Craig J. Clark — Aug. 17th 2016
Of all the werewolf movies that have yet to come out on DVD — and at this late date, there aren’t too many that haven’t — the most bewildering case has to be AIP’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf, a slavering beast that was first unleashed in 1957. It’s the kind of film where even if you haven’t seen it, you at least know of it, and there are many people who, almost six decades after its release, continue to seek it out. Amazon has multiple listings for the 1993 VHS release, which can be bought new in the original shrink wrap for the low, low price of $75, but on DVD it is decidedly M.I.A. Heck, even the 1997 Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode in which Mike and the Bots savaged it has yet to surface on home video, a sure sign that someone, somewhere is sitting on the property, hoping for a huge payday that has thus far been far from forthcoming.
Anyway, I Was a Teenage Werewolf is a typical AIP quickie, perfunctorily directed by Gene Fowler, Jr., but when it proved to be wildly profitable they rushed several follow-ups — including I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, which was released less than five months later — into production. Even Roger Corman’s Teenage Cave Man from 1958 could be said to be one of its progeny since it was shot as Prehistoric World before AIP changed the title. As for the film itself, it probably would have faded into obscurity if not for Michael Landon’s subsequent fame and his feral performance as tortured teen Tony Rivers (with more than a little James Dean in his DNA) who becomes the title character under the questionable care of hypnotherapist Dr. Alfred Brandon (Whit Bissell), who somehow believes that regressing mankind to a bestial state is preferable to having angry young men pick fights without provocation and throw milk bottles around.
As the film opens, Landon is involved in just such a tussle with a fellow student (Tony Marshall) who merely slapped him in the shoulder. This is enough to get the attention of kindly police detective Donovan (Barney Phillips) who recommends he see a psychiatrist about his anger management problem, but Tony isn’t having any part of it. Even Arlene, the nice girl he’s going with (Yvonne Lime), can’t convince him that he needs help, but after one too many blow-ups he’s placed in the care of Dr. Brandon, who injects him with an experimental serum and, using hypnosis, regresses him back to a time when all people were werewolves or something. (You remember that from your history books, right?) Brandon’s assistant (Joseph Mell) is skeptical about what this will accomplish (“You call it progress to hurl back the human race to its savage beginnings?” he quite reasonably asks), but the proof of the pudding’s in the eating, and soon enough Tony is sprouting fur and fangs and chowing down on his classmates.
Something similar occurs in “I Was a Teenage Werebear,” Tim Sullivan’s contribution to the 2011 horror/comedy anthology Chillerama. In it, closeted gay teen Ricky (Sean Paul Lockhart) finds out why he isn’t interested in his hot girlfriend Peggy Lou (Gabby West) when he’s bitten in the rear by leather-jacketed tough Talon (Anton Troy), forever dooming him to become a fur-faced leather bear whenever his libido rises. (Doesn’t sound so bad to me.) It takes a while for Ricky to come to terms with his new sexual identity, though, even after Nurse Maleva (Lin Shaye, channeling Maria Ouspenskaya) helpfully clues him in by reciting “Even a boy who thinks he’s straight, yet shaves his balls by night, may become a werebear when the hormones rage and the latent ways take flight.” Oh, and did I mention the whole thing takes the form of a beach musical set in Malibu, circa 1962? (Sample song titles: “Love Bit Me on the Ass” and “Do the Werebear (And Let the Werebear Do You.”) What’s most refreshing about it is that Sullivan ends on a note of tolerance and acceptance, which is in sharp contrast to Tony Rivers’s ultimate fate.