I enjoy exploring the extreme opposite end of quality. I do “The Worst of the Best” to examine that divide. How can films nominated for Best Picture have such a bad reputation? And how, if they’re so bad, did they end up being nominated for Best Picture?
It’s an interesting question, but what’s equally amazing to me is how movies end up being considered the worst films ever made. Most films have a significant amount of money invested in their production. People don’t deliberately set out to make something terrible – even people like Ed Wood were creating the best films they could make with the money they had. Or, at least, they make a movie they think will attract a big enough audience to recoup their producers’ investment. No one sets out to make something that is universally reviled and that drives audiences away.
But sometimes, movies do gain that reputation, either from an inept execution or from bad underlying material that was never going to translate properly. I’m sure everyone can name at least one film they’ve seen they hate, but how do you measure which films are collectively “the worst?” The Razzies started out as a unique idea but devolved into self-parody. Some people make YouTube videos on the subject but that doesn’t feel like those are official proclamations either.
Instead, to remind myself what’s the worst of the worst, I’m going to the reliable IMDb’s bottom 100. I remember IMDb touting the list in the past, particularly in the early aughts when fanboys used IMDb ratings to express their displeasure of films. It eventually turned toxic and IMDb modified their rules, but today the list still seems like a reliable ranking of the 100 worst films of all time. It’s got the “classics” like Battlefield Earth and The Room as well as some more recent disasters like Cats.
If I want to appreciate the best and know why something is “the worst of the best,” I need to examine the worst of the worst. And so, I’ll be watching the IMDb bottom 100 (as of April 2022) in reverse order to see what qualifies as the worst cinema has to offer.
Today, we’ll take a look at number 100 – Teen Wolf Too.
I haven’t seen the original Teen Wolf but I’m certainly aware of it. It was released the same year as Back to the Future and helped establish Michael J Fox as one of the biggest stars of the 1980s. It was also written by Jeph Loeb, a famous comics writer well known for his work on Batman.
It was successful, so obviously the studio demanded a sequel. And the result was Teen Wolf Too, which focused on the cousin of Fox’s character. Played by Jason Bateman, he tries to play the same endearing misfit character Michael J Fox plays.
This is the film’s first flaw – Jason Bateman can’t play the “Todd” character the movie requires. He’s great as a straight man (Arrested Development) and is great at comedy as a side kick character (Dodgeball), but he doesn’t have the same screen presence as Michael J Fox. He can’t be an outsider who suddenly becomes cool, like what happens in this movie. He’s always cool. I’m supposed to believe Bateman is considered a misfit who can’t get women? Please.
The rest of the film follows his attempts at becoming the champion boxer of Hamilton University – the dean (John Astin of Addams Family fame) bribes him with luxury cars and women – while he wants to take biology classes to become a veterinarian. He’s encouraged on the latter path by his academic advisor Professor Brooks (Kim Darby) and his Winona Ryder-esque lab partner/romantic interest Vicki (Estee Chandler). But since he’s related to werewolves, everyone expects he’ll be a good boxer that will take the team into the state championships. (Why the dean cares so much about a sport that can only fill half a high school gymnasium with spectators is left unexplained.) He does “wolf out” in the ring and becomes one of the most popular people on campus. But his fame turns him into a jerk that alienates his teammate Chubby (Mark Holton, who is probably most famous for stealing Pee Wee Herman’s bike), his roommate Stiles (Stuart Fratkin). So, naturally, he learns that he needs people to like him for the real him and other various 80s cliches.
This is not a good film. But I don’t understand why IMDb voters consider it one of the worst. For one, Bateman’s werewolf makeup is pretty good – not as effective as the effects in An American Werewolf in London but certainly effective – and the plot, while completely unoriginal, is still somewhat engaging. Everyone likes an underdog story.
Yet the movie makes a lot of mistakes. The editing is terrible; there are multiple montage scenes to drive the film to feature length, every actor tries their best with the thin material, but the acting is still bad. and the script is lazy and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do.
The film tries to borrow scenes from other Michael J Fox films to make up for its flaws. There’s an extended scene where Bateman sings The Contours “Do You Love Me,” which I guess is meant to remind people of the “Johnny B Goode” scene in Back to the Future. Yet while Fox is endearing to people in Back to the Future, Bateman is not. He comes across as unpleasant whenever his wolf is onscreen. I know that’s part of the point but it also means his redemption at the end isn’t earned.
Finally, the film never explains how lycanthropy works in this universe. It seems like it works the same way as the Hulk – whenever Bateman gets angry, he turns into a werewolf. Nor does the film explain whether people know about werewolves. I assume they do – the dean and Stiles are eager to turn Todd into a werewolf, but the crowd acts shocked when they see a werewolf in the boxing ring. Also, the other Hamilton students don’t treat Todd like a werewolf. They treat him as someone who suddenly became cool. The fact he’s a werewolf is almost irrelevant. We never see him do any “werewolf” things. Isn’t the whole point of such a transformation to show how the line between man and beasts is very blurry? And that, subconsciously, we’re all scared of the fact we share the same instincts as animals? This film treats being a werewolf as being the popular kid in school. Isn’t anyone horrified by the fact their classmate is a werewolf?
It’s very easy to make a werewolf movie a metaphor for puberty and sexual maturity. Ginger Snaps is the best example I can think of. Maybe that’s what this movie was trying to do – use lycanthropy to send the message that popularity is fleeting and you can’t depend on remaining “the cool kid” for the rest of your life. But we’ve heard that message before and shoe-horning a werewolf into the plot does nothing to add to it.
Yet, again, we’re supposedly talking about one of the worst films ever made. And as silly and boring as it is, it’s not inept. The supporting cast is good. John Astin as the mustache twirling dean was a highlight. And it’s not offensive the way other films on the bottom 100 are. It’s not inept, it’s just shallow. There are plenty of forgettable 80s comedies like that. Why has this one attracted suck ire?
I’m stuck in a conundrum. This isn’t a good movie, but I don’t think it’s one of the worst ever made. At least everyone involved knew how to simulate charm even if they couldn’t actually achieve it. Teen Wolf Too is a fine movie to keep on in the background as you nap on Sunday afternoon. That’s not high praise, but that’s not enough to make this one of the worst films ever. Maybe the first film has that much of a nostalgic audience that any attempt at a sequel was destined to be considered one of the worst films ever if it didn’t match the quality of the first one? I don’t know. I do know that, so far, I’m wondering if the IMDb bottom 100 is the best measure of the worst films ever made. I guess we’ll find out with number 99 – Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever.