Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Lettered in Lycanthropy: "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" (1957)

A typical 1950's small town is terrorized by a werewolf, and Michael Landon's overacting.

Rockdale High School is a normal high school, and Tony (Michael Landon) has problems. He may be dating pretty Arlene (Yvonne Lime), and his grades may be good, but he has an anger problem that gets him into fights. He does not like to be startled or touched, and lashes out at those who do this to him. After an innocent Halloween prank where Tony punches a guy for blowing a toy horn in his ear, Tony heads to the office of Dr. Brandon (Whit Bissell).

It seems Dr. Brandon is into regression hypnotherapy. Not the kind you and I may know about, Brandon wants to take a human being back to his primal aggressive state. He uses a serum and takes Tony back to when humans were bloodthirsty, I didn't say the science was exact. Tony is soon turning into a monster at the sounds of bells (like a weirded-out Pavlov's dog), and the town's crack police force (three cops and a janitor named Pepe) is on his trail.

Despite its title and reputation, this is not the worst horror film ever made. The direction is okay, it sometimes grandstands and ignores the actors (no one will be seated during the compelling coffee pouring scene). The werewolf makeup is goofy looking, but not a bad job. All the teens speak in late 1950's lingo, and the dialogue is embarrassing. There are no real scares, the film is too short to waste time with suspense. However, the black and white cinematography is rather creepy. The lighting scheme is first rate, especially the gymnasium attack. Don't get me wrong, this is still silly stuff.

At one point, a bongo playing teen sings a song called "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo." He then has a dance number with his girlfriend. I have not been this embarrassed during a song since I saw "The Wiz." The thought that these teens think of themselves as so cool, when even audiences back in the day had to see how lame they are, is funny.

Michael Landon was normally a good actor, laid back and confident. Here, Tony flies off the handle so often, then smiles the next second, he should have been tested for bipolar disorder. It is as if Landon got all his bad acting out of the way with this film, so he could become Charles Ingalls and Little Joe and not be giggled at by an audience again. The rest of the cast is a blank, except Bissell as Brandon, whose experiments are a complete mystery. Bissell also overacts, but his character is so weakly written, he can be forgiven.

"I Was a Teenage Werewolf" is better than the similar "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein," but it still needs to be spanked with a rolled up newspaper and put out for the night. (* *) out of five stars.