GIVE ME. A KEG. OF BEER.
The denizens of the United States have long been accused of being culturally deprived. We are starving, lacking an appreciation of the fine art of mime, Goethe and weinershnitzel. Viewing a recent thread on Facebook, I would have to agree with this sentiment. Nothing proves this point as well as the jeremiads delivered on the movie Teen Wolf, first released in 1985, starring a young Michael J. Fox. The spurious comments regarding this cinematic masterpiece are worthy of a settling of honor. Unfortunately duels are illegal. Unlike the Dude, I will not abide. I offer this apology (in the formal sense), laying forth the visionary nature of the film.
The premise of the movie is familiar. A teenage boy, Scott Howard, is ostracized by his community. His awkwardness is legendary, and he has a crush on Pamela Wells, the archetypical American beauty of the 1980s. Inevitably she is dating the local tyrant and athlete, Mick McAllister. Just listen to the alliteration of the name. Tell me that is not Shakespearean. Scott lives with his father, his mother having tragically died before the events in the film begin. Scott’s father is a blue-collar Everyman that owns the local hardware store. Scott also helps out in the store. Scott also plays on the Beavers, a sub-par basketball team that lacks the will to power of the Dragons, Mick’s intimidating squad. Scott is secretly loved in turn by his best friend from childhood, “Boof.” Truly this is a situation of desperate pathos, rife with sexual tension, undertones of war, issues of manhood and parochialism. Exposition finis.
The true surprise in the film comes when Scott learns that he is only partially human. Scott learns from his father that the family is one of werewolves, stricken by the cures of lycanthropy. Dumbfounded, Scott hides from his father only to learn that they are both werewolves. His father had hid his terrible secret because it sometimes skips a generation. Scott’s father knows full well the prejudice of man, and urges Scott to keep his true self hidden from a hostile public. A powerful theme emerges – when should a person keep their identity secret? Should ethnic origins be concealed? At what point does repression of culture become an abandonment of principle?
Should the young werewolf assimilate, or suffer the consequences of revelation? Surely the writers of this script were addressing similar issues to those in The Scarlet Letter, in which the local priest hides his nature until he can bear it no more.
Scott reveals his bestial nature in a dramatic scene. During a basketball game Scott loses control of himself and metamorphoses into “The Wolf,” a hirsute version of himself. Here is the existential crisis of the film, the underlying theme – should Scott run from himself? Instead of cowering, Scott boldly begins to play basketball as The Wolf. The crowd is shocked, but quickly won over by this exhibit of athletic prowess. It is amazing.
Scott is literally slam-dunking discrimination away, making a powerful statement about the role of sports in breaking down cultural barriers. This goes to the modern theme of race in sports. Once again, this films tackles controversial social topics.
The Wolf becomes a local celebrity, his athletic ability transformed into superhuman status as a man-wolf. Scott loses himself in his new persona, leaving his past behind and embracing a new cultural, assimilating into the mainstream. As a token of wolfkind, Scott is lauded and embraced by the student body. His past as a nerd is forgotten. Wolf fever grips the town, and his friend Styles starts to merchandise the image of Scott as a Wolf. Does the town accept Wolf-Scott, or expect him to conform to stereotypical norms?
Boof tries to warn Scott of the results of his arrogance. Boof represents wisdom and innocence, unrequited love. The voice of reason, warning Scott that pride goeth before destruction.
Scott overlooks Boof and is pursued by Pamela Wells. Underlying this romantic tension is the question of celebrity. Pamela clearly pursues Scott because of his exotic nature. Really, Teen Wolf contains some great character development. Who can forget Stiles’ wardrobe?
The edited T.V. version is even more hilarious. “You Mr. Murphy, the shop teacher? He got his *nose* stuck in a vacuum cleaner.”
Who would have thought this guy would be part of the great win at the end?
There is a class element to this tension as well. Scott is from a middling family and “sells out” his family past in order to move up the social ladder. A Marxist reading of the film reveals a stunning example of class betrayal. By embracing the capitalists in charge of the social hierarchy, Scott supports the same economic system that has crushed the lower classes. Class betrayal – WWMGD (What Would Maxim Gorky Do?)
Once again I ask: is not Teen Wolf a masterpiece of contemplative film?
Perhaps the most memorable scene in the film is the infamous “car surfing.” Of course, I am not condoning chugging beer and driving around town on the top of a moving vehicle – but this scene does raise significant issues.
Essentially the scene is a grand metaphor for life. You can either hang ten on a speeding car and play air guitar, or fall off. This is Teen Wolf as lived experience, as cultural metaphor. It is also an inspiration for stupid people to see past the metaphor and actually try to surf on a car resulting in serious injury. You are not a teenage werewolf, or Stiles. Until you are, don’t try it.
There are so many memorable moments in this film they are hard to count. From The Wolf acting in a Civil War play and delivering the powerful “First burn the fields, then burn the houses,” to Scott’s impressive beer buying from the cantankerous shopkeep, this movie has it all. “Give me… a keg….of beer. And these.”
Eventually the role of celebrity werewolf reveals itself as the paradoxical hell it is, and Scott is estranged from his friends. The final moment in which Scott realizes that everybody still sees him as a freak is powerful and profound. Lashing out of Mick, he sees his violent capability. A fitting reminder of our bestial origins. In the end, Scott comes out for the championship game against the Dragons and saves the day as himself, Scott, proving that being true to your self is the way to success. Powerful. The final game is a tribute to eighties inspirational sports scenes, behold the wonder. The final game is full of action, drama and suspense. The team comes together as a unit and pulls victory out of the jaws of defeat. A fitting ending for a fantastic movie. This clip even has stats. *Spoiler* Scott rejects the vacuous Pamela Wells and ends up with Boof.
If there is one thing the cinema of the 1980s did right, it was the montage. Think of a prominent movie from the 1980s – isn’t there a song associated with it?
A story about coming of age, young love, fate, family, racial and cultural struggles, class, teenage recklessness, sports, social issues and a werewolf to top it off. Do yourself a favor and rewatch this movie. I know when I am LARPing with my buddies, I always choose to be The Wolf, shades and all.
Amazing Teen Wolf drinking game for those of you over 21