(On Cable TV, February 2019) I don’t think anyone ever expected much from Teen Wolf, whether during its production, initial release or long afterlife since then. But sometimes you just need a spark to make it work, and Michael J. Fox was clearly the ingredient needed in this sometimes silly but rarely dull teen horror comedy take on werewolf movies. Fortunately, the script is not bad: clearly written with some awareness of the genre, the film zig-zags a few familiar tropes and has at least three mild surprises (the father knows; the secret comes out; the crush doesn’t want him) contradicting where we think the story is going, and earning a few laughs along the way at some blatant revelations. The way it fully engages with its premise is almost refreshing even now, and I suspect that much of the film is simply about seeing a werewolf playing high-school basketball. The “Teen” of the title is equally important as Teen Wolf seems very comfortable in the halls of an American High School. There are quite a few teenage anxieties hidden in its premise (what if your alter ego was more popular than the real you?) even despite a plot that’s more straightforward than it appears. But then again Teen Wolf is far better in the fun and games of its premise than it is at the narrative heavy lifting: even if it gets bogged into the mechanics of its climactic basketball game, it’s lighthearted most of the time, and unafraid to be silly even when it doesn’t have to be.
(Second Viewing, In French, On Cable TV, October 2017) When I say I’ve been a Peter Jackson fan from way before The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I specifically refer to watching The Frighteners in the late nineties, loaned on VHS from a friend who had been very impressed by the result. Twenty years later, the film has aged a bit (the early-digital special effects look particularly dated, although they’re still used very effectively) but it remains a solid horror/comedy with a sometimes-daring mythology, effective character moments and a dynamic performance by writer/director Jackson. The film does take chances in its treatment of the afterlife, and especially in the way it goes for comedy in the middle of death. But the tonal blend works most of the time, and lead actor Michael J. Fox is well-suited to the protagonist’s role. (Meanwhile, Trini Alvarado is so likable that it’s a wonder that her filmography since then isn’t longer.) Shot in New Zealand but made to look American, The Frighteners remains a bit of an under-appreciated gem today: not unknown, but not often mentioned. It’s worth a look for those who have never seen it, and a re-watch for those who haven’t seen it in years.