Confession: as I initially had the idea for this article, I was one hundred percent prepared to write a mind-blowingly sharp review taunting you all with the idea that Teen Wolf Too was smart and edgy, and was exactly the opposite of its sour reputation.
Confession: as I re-watched Teen Wolf Too to study it for this article, I quickly had to come to grips with the fact that my long-standing, heartfelt adoration of the film was a bit…well okay, I’ve been wrong for thirty years.
The story in Teen Wolf Too is simple: Scott Howard’s geeky cousin Todd arrives at college where he wants to study biology and veterinary medicine, but is roped into joining the school’s boxing team because, lo and behold, the athletic director is the same one from Scott’s high school. He figures that since Scott was such a standout (*cough cough* werewolf) basketball player, then Todd should be a shoo-in as a boxing star. Conflict arises when Todd insists that the Howard family’s lycanthropic gene has skipped over him, and he just wants to be left alone to his studies, attempting to ignore any kind of emerging wolfen characteristics. Along the way we meet John Astin as Dean Dunn, the school’s Dean of Men (as if that’s a thing that colleges even in the 1980s still had), and we see that Scott’s party-dude BFF Stiles (same character, different actor) just happens to be Todd‘s dormmate. Conflict is furthered when Todd‘s true wolf-self comes through, and Stiles is (again) there to encourage and exploit his friend. Todd‘s mousy love interest, Nicki, is undoubtedly appalled by his newfound popularity, and now Todd has to make a choice between the breezy party lifestyle and a sensible steady relationship with Nicki. In short, just like its predecessor, Teen Wolf Too is a coming of age story highlighting the confusion and angst teenagers feel as they stumble towards adulthood. But, unlike its predecessor, Teen Wolf Too is considerably lacking in both style and substance — something that I, in my early twenties, somehow was able to ignore. Could it have been Jason Bateman’s late-’80s baby-faced cuteness? Probably. Was it the study sesh-turned-love scene with Real Life’s “Send Me An Angel” playing over it? Definitely.
I will admit my rose-colored memory of this film was pretty grand; what I imagined I’d do here is praise it for being a surreal mix of 1960s-esque college culture and 1980s modernism. And, in some ways, that statement does hold up. Teen Wolf Too indeed borrows some of the cheesiness of a retro college romp: there’s a practical joke involving a Petrie dish of fleas, a watered-down house party song-and-dance number, a degrading frisbee fetching scene — and don’t forget to mention how the “classic” food fight scene from Animal House is made even stupider with a biology lab frog fight. Admittedly, the absurdity of that is satisfactorily solidified when Professor Brooks (Kim Darby) reacts as if that’s a thing that regularly exists in any world whatsoever (“What’s going in here? ‘Frog fighting’ in my lab? Put those things away!”). Still, the execution of these oft-seen college movie tropes falls incredibly short of putting this movie on any kind of map, which honestly, should have been indicated right away by the opening credit sequence. The credits appear over an uninspired presentation of campus stock footage, coupled with a dull choral rendition of the fictional school’s Alma Mater. The singing of the song is surely meant to evoke something nostalgic: that old-fashioned “be true to your school” mentality. But the pep and spirit all these things are supposed to make the viewer feel are met with little more than a yawn, and the barely-there emotional depth the film proposes throughout is hardly enough to make up for those missteps.
At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Todd as a wide-eyed but driven young man who wants nothing more than to be successful in his career. There’s really not much more to his character (other than some boiler-plate awkward moments with some attractive co-eds), which is probably the film’s biggest fault. Todd is, simply, just not that engaging of a guy. Stiles is there to at least attempt to get him to add some fun and flair to his rather mundane life, but the studious Todd shuns even the idea. By the way, Stiles’ character exists in the film for the same purpose: to try to pump some life into the thing. Stiles represents the carefree spirit in all of us, however silly that is (“That boy’s got werewolf written all over him! If everything goes as planned, he and I are gonna take this school by storm,” he says as he sits with a lamp shining onto a foil-covered Monopoly board, an unsuccessful stab at indoor tanning). But to digress for a moment here, knowing the history of Stiles’ involvement with the Howard family, isn’t it curious that he would want to live through the coming-of-age of another werewolf? Didn’t he endure enough turmoil with it the first time around? He (and Chubby, too, for that matter) should have seen every ego-driven occurrence in Todd’s journey coming, and it says a lot about him as a glutton for self-punishment that he once again puts more emphasis on some idealized party lifestyle than forming lasting connections with those who may be important to him. Come to think of it, between the two films, Stiles probably deserves his own in-depth character study, really, but I’ll save that for another time.
