TONITE: Werewolves Of Landon

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I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957, directed by Gene Fowler Jr., 76 minutes, U.S.
PETS (1974, Raphel Nussbaum, 103 minutes, U.S.
ANDREW’S VIDEO VAULT @ The Rotunda 4014 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA Thursday February 12th 2008  8PM Free!

BuskirkByline_REV.jpgBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC As the pillars of society begin to tremble, the double bill at Andrew’s Video Vault cautions against surrendering to our animal urges with two true drive-in classics, both sadly unavailable on DVD. Far better than it’s “Ripped From The Headlines” title would suggest, I Was A Teenage Werewolf is one of the masterworks of B-movie empire American International Pictures.  AIP was one of the earliest movie studios to realize that there was a fortune to be made catering exclusively to kids.  While in 1957 a large company like Columbia records was making a point by not recording rock and roll,AIP was making films at which no adult would be caught dead, lurid movies with giant leeches, brain eaters and H-bombs that could make you grow into a giant.  Films like Teenage Werewolf planted a seed within the psyche of a generation and you can still see its stubborn weeds pop up in the work of everything from recent teen “vampire chastity” hit Twilight to the music of of The Cramps (R.I.P. Lux).

Two years before Bonanza made him a household name, Michael Landon (doing his own stunts!) starred as Tony Rivers, a teenager wrestling with the currents of puberty and his inability to control his temper.  He’s leery of the local cop’s suggestion that he go see a “head-shrinker” and boy are his suspicions right: the doc (horror regular Whit Bissell) uses hypnotism and an experimental vaccine to awaken the inner werewolf in Tony.

Teenage Werewolf  channels Rebel Without A Cause with a severe fatalistic bent; while James Dean’s Jimbo Stark watches his fellow teens expire in tragedy, Landon’s Tony is personally cursed from the get-go.  With a whole society feeling nuclear dread, Teenage Werewolf assured teenage moviegoers, “Yes, you are indeed doomed”.  Director Gene Fowler Jr. milks it for all it is worth.  While having a fairly undistinguishedfilmography as a director (he did helm another better-than-its-title ’50’s classic I Married A Monster From Outer Space) he was the editor of some of Fritz Lang and Sam Fuller’s finest 50’s work.  Fowler’s surprisingly mobile camera underlines Tony’s psychological state (you might have seen the often-used clip of the drooling werewolf staring at the upside-down gymnast) and focuses on the confused expression on Tony’s face as he struggles with that universal teenage question, “What the Hell is happening to my body?”

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Fast-forward to 1974 and audiences were no longer fighting their animal urges, they were letting them all hang out.  Pets was a drive-in and grindhouse classic for the turned-on generation, and although it invites to lick your chops for the beautiful B-movie goddess Candice Rialson, the film warns against letting your inner beast roam.

A classic California blond starlet of her era, Rialson plays Bonnie, a sexually conflicted young woman who has been tamed and controlled her whole life.  When we meet her she is escaping from some unexplained kidnapping, only to fall into a near rape and then, by sheer coincidence, the robbery and kidnapping of a horny passerby.  Apparently, a fairly typical day in the life of a young hippie libertine in the 1970’s.  From here Bonnie meets a man-hating painter & lesbian named Geraldine (JoanBlackman ), who offers her an escape from the world of leering men; yet even she wants to control Bonnie, to make her a pet.  The soundtrack isfaux-Joan Baez soul-searching mixed with jolting fuzztone stingers.

Pets is a crude and lively artifact of an odd time for exploitation films.  The film is definitely interested in peeling its eyes on sexy people in titillating situations but the era’s public discourse on feminism and sexual freedom was so overheated that even asoftcore cheapie like Pets (whose biggest budget expense must have been the renting of a pet tiger) felt it must enter into the fray.  At the climax. as Geraldine confronts the ultimate sexual pet owner, the action stops for a few awkward minutes while the characters plaintively spout the opposing rhetoric of the sexual revolution.  The trashiness of both I Was A Teenage Werewolf and Pets still feels liberating although at their heart they’re terribly uncomfortable digging around our psyche, nervous that they might find out who it is we really are.

Andrew’s Video Vault shows hard-to-see film at the Rotunda every second Wednesday of the month.

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