1985 was a fine year for Hollywood. Icons fell under the stampede for sequels while future classics were created. It’s time to look back.
In the coming weeks and months the HeyUGuys team will focus on some of best from ’85, exploring their legacy and capturing something of their enduring essence.
We’ve already watched a boxer win the Cold War, shone a light on an oft-forgotten Disney outing, hung out in a pool with Steve Guttenberg, endured bad Bond, enjoyed a Cruise Curry, drew First Blood for second time, reunited with The Brat Pack, today we go surfing.,,
The haze brought on by nostalgia can be like trying to view a full moon on a cloudy night, and the lycanthropic sports-comedy hybrid at the heart of this retrospective really suffers when everything becomes clear.
Teen Wolf was born out of a desire for small independent production company, Atlantic Entertainment Group, to match the success of their Nic Cage starring, high-school comedy feature, Valley Girl (1983). They hired writing partners, Jeph Loeb (Lost) and Matthew Weisman, who were fresh out of Columbia Film School, and had recently sold their script for Schwarzenegger’s Commando to Joel Silver, after they’d pitched the strange idea of a normal teenager who could transform into a basketball playing werewolf.
Ordinarily, you’d think that a premise like that would be destined for the lower reaches of the rental store shelving unit, but Teen Wolf’s success is really a by-product of the stars aligning during pre-production.
Atlantic had their hearts set on Michael J. Fox from early on in the process, and at that time he was only really known from middling US sitcom Family Ties. The first stroke of good fortune came when Fox’s co-star in Ties became pregnant with twins, so production was shut down whilst she was on maternity leave. This gave the actor a three-week window in his schedule, the same amount of time that Loeb and Weisman were afforded to turn in a script. It was handed to the actor, who agreed to do it, and a $1m budget was set.
In the interim this minuscule movie got another boost, as Family Ties was moved behind the Cosby Show in the TV schedules to become the number two rated show in America, all this back in an era when viewing figures were up in the 40 million range, instantly making Michael J. Fox a genuine superstar.
There was also the small matter of Back to the Future, which was due to open on July 3rd 1985, almost two months prior to Teen Wolf’s August 23rd release. That classic would sit atop the box-office for eleven weeks, so that when Rod Daniel’s film (he a director who seemed to pigeonhole, or doghole if you like, himself into canine related films for the remainder of his theatrical output (K-9 and Beethoven 2nd)), was eventually released, it debuted at number 2, meaning Michael J. Fox had the top two movies at the North American Box Office.
Piggybacking off a superior film’s success, much in the same way that The Man in the Iron Mask did for Leonardo DiCaprio in 1998, Teen Wolf would over-perform to the tune of $30m domestic, and $80m worldwide, although the critical reception wasn’t much to howl about.
The New York Times called it “aggressively boring”, but the movies appeal was never founded on it being a masterpiece, in fact, upon revisits, it’s admittedly pretty poor; special effects, editing, that non-ironic intrusive 80’s keyboard score, and a worrying line in homophobia (that the writers have since addressed as “unfortunate”, and was edited out of some TV broadcasts).
The story is recognisably simple; a high school nobody discovers that he has a hereditary condition that turns him into a werewolf, thus making him popular and extremely good at basketball, but before long he has to make a choice between the creature he has become or the kid inside. It’s a genre staple, aside from the lycanthropy.
It’s another of the films in this Class of ’85 series that will have been consumed thanks to heavy TV rotation. When Atlantic Entertainment eventually went bust, MGM bought the syndication rights to the film, meaning it could be distributed without huge costs to the networks or studio.
You’ll all have your favourite moments; from “Give Me. A keg. Of beer”, to the urban van gymnastics of the Beach Boys “Surfin’ USA”, and the funkiest high school dance of all time, as Fox throws pre-Backstreet Boys moves to “Big Bad Wolf” by Bunny and the Wolf Sisters.
Aside from the diminutive actor’s excellent performance, the finale is the films greatest triumph, so much so that some versions of the movie feature an extra in the bleachers exposing himself in celebration. There’s the cathartic beats of the winning shots, Scott’s snubbing of blonde bombshell, Pam (Lorie Griffin), for the delightful Boof (Susan Ursitti), and the best use of an 80’s pop-song since Danny Larusso defeated the Cobra Kai, with Mark Safan’s “Win in the End”.
Teen Wolf’s immediate legacy arrived in the form of a lamentable sequel, 1987’s Teen Wolf Too, written by Tim Kring (who would go on to create the soon-to-be-resurrected TV show Heroes), and starring Jason Bateman as the cousin of Michael J. Fox’s hirsute character. It replaced b-ball with boxing, dropped the charm, with the only positive similarity being a charismatic star wrestling with lightweight material. A box-office haul of under $8m dollars was a silver bullet to the heart of the franchise.
The legend lived on in an animated series titled The Cartoon Adventures of Teen Wolf, which ran between 1986 and 1987, and the MTV re-boot, on which Jeph Loeb has worked as a scriptwriter, and which continues to pull in millions of viewers well into its fourth season.
For a certain generation, one to which I belong, Teen Wolf will be held up as one of the decade’s finest guilty pleasures, and even though a re-watch for the purposes of this feature made it feel more like an extended episode of Saved By The Bell with a lick-and-stick make-up budget, I still rated it 3 star on Netflix, it has pride of place upon my DVD shelf, and I’ve just pre-ordered a “Who are you looking at dicknose?” t-shirt.
Just me then?
Read on about other classmates from 1985…
Most Likely to get your Man in Motion:
Most Likely to make an inappropriate joke while arching an eyebrow: