A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Teen Wolf is a popular '80s teen comedy that seems to endorse such boys-gone-wild stuff as underage drinking/drugging, reckless vehicle operation, and youthful sex, though such activities are mostly kept to the margins. Girls are briefly shown in bras and panties. There are references to homosexuality, including the pejorative “fag” tossed casually around, even by the nice-guy hero. Viewers hoping for more intensity are barking up the wrong werewolf movie; no real horror here. The sequel, Teen Wolf Too (sometimes bundled on the same DVD) is much the same but doesn’t have the virtue of Michael J. Fox in the lead -- Jason Bateman plays a cousin instead.
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What's the story?
In TEEN WOLF, Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox), teen son of a widowed hardware-store owner in a small town, tries hard to excel on his high school’s basketball team; he strives to obtain liquor so he can join the “cool kids” at their parties; he attempts to attract a pretty drama-club blonde (Scott overlooks that the dark-haired classmate he hangs out with is the right girl for him, a common situation in these sorts of movies). When he doesn’t succeed, he wonders if he’s too average. Then an inherited family curse strikes, and Scott becomes…a werewolf (though, in rudimentary long-hair makeup, actor Fox could easily be Teen Sasquatch or Teen Wookiee), transforming at will, any time of day or night, but not undergoing any violent personality changes, just some lupine superpowers. Surprisingly, being a werewolf makes Scott the most popular dude in school and the star of the basketball team -- but the honor comes with its own unexpected dilemmas.
Is it any good?
This is a good-natured spoof of adolescent insecurities and image-consciousness in school, not Gothic shocks. Some horror-movie reference books don't even list Teen Wolf, and no wonder; Michael J. Fox makes one of the least menacing monsters ever. True, the comedy verges on a being a one-joke situation; people are intrigued by “the Wolf,” try to profit off “the Wolf,” want to be pals with “the Wolf” -- anything but be frightened of him. And the less-than-conclusive ending leaves something to be desired.
But the filmmakers draw solid laughs out of the situation, and even a bit of thoughtfulness about Scott's predicament in going from being thoroughly mediocre to an unexpected Leader of the Pack. It wouldn't be half the movie it is without Michael J. Fox in the lead. The young actor, right off his hit performance in Back to the Future (though this was shot earlier) is tremendously appealing. Fox was not only the unpretentious sort any kid would want as a friend, he was also the type any parent would be proud to call a son, and that was a rare combo for young screen characters in the post-Porky's 1980s.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how filmmakers have used the idea of a youth becoming a werewolf, like in Teen Wolf, or monster as a metaphor for puberty, raging hormones, and tumultuous maturation, classic depictions being I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Ginger Snaps, and The Company of Wolves. Ask teens if they relate to the idea.
Instead of all the students fearing/hating “the Wolf,” they like him even better than ordinary Scott Howard. Ask kids if they think this is really how their world works. Who are the most popular kids, and why?
- In theaters: August 23, 1985
- On DVD or streaming: August 27, 2002
- Cast: Doug Savant, Michael J. Fox, Scott Paulin
- Director: Rod Daniel
- Studio: MGM/UA
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Friendship, High School, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 84 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: parental guidance
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