I’d just like to start off by saying thank you to first time Writer/Director, Neal McLaughlin for allowing me access to an online screener of his 50’s themed, Horror/Comedy “I Was A Teenage Wereskunk”. I Was A Teenage Wereskunk centers on All American high school footballer, Curtis Albright (played by Scott Monahan) who after an accidental encounter with a skunk, starts experiencing a life altering transformation. The towns police department led by Harold Albright, Curtis’s father (Charlie Farrell), must work together to solve the mystery behind the series of grizzly murders. The film also stars Shey Lyn Zanotti, Melanie Minichino, Jonathan Rossetti, Amy Heidt and Christian Drerup. What a time the 1950’s were for cheesy Horror/Sci-fi creature feature b movies. Jack Arnold’s classic film, “Creature From The Black Lagoon” acted as somewhat of a stepping stone for what prolific, Sci-Fi Writer/Director, Roger Corman would go on to do. Corman (now aged 90) more or less put monster movies on the map with releases like “Swamp Woman” in 56′ and “Attack Of The Crab Monsters” in 57′. This of course led to other film makers of that era making a slew of genre films. Nathan Juran went on to do “The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad”, “20 Million Miles To Earth” and “Attack Of The 50ft Woman”, some more successful than others. Here we are in 2016 and there’s still a market for the B movie. The proof is in the pudding, with the SyFy channel continuing to churn out countless creature features week after week.
There can be no doubting that McLaughlin’s film is clearly a throwback to the 50’s monster B movie. Not only does it play as an homage to that era, his DIY (do it yourself) approach independently driving the production reminds me of Richard Mogg’s contributions to the shot on video films of the 80’s (Massage Parlor Of Death and Bigfoot Ate My Boyfriend) *see reviews* https://adamthemoviegod.com/massage-parlor-of-death-review/ and https://adamthemoviegod.com/bigfoot-ate-my-boyfriend-review/. Now that’s not to say the two filmmakers are really alike. Mogg’s films are truly micro-budget and made to look as poor in quality as possible (for nostalgic purposes), whereas Neal’s debut feature has an impressive production value given the genre and nature of its subject matter. The film opens with an unexpected crane shot, followed by a series of crisp shots looking from the back of a convertible as teenage couple, Jerry and Sally (played by Rossetti and Drerup) sit and make out at “The Point”. From the opening scene, I quickly realized how good the framing was and as things progress there’s some really effective camera panning and close up work. The audio track, although guilty of some ADR (additional dialogue recording), remains consistent and clear throughout the film. There’s an even amount of day and night scenes and everything appears to be lit really well. Don’t be fooled by the cheesy story, McLaughlin and his crew are professional with their presentation. Thomas Corkran’s soundtrack and score is interesting to say the least. I Was A Teenage Wereskunk, like every good cheesy b movie, has its very own theme song, composed to fit the period. In addition, there’s a group musical number led by Monahan’s, “Curtis” and it’s sung at a diner early in the film. There’s quite a bouncy use of double bass as well as guitars that spike to accompany the beats of the edit. At times it sounds rather like porn music but that just makes it all the more entertaining (haha). The remainder of the score is a mix of unusual bass and violin, which oddly enough works.
McLaughlin’s fondness for the sub-genre is quite evident through the way he goes about his writing. Locations and techniques that homage or parody these types of films, need to be established early in order to get the audience involved. Neal uses the ever popular diner setting, along with old style suburban exteriors and then dresses his young men in Letterman jackets and his girls in Cheer-Leading outfits. There’s some fun transitions and one scene that employs a split screen method, that was a nice touch. The nature of the dialogue is where the film is most faithful. Amusing words and phrases like, “swell”, “going steady”, “all the way” and “dreamy”. On top of that, there’s almost no profanity here either, which made for a nice change of pace. The inclusion of Curtis’s dog (his name is Omar if memory serves me correct) was great too, he was a cute one. I Was A Teenage Wereskunk is very self-aware in regard to its humor and for the most part, a lot of the jokes are funny. There’s a multitude of colorful characters in McLaughlin’s film and the performances are mostly carried out with the appropriate amount of camp. Monahan is solid in the lead role but I wouldn’t technically say this is a comedic role. Though I suppose Curtis is kind of aloof, hence setting himself up for plenty of wisecracks from best friend, Jerry (Rossetti), whose the funnier of the pair. Jonathan and Christian’s characters are a couple, the actors bounce off each other nicely and set up a positive introduction to the film. Zanotti plays Mary Beth, Curtis’s love interest but technically they’re not actually going steady (see what I did there…). Her intonation is spot on for this type of character in this particular setting. Then there’s Curtis’s parents (played by Farrell and Minichino) who share an amusing relationship, Farrell being the stronger performer of the two. He’s very funny in what I can only describe as a “Gary” gag (reminiscent of the “Oggy” scene from the UK TV series “The Office”).
Now, Minichino doesn’t just play the one-dimensional housewife, she also plays “Deputy Gary” (yes that’s right she plays a man, fake mustache and all). I’m glad Melanie was