I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)

Director:

Gene Fowler Jr.

Cinematography by

Joseph LaShelle

A hypnotherapist uses a temperamental teenager as guinea pig for a serum which transforms him into a vicious werewolf. A hypnotherapist uses a temperamental teenager as guinea pig for a serum which transforms him into a vicious werewolf.

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The ‘Citizen Kane’ of Teen Horror Films

5 May 2010 | by flapdoodle64 (Portland, OR, United States) – See all my reviews

This movie is a lot better than the title would lead you to think, and it is in fact a lot better than many of the other monster movies produced in 1957.

At the time this film was made, everybody in the industry knew teenagers liked monster flicks. But this is the first film to actually feature a teen as full-fledged, murderous monster. It seems obvious today, 53 years later, but when the creators of this film had the insight that the adolescent audience actually tended to identify with the monsters as persecuted, misunderstood, misfits, this was a revolutionary moment in cinema.

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The screenplay actually does a pretty good job of setting up a plausible troubled teen hero (Michael Landon) with anger-management problems, who is justifiably afraid of his own passions. He is sent to see psychiatrist Whit Bissell, who at first seems to understand our hero, but later turns out to be using him for his own purposes. This fact alone is striking, as psychiatrists and guidance counselors tended to be universally depicted as virtuous advocates of teens in 1950’s movies. Within this context, Whit Bissell’s character is truly subversive.

The idea of hypnotic regression as means to monster-hood is used here to good effect, anticipating William Hurt in ‘Altered States.’ Besides the monster reflecting teenage anger, there are also indications that it personifies his sexual energies as well.

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This movie was a big hit when 1st released, and it was followed by a wave of teen horror-scifi cinema: Teenage Frankenstein, Teenagers from Outer Space, and Teenage Caveman, to name but a few. Even after the genre quickly eschewed the inclusion of the word ‘teenage’ from titles, it has continued uninterrupted, alternately waxing and waning, to this very date. Notable entries in recent years include: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the series), the Craft, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the Vampire Diaries, and of course the Twilight Movies. But while the latter entries are clearly popular among the younger set, they make most adults roll their eyes at the excesses.

Not so for ‘Teenage Werewolf.’ This is a tight, fast-moving, and unpretentious little movie that does the job quickly and efficiently, and doesn’t stare back at you wearing a ton of eye shadow and a stupid blank expression. I recommend this to any fan of old school horror and/or B-movies.

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A classic of its kind

9/10
Author: baronlibra from Rhode Island
25 February 2002

You really had to be a teenager in 1957 to appreciate the effect this movie had on teens back then. Elvis was just starting out and there are similarites to the reactions of adults and teenagers to both icons. (In fact Yvonne Lime was “dating” Elvis (pictures of Elvis and Yvonne together were in movie magazines back then) when this film was made and from what I understand, he even visited the set. Too bad they couldn’t have had him sing a song in it!) There is an amazing backstory AMC could make about the senate hearings on juvenile delinquency and this film; the senators mentioned the bad effects this film had on teenagers even though none of them had seen it!

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Anyway, Gene Fowler Jr (who had edited Academy Award films like LAURA) was chosen to direct this, his first film and although he at first had second thoughts about doing it, his wife convinced him “no one would see it anyway.” Boy, was she wrong! His background as an editor helped him be a better first-time director than most and helped make this picture, made on a shoe-string budget in only 7 days, better than all the other teen horror films back then. The camera angles on the fight at the beginning, Dawn Richard’s gymnist seeing the werewolf upside down at first (and therefore the audience too), showed that he had good ideas in setting up shots.

Michael Landon, contrary to what some believe, never downplayed his connection to this film for it gave him his start in show business. He may at first have had doubts about being connected with it with the initial uproar, which is why he turned down the chance to play the werewolf a second time, but after that, he never bad-mouthed the film. In fact, he paid homage to it on a Halloween episode of “Highway to Heaven.”

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Anyway, the acting is good all around with standout performances by Landon and Whit Bissell. The “science” used to turn Tony into the monster may be silly today, but in the 1950’s, there were a lot of talk and film plots about past-life regression following the Bridey Murphy newspaper accounts (also used in THE SHE-CREATURE). Again you had to live in the 1950’s to understand all this. Philip Scheer’s werewolf makeup is one of the better pre-Howling/American Werewolf ones in movie history and while the transformation scene isn’t as good as in THE WOLF MAN or THE WEREWOLF, the director did not have a lot of money or time to work with and did a good job considering.

A film has to be pretty good, even with a low budget, to be as successful as this one was…and to remain a cult favorite 45 years later. It has stood the test of time and deserves to be considered a classic of its kind.

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A classic werewolf movie

7/10
Author: Noel (Teknofobe70) from Bromsgrove, England
8 May 2005

Tony Rivers is a teenager who has a real problem with anger. He’s always ready for a fight and explodes at even the slightest provocation. A sequence of unfortunate events lead him to seek help with a psychotherapist, who turns out to be a mad scientist obsessed with the possibilities of reverting man to his animal state. After a few sessions which seem to be helping, brutal animal-like killings begin to occur in the town and Tony fears that he has become … a werewolf! Although it was made for an extremely low budget by a brand-new production company called American International Pictures, this movie became very successful very quickly. Whether or not somebody actually sat down and figured out that teenagers should be the target audience for movie theatres now that the older folk stayed at home to watch TV is uncertain, but it was definitely a winning formula. Of course, the authority figures at the time were quick to damn the movie, saying it was psychologically damaging the kids who watched it. What a bunch of squares.

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The werewolf aspect here is a metaphor for common teenage mood swings, with the anger of Tony being eventually channelled into the beast. There are hints of a darker subtext, particularly in a scene where he watches an attractive, partially-clad female gymnast doing her moves, right before changing into the wolf and attacking her. Overall the movie fails to notice the other similarities between the werewolf myth and adolescence, at least not to the same extent as “Ginger Snaps” or even “Teen Wolf”. It tries very hard to be hip to the teenagers of that time, with fifties slang and a completely out-of-place extended music number and dance sequence thrown in. Unfortunately, it isn’t really as thrilling or as fun as it really should be in places … it’s quite slow moving, takes a long time to get started and a lot of the scenes in the second half of the movie seem thrown together and lacking in narrative flow. Obviously it isn’t perfect (it was given the “Mystery Science Theatre” treatment), but hey — it’s a B-movie.

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Michael Landon is a real star in this movie, giving a performance that is both intense and convincing. Rather than setting his sights on movies, from here he went on to become a popular face on television, with major roles in series such as “Bonanza” (for over a decade), “Highway to Heaven”, and later starring in “Little House on the Prairie”. Nobody else on the cast really stands out, although everyone is competent. Tony’s girlfriend is played by Yvonne Lime, who was actually dating Elvis while this movie was being made (how cool can you get?).

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The notable writing team here, although originally credited as “Ralph Thornton”, were in fact Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel who also wrote the sequels “I Was A Teenage Frankenstein” and “How To Make A Monster”, then credited as Kenneth Langtry. Aben Kandel also did some earlier uncredited work on the “Werewolf Of London” screenplay. Unfortunately none of these movies were particularly strong in terms of story or dialogue, but nevertheless they did contribute a great deal to werewolf movie history. Director Gene Fowler Jr made his career in B-movie horrors and westerns, with this being his most well-known work (although “I Married A Monster from Outer Space” has to rank highly).

Werewolf movie fans really have to see this movie, not only because it was so popular and so influential, but because it was one of the most interesting werewolf movies of it’s time.

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