Recently, I watched the 1985 Michael J. Fox supernatural basketball comedy TEEN WOLF for the first time. I watched it as part of the setup for a birthday scheme (which went off with nary a hitch). I watched it without expectations, in a spirit of open-handedness, prepared to be charmed and perhaps fatigued by the end of the 91-minute runtime.
I was, in fact, fucking delighted. TEEN WOLF is marvelous. If you don’t know what it’s about, check the title: it’s about a teen who is also a wolf. Bonus information: there’s basketball. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. There’s a lot of dancing. Don’t worry about it.
Every character who isn’t Michael J. Fox is an elemental chaos being, unmarked by time and unconcerned with consequence or logic, unbeholden to humanity. The rules of werewolfery are not just ill-defined — they’re entirely opaque, and any attempt to examine them is an act of folly so absurd that the film rejects such questions out of hand. The same is true of the lives and interests of teenagers — no one involved in the production of TEEN WOLF has ever been a teenager or met a teenager and they don’t intend to start now. The plot is wholly itself with an unselfconscious purity I usually only witness in dogs that have found rotting beach-things to roll around in. There’s a scene that contains some of my favorite slapstick comedy from any movie I have ever watched. There’s a couple of problems with fat representation, f-slurs, and race — but frankly, this was a major motion picture marketed heavily to teens in the mid-eighties; I was braced for a great deal more fatphobia and homophobia and racism than I got. I had a great time watching this movie and I intend to watch it again.
I tweeted about watching TEEN WOLF. I got a lot of texts from friends in response (I love it when my friends text me in response to my tweets, because then I get to know their secret opinions; secret is my favorite genre of opinion because I am nosy and ghoulish). One such text said this:
Here is where I made a mistake.
At no point did I respond “why, should I?” or “no, is it good to watch?” or “will it drive me into a type of madness usually reserved for those who have been hypnotized into thinking their hands are cacti?” I simply replied that I had not watched it, and then made a plan to remedy that.
The next night, I watched the 1989 Robyn Lively vehicle TEEN WITCH.
I would say that there’s a lot to unpack about this movie, but that would be a lie. There is nothing to unpack. Did I watch this motion picture? I’m not sure. I certainly sat on my couch for ninety minutes with my eyes open and directed toward my television, and I am assured that the film played that entire time, but all I can report to you is a sense of humid upset. Between the opening credits and the closing credits I became a sentient fog of nausea and worry, because the thing I was seeing refused to resolve itself into a coherent image, and my optic nerves were braising themselves in the attempt.
That is not to say TEEN WITCH is a bad movie.
Have you ever looked at a piece of embroidery? The front side is a lovely image of, I don’t know, a bat or a flower or a fallen priest. You look at the threads on that side of the fabric and think, yes, I understand reality. But then you turn the embroidery over and look at the backside, and everything is suddenly wrong. It isn’t just a backwards image of the thing on the front; it’s a network of knots in all the right colors and all the wrong configurations. You keep looking at it, hoping to understand what you see, but all hope is lost and eventually you have to lie down in a sensory-deprivation tank full of cucumber water to make your brain stop shivering.
TEEN WITCH is like that.
TEEN WOLF is a fun, silly, charming comedy held together in large part by the endless font of charisma that is a young Michael J. Fox. TEEN WITCH is a baffling pastiche of scenes that, taken together, form a tone poem about popularity and acid-washed denim. TEEN WOLF is a movie about basketball, with an anti-tall-poppy philosophy; TEEN WITCH is a fever dream about a girl with the power to bend the shape of reality to her will without ever suffering a consequence. TEEN WOLF has a girl named Boof, and TEEN WITCH has Richie:
These movies feature a lot of the same touchstones: a big dance, a school play, fashion, wish fulfillment, the ending of a friendship, a rude blonde girl. But to call TEEN WITCH a companion piece to TEEN WOLF is to call a volcano a companion piece to a spring day, a bile-covered knife a companion piece to a laugh, a black hole a companion piece to the planet it swallows. One of these movies falls within the scope of human experience and comprehension, and the other is TEEN WITCH, and I wish us all the best of luck surviving in a universe that can contain them both.
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