf). An undertone of mistrust in authority persists, with a respected therapist secretly involved in unethical human experiments that cost human lives. One can read a rape metaphor in a famous scene in which the werewolf attacks a leotard-clad "teenage" girl gymnast. Sensational as it was in 1957, this material has none of the extreme sex, gore, and nudity in later R-rated horror shows. Adult characters smoke cigarettes.

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What's the story?

Though it seems a little corny now, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF was a huge hit in its day for "modernizing" an old monster-movie favorite for the age of 1950s Baby-Boomer teenage culture -- there's even an early rock'n'roll number. In the town of Rockdale, Tony (Michael Landon) is a moody high-schooler with an explosive temper, often getting in fights, even with his best friends. Authorities recommend he see hypnotherapist Dr. Alfred Brandon (Whit Bissell), who is secretly researching a la Dr. Jekyll the vicious and predatory side of human nature. Instead of anger-management (a term that didn't even exist when this film was made), Dr. Brandon hypnotizes Tony to physically regress to a hairy, fanged primal carnivore and killer, effectively making the desperate kid into the "werewolf" of Eastern European folklore.

Is it any good?

The plot seems to be missing a complication or two. Once Tony becomes a werewolf, there's little for the poor guy to do but lope around wooded backyards for a while until the law catches up with him. But the brisk little B-movie works thanks in no small part to future TV star Michael Landon, who makes the short-fused Tony a non-caricatured (if very 1950s-ish) portrait of a discontented youth; the boy's not really a hoodlum but perpetually PO'd because "people bug me" and constantly in trouble.

Drawing a parallel between the wolf metamorphosis and trendy Eisenhower-era fears of juvenile delinquency and boys-gone-wild as their hormones kick in was a neat idea. Producer Herman Cohen has claimed he purposely tapped into another primal fear that young audiences have -- that when they surrender their independence and power to doctors or other adult-authority figures, they will be abused, exploited, or in this extreme case, transformed into a monster (and Cohen went on to repeat the theme in later lookalike horror flicks like I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Blood of Dracula). Michael Landon affectionately reprised the Teenage Werewolf role (and distinctive monster makeup) in an episode of his TV series Highway to Heaven, and the werewolf makes a guest appearance in the Stephen King shocker It.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way the movie portrays anger and restlessness of male teens. Ask kids if they know anyone like Tony (aside from the werewolf part). Is this movie still relevant today? Other movie idols, including Elvis Presley and James Dean, also played troubled youth; you can get horror-minded kids to watch Rebel Without a Cause or Jailhouse Rock and compare how Michael Landon's teenage werewolf fits right into the 1950s troubled-teen "scene."

Movie details

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