Tony has a problem: he's a bitter, abusive, dairy-tossing asshole. His girlfriend Arlene has an even bigger problem: she's slavishly devoted to him, for unknown (but probably daddy-issues related) reasons. After he whales on yet another one of his friends, Arlene finally gets Tony to visit a therapist and seek help. Too bad for him, he happens upon one of those "mad scientist" type psychiatrists who has big plans for violent and stupid Tony; he's going to make him even more violent and stupid. Yes, the crazy doc hypnotizes Tony into becoming a werewolf. Turns out lycanthropy is a placebo; who knew?
Strangely, although Tony seems to be much calmer after starting therapy, this ends up not helping him at all, as now he's gone from simply pummeling innocent friends to tearing out their throats at night or after a loud noise, and then not remembering what happened. He isn't too keen on the long-term implications of this new gig and seeks out the doctor again for help — not realizing he was causing all of his problems in the first place. Things go belly-up shortly after that, with a few more people ending up dead before the cops arrive and turn Tony into Swiss cheese. Sadly, at this point he's no longer alive to throw himself at them, but on the bright side, at least now Arlene has a chance to finally experience a healthy relationship. ...Ah, who are we kidding? She'll probably just hook up with Ike Turner or something.
The film was both a financial and critical success when it was first released. It was also innovative in that while 'man turns into werewolf/vampire/whatever' movies were common, this was the first that had it happen to an adolescent. Michael Landon's acting especially was praised by critics for being believable and sympathetic (well, believable, anyhow). This was the breakout role for Michael Landon, who would go on to star in Bonanza about two years later. Face it: you owe it to yourself to see Mr. Ingalls/Johnathan Smith chucking a bottle of milk at the wall and pounding on his annoying classmate.
Followed by I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957) and How To Make A Monster (1958). Oh, and in case you were wondering, the oft-parodied "I Was a Teenage so-and-so" stock horror title originated with this movie.
The film got a Shout-Out when The Cramps included a song about the movie on their first album, Songs the Lord Taught Us. Stephen King was also a fan as a kid, and included an entire chapter in IT where some of the heroes see it and then discuss their favorite parts.
This film contains examples of:
- An Aesop: The movie closes with the police officers remarking: "It's not for man to interfere in the ways of God." Then again, this is a movie from the '50s, so it could be expected.
- Badass Bystander: The German Shepherd who attacks Tony when he's a werewolf. Though he doesn't win, the dog lasts longer than just about any human character against the werewolf in a straight up fight.
- Bittersweet Ending/Downer Ending: Tony dies, but he kills the evil doctor and destroys all traces of his experiment data and werewolf-making chemicals beforehand.
- Broken Aesop: Subverted. Normally, lessons like "you have to bow to authority" would inspire a frightful backlash among contemporary viewers, but Tony's such an unbelievable jerk that he could actually stand a little discipline.
- Cool Pet: The German Shepherd in the film. Not backing down from a fully transformed werewolf and even attacking him head-on is pretty cool indeed.
- Didn't Think This Through: Why yes, mankind has become far too violent! We must solve this problem by finding a way to regress people to bloodthirsty animals, far less able to resist acting on those violent urges... what?
- Doesn't Like Being Touched: Tony, and a friendly pat on the back from a friend is what started the opening fight.
- Fanservice Extra: Theresa, the teenage gymnast who Tony finds practicing in the gym, played by 22-year-old Playboy centerfold model Dawn Richard.
- For Science!: Why does the shrink want to make Tony into a werewolf? Why else? He also insists on transforming him into a werewolf in front of his very eyes because simply hearing reports of werewolf attacks and assuming his 'experiment' succeeded isn't scientific.
- Foreshadowing: "Make sure to cook the hamburger. Don't eat 'em raw, like you did last time!" Yeah, no way that's ever gonna come up again... what teen boy doesn't eat raw hamburger?
- Gone Horribly Right: The doctor definitely succeeded in regressing Tony to his most primitive, violent state.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Tony. It's stated he's violent and edgy because he has "werewolf genes".
- A Handful for an Eye: Michael Landon pulls a handful of soil out of a nearby wheelbarrow and throws it at the middle-aged high school student who's been beating the tar out of him so far. It doesn't really help. Indeed, he could have turned the fight if only he'd had some milk to throw...
- Hey, Wait!: Tony turns back into a human after he's killed a person as a werewolf and tries to walk nonchalantly through the city. The police are frantically searching for him. Suddenly, a police officer calls out to him! He stops... and the officer warns him he should use the cross-walk when crossing the street.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The psychiatrist gets killed when trying to get photographic evidence of Werewolf!Tony; a phone rings and sends him into another killing frenzy.
- Improbable Weapon User: Some men favor a gun, others a knife or maybe a sword. But Tony? He's a master of projectile dairy products! Piss him off and you might catch a carton of half-and-half right in the gob. It's not quite as absurd as it sounds; this came out when milk came in glass containers. Which becomes Hilarious in Hindsight when you think about Team Fortress 2. The Scout has his Mad Milk, which he throws. Possible reference?
- Jerkass: Tony again.
- Love Martyr: Arlene. Also possibly the girl dating the guy who sings the song.
- Lzherusskie: Averted in that Pepe the Janitor was actually played by a Russian. (Though he's clearly laying the accent on a bit thick.)
- My God, What Have I Done?: The thing that really convinces Tony to see the hypnotist is when he knocks Arlene over, when she tries to break up a fight he's in.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: You can apparently be hypnotized into werewolfism, according to the film's rulebook. The werewolf becomes dangerous not when he sees a full moon, but rather when he hears a bell ring. And humans evolved from werewolves.
- Spiritual Successor: Teen Wolf is part this, part remake.
- Totally Radical: Subverted. Being "bugged" by something is apparently "jive talk".
- Torches and Pitchforks
- Troubled, but Cute: Tony.