In the late 1950s, teenage culture was big business-Elvis, James Dean, and rock'n'roll were bringing in the bucks. That's when (not so coincidentally) a brand new kind of exploitation film appeared-the teenage monster movie. Today it's just a cliche, but "I Was a Teenage... (fill in the blank)" was hot stuff for a while. Here's Uncle John's salute to the best (and worst) of them.
I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF
Starring: Michael Landon, Whit Bissell, Yvonne Lime, Barney Phillips, Joseph Mell. Director: Gene Fowler, Jr.
The Plot: Tony Rivers-played by Michael Landon in his first feature film-is a hot-tempered teenager who's always getting into fights. (In fact, the first scene is a fist thrown right at the audience.) But when he accidentally hits his girlfriend, Arlene, he realizes things are out of control. So he decides to see Dr. Brandon, a local psychiatrist.
Bad move. Brandon doesn't want to cure Tony... he wants to experiment on him. Using "retrogression therapy", he injects Tony with a serum and hypnotizes the teenager to bring out his "primitive" side. Now whenever Tony gets startled, he grows body hair and fangs and suddenly gets the urge to kill. After killing at least one person and scaring the hell out of everyone in town, the creature is gunned down by the cops. Of course, he kills the crazy shrink just before he dies. Inevitable final line (delivered by the cop): "It is not for man to interfere in the ways of God."
Commentary: Not a bad film, as '50s schlock goes. Legend has it that after seeing the poster, American International Pictures' (AIP) head Samuel Z. Arkoff declared it "A million dollar title in a hundred-thousand dollar movie." AIP knew how to exploit teenagers, but by today's standards, they kept it pretty tame. In her website, "And You Call Yourself a Scientist!", Liz writes:
Astonishingly, I Was A Teenage Werewolf provoked the ire of politicians and moral crusaders alike, who accused the film of "promoting juvenile delinquency." One can only assume that-as is often the case with politicians and moral crusaders-they hadn't actually seen the film they were attacking.
It is quite clear that at first AIP underestimated the cash crop their adolescent audiences represented. Later, when the money began pouring in, the executives pitched their films more and more to teenagers, and cared less and less about upsetting the adults; but this early effort is not only a moral little film, it is populated with some of the best-behaved teenagers and the most caring adults ever put on screen. Cops, teachers, parents-they only want what's best for the kids. There's even a subplot about the perils of parental neglect. As for the kids themselves, well, you should see what constitutes their idea of a hot party. Warning: before you get to the good part of the film, you have to sit through some of the most painfully embarrassing teenage party scenes ever committed to film, which cause Tony's girlfriend to announce that "I've never had so much fun!" -sad, but probably true.
They don't write 'em like this anymore.
D. Brandon (the Mad psychiatrist): "At last, after years of searching, I've found a suitable person for my experiment! His record at school, what the principal told me, and what I learned through Dt-Sgt Donovan gives him the proper disturbed emotional background. And with what I found out from the physical examination, this boy's my perfect subject! There were certain tell-tale marks on his body only I would recognize..."
Assistant: "But you know what might happen!"
Brandon: "'Might'? In science, one must be sure!"
Brandon: "Mankind is on the brink of destroying itself! The only hope for the human race is to hurl it back to its primitive dawn, to start all over again. What's one life compared to such triumph?"
Brandon: "Through hypnosis, I'm going to regress this boy back... back into the primitive past that lurks within him! I'm going to transform him, and unleash the savage instincts that lie hidden within!"
Janitor: "I know what killed him. He was killed by... a werewolf!"
Policeman: "A what?"
Janitor: "In the old country, in my little village in the Carpathian mountains, there was a story..."
Assistant: "Alfred, you read the paper! You know what happened!"
Brandon: "There's a difference between a newspaper story and a scientific report!"
Assistant: "Aren't you wasting your time? Or do you have a second victim in view?"
Brandon: "I'm not wasting my time, and I don't like to hear the subject of a world-shaking experiment referred to as a 'victim'!"
Brandon: "We'll have it all on film, from the time I give him the injection to through the transformation! Even the most exacting, the most sceptical of of scientists will be convinced that I have penetrated the deepest secrets of creation!"
MORE TEENAGE MONSTER-MANIA
I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957) "Herman Cohen's sequel to I Was A Teenage Werewolf, with Whit Bissell reappearing as a mad doctor-a relative of the infamous Baron. Ludicrous as its title, with severed limbs graphically offered up for their shock value (and severed limbs in 1957 were an onscreen rarity) ...You, too will be a teenage zombie if you sit through this."
-Creature Features, John Stanley
Teenage Caveman (1958) "After ...I Was A Teenage Frankenstein, American International Pictures further mined the youth market with-what else-Teenage Caveman. Robert Vaughn stars as a boy (he would later become the man ...From U.N.C.L.E., that is), who defies his elders by venturing... into the forbidden land... where he finds 'the monster who kills with a touch.' Directed by Roger Corman in ten days on a $70,000 budget."
-Cult Flicks and Trash Pics
Teenagers From Outer Space (1959) "'They blast the Flesh off humans!' claimed the ads. A young alien falls for a teenage earth girl and ruins the plans of his invading cohorts by blowing them up. The invaders, who arrive in a flying saucer, carry deadly ray guns and breed giant lobster monsters for food. Only the shadow of one of the creatures is shown in this extremely low-budget feature."
-The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Michael Weldon
_________________________The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader.
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