Some might say that Michael Landon was never better than when he played troubled teenager Tony in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and there are others that will look at these same people and think them crazy. Whatever you might think, one way or the other, you cannot deny that when all was said and done, the movie turned out to be a lot of fun, being equal parts drama and horror. It was the precursor to I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and while not having anything to do with that particular film, many of the thematic elements found in this one would carry over into the next.
The movie begins as a teenage drama, its lead character full of angst and anger – almost like a poor man’s Rebel Without a Cause. Landon manages to give the role his all, nailing those elements that James Dean perfected years earlier. After a number of altercations, it is suggested that Tony go and see a psychologist and while it only angers him further, he still does so which is really quite surprising. It is also at this point that his entire life will be changed as the doctor has plans of his own and instead of helping Tony, he performs an experiment on him which ends up transforming Tony into a werewolf through hypnotic regression.
While in 1957 this film might have been quite frightening, much of that has worn away during the intervening years, but there are still a few moments that are still quite eerie. The transformation from man to wolf is similar to that seen in other movies with The Wolf Man being a good example and it is still a sight to behold, perhaps not as magical, but just as compelling. The special effects as a whole were actually quite good and the costumery/makeup used, turned out to be effective and surprisingly, distinct. You can see from this film, where Teen Wolf took its inspiration from when it was released many decades later, the two characters looking very similar. Of particular note are the creature’s teeth, which definitely look both silly and imposing and the letterman jacket which really completes the iconic look that this film and monster would come to be known for. Landon truly was a teenage werewolf and it was hard not empathize with the guy, not only due to the fact that growing up when nobody understands you is hard enough, but the situation he finds himself in – being betrayed by someone who was supposed to have his best interests at heart.
The supporting cast of the film was good, though Landon stole the show. It was hard not to be focused upon him as you knew that he was the werewolf, even from the beginning thanks to the movie posters, but getting to that point where he finally is revealed as such was almost a torture. Being a B picture, it was obviously made for little money and was shot in seven days, but the finished product, from script to direction, was solid. While the film, might get a bad rap in this day and age for being a little corny or what have you, the movie delivers as it was highly dramatic and in some cases, still a little creepy. As far as werewolf films go, I Was a Teenage Werewolf is one of the best.
4 out of 5