While it’s mostly considered just a campy B-movie these days, I Was A Teenage Werewolf was a big deal in the late 1950s, especially on the drive-in circuit. It made $2 million on a budget that ranged from either $82,000 to $123,000, and that’s in 1957 dollars. Adjusted for inflation, it’s nearly $17 million for a budget just under a million. While not a huge hit, that’s still a sold money-maker. Anyway, the money’s not important here. What’s important is the impact.
Not only did Teenage Werewolf spawn a lot of “I Was A Teenage” something-or-other movies (some by producers AIP, others by other rip-off movies), but the very idea that a teenager could turn into a werewolf and kill people was shocking and unusual for its time. By the time the 80s came around we had Teen Wolf and it was played for laughs, but here it was meant to be frightening and for some people it was. In another note, a young Michael Little House on the Prairie” Landon plays the titular werewolf.
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!
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.”
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.