Todd’s love interest is Nicki, a fellow biology student clad in the conventional late-’80s bookish girl uniform – complete with over-sized collared shirt, long pastel skirt, folded-down white socks, and plain white Keds. Nicki serves as one of Todd’s links to reality; whenever he’s gone in too deep as the wolf, Nicki is there to try to snap him back. Unfortunately her character isn’t developed much further than that; she’s almost as one-dimensional as the two “hot” girls Todd ends up pursuing. The one thing that sets her apart, however, is that she’s willing to accept Todd for his faults as well as for his strong points. “My feelings for you are real,” she confesses. “They have nothing to do with the wolf.” Their budding romance sets Todd up to have something (or someone) to fall back on, but I wish the film had included a scene or two of Nicki telling Todd why she’s fallen so deeply for him, or how their relationship has affected or inspired her. As is, the depiction of their love story is probably the least developed arc in the film (we’re just supposed to accept it), and a more motivated version of it would probably serve a better purpose in Todd’s eventual realization that he doesn’t necessarily need to wolf out to find happiness.
Which brings us to seemingly the only other woman in Todd’s life, Professor Brooks, his biology teacher/faculty advisor, and probably the most realized character in this film. Professor Brooks recognizes Todd’s potential, and is, in typical faculty advisor form, incredibly disappointed when Todd begins to waste that potential on shallowness and flippancy. In what is probably the most successful bit of writing of this film, Professor Brooks’ eventual character reveal is foreshadowed here when she speaks to Todd about how to harness his wolf powers and truly prosper with them, as well as how important it is for him to not blow off his finals. “It’s like anything else in life,” she says, “when you have a gift, it’s your responsibility to use it wisely. And you’re not. You can’t face life as a wolf and expect it to solve all your problems.” Todd, already cocky from the wealth of popularity and seeming success he’s gained from becoming a werewolf boxing star, answers her with, “The road I’ve chosen, I don’t think I need biology at all.” Todd is arrogant and defiant here, completely the opposite of the well-intentioned, focused version of him we were first introduced to. The transformation of Todd’s character isn’t just from teen to wolf, but from teen to man, and it’s clear here that Todd thinks he’s got everything figured out for himself. But in true youth fashion, he’s getting a bit too far ahead of himself, and doesn’t realize that his current social status and revised career goals are most likely nothing more than a flash-in-the-pan.
So now we see Todd’s gentleness and ambition turn into greed and recklessness as he rises to stardom. Just like Scott before him, the wolf ego is set up to be his downfall. He loses not only his opportunity for a love that is real and true, he begins to alienate his friends, including the wild-and-crazy Stiles. He kicks his pal Chubby out of his newly-acquired convertible (thanks, Dean!) in favor of joyriding with the hot ‘80s-babes, and in the very next scene, we see that he’s locked Stiles out of the dorm in order to get a little wolfy with the girls. The walls start crashing in on Todd when his dates leave him on the mini golf course after being swayed away by their previous beaus, and then, when Todd heads home, he finds his dormmates studying. Todd tries to convince them to go out and stir up some fun with him, but the annoyed Chubby answers with, “Some of us actually have to take finals.” Even Stiles is frustrated, scolding him and calling him a jerk. “You know what’s funny?” he offers, “I wanted you to become the wolf more than anyone else. So I guess I’m to blame for what you’ve become.” Harsh reality sinks in, and Todd manages to muster up the courage to call upon Nicki to help him get back on track.
But all of those points are too simple and straightforward to comment on in any serious way; in a better film, the themes of young adult angst and the metaphor for identity would require a deeper dig. If you ask me, what we have on our hands here is a disheartening perpetuation of the myth that a man’s worth is based on his strength and athleticism. Many of us are socialized to have an idea of what masculinity looks like, most often it’s some glorified version of a bodybuilder or a lumberjack or that guy from the Old Spice ads. Strength and prowess seem to be affixed to the concept of masculinity, and while certainly that notion rings true in the lives of some men, it’s important to understand that “what it means to be a man” isn’t something that can easily be copy-pasted among individuals. Now, I realize this film is from 1987, and probably shouldn’t be taken seriously in hardly any way, but still I’m compelled to dissect the messages provided by it, and scrutinize how those messages reflect on the expression of male strength (and how that often unfairly discounts the concept of inner strength). First, we need to remind ourselves of the werewolf archetype that popular culture is so quick to associate with the behavior of men. Typically, werewolf characteristics stay within a range of possessiveness, dominance, strong libido, and aggression — no doubt taken from our understanding of the role of the alpha wolf in the natural world. Teen Wolf Too offers a microcosm of these traits as we get to know Todd. The first glimpse we’re given that the wolf gene didn’t actually skip a generation like Todd so fervently claims happens when he goes to the college administration to change his schedule (party-dude Stiles had taken it upon himself to register Todd for such frivolous and useless classes as Girls Volleyball, Candlemaking, and “French For Chefs”). Todd, previously hesitant and timid, is unknowingly overtaken by his first wolf impulse; his eyes glow red as he insists the unbudging clerk let him register for the classes he wants. At this point, he may not know it yet, but it’s this aggressive take that teaches him that he can exert that kind of power over people, much like how young men are socialized to be aggressive in order to get what they want. Later, when Todd fully wolfs out for the first time, he’s at a reception hosted by the school’s Alumni Association. Dean Dunn demands he dance with a pretty blonde co-ed, and in doing so, the wolf finally emerges for no other reason than post-adolescent horniness. Mayhem then ensues in a sequence that’s clearly meant to be funny (and admittedly, kind of is), but the message relayed here that men can’t control their sexual urges is one of the more insulting tropes used in the film.
Additionally, Todd has a lot of pressure on him to succeed in the boxing ring; not only does his scholarship depend on it, but his status as a man does, too. Todd’s elders in this story consist of his uncle Harold, Coach Finstock, and Dean Dunn — none of whom seem like they’re fully characterized to be role models. Harold is the one closest to that, and of course he means well and contributes a bit, but his involvement in the film is limited to about ten minutes and fifteen lines altogether. The little wisdom he speaks is surely useful, but not substantial enough to classify him as more than a static character – an unfortunate step backwards from his role in the previous film. And Coach Finstock offers nothing more than laissez-faire advice, coming across as more bumbling than anything. Dean Dunn, though, he’s the one that we can weigh in on the most. John Astin does an okay job in the role, pulling from the “Mean Dean” character trope given to us by the likes of the aforementioned Animal House, but it’s clear that Astin is just doing whatever he can to add his personal flair to yet another one-dimensional character. He’s clearly the star of this movie, chewing up and spitting out the dramatically silly-sounding dialogue given to him, but even with those hammy lines, his role does bear some importance. The Dean represents toxic masculinity, threatening Todd into boxing as the wolf (“I hope you don’t have any funny ideas about not fighting as the wolf..ohhh, nooo. Remember, I still run this school! I hold your scholarship!”), and maintaining those old stereotypical notions that men are only worth their physical strength. It’s not enough to say Dean Dunn is mean; he’s threatening, vengeful, and downright dishonest. He’s even got a Rottweiler attack dog accompanying him at all times, again, likely to evoke fear in and demand the submission of those around him. This is clear in every interaction Dean Dunn has with Todd. Early on, the Dean meets him in the hallway outside history class: “Your first fight is coming up, and so far I’m unimpressed,” he says. “You better not fail me, because if you do, I’ll call every Dean at every school, and you’ll never go to college anywhere, ever!” Once Dean Dunn sees Todd’s success in the ring as the wolf, he begins encouraging Todd’s bad behavior for the school’s (rather, his own) gain. I suppose it could be a comment on the college sports world, where athletes are exalted by faculty and given perks and special treatment which aren’t extended to non-athletes. But Dean Dunn isn’t just coddling Todd’s ego, he’s feeding it very nefariously. “All you gotta do it fight, and win! I’ll take care of the rest: grades, car, money, women! It’ll be our little secret.”
So, by the end of the film — thanks to Dean Dunn — much of Todd’s ego is wrapped up in being a boxing champion. Teen Wolf Too is very much about a duality, a crisis of identity Todd experiences when he is faced with frivolous success (the wolf) versus true success (the teen). Indeed the wolf is a mask that Todd uses to hide his insecurities and give himself more confidence, but that confidence is wasted on superficial relationships and fading popularity. Even the film’s training montage is in on this – which could be accidental, but even so, Oingo Boingo driving in the line “Who do you want to be today?” delivers a profound message. Who should Todd be? Should he give in to his untapped aggression and become the wolf? Or should he overcome that pressure and retain his gentler, more rational persona? Ultimately, there can perhaps be a healthy mix of both, and this is where Uncle Harold does have his one shining moment, helping Todd find that mix. “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” Harold tells him the night before the boxing championship. “You’re only human, too.” During the match, Todd is almost knocked out, and his eyes glow red. Nicki, cheering him on from the bleachers, mouths that she loves him. He gets up, but surprisingly, the wolf has not taken over. Todd begins to triumph in the ring, showing that he can indeed overcome his obstacles without the wolf — or, at least with that sound balance of man and wolf. It’s in this conclusion that we see Todd as any sort of enduring character. By this point, he’s shown maturity beyond his irresponsible, ego-driven wolf-self. However, that victory is still within the confines of traditionally-celebrated masculinity: plainly, he won at sports. It’s disappointing to me that the measure of a man remains in the assumption that he’s capable of winning in a physical fight, and doesn’t allow any room for merits like compassion, thoughtfulness, or sensitivity —however, that’s not to say sometimes a righteous physical fight is unwarranted or unavoidable. Still, it might’ve been fun to have a speculative follow-up scene where Todd is a successful veterinarian, possibly wolfing out as he’s treating all the little puppies to make them feel at ease. That is my kind of hero.
So, okay, I concede. This movie isn’t good. It can be entertaining, and even comical at points, but its lack of substance truly is a bummer. I wanted to rely on you, Teen Wolf Too! But you’ve let me down just as much as Todd let down Professor Brooks, Uncle Harold, and Nicki in your Third Act. Chin up, though, kid. We all know you tried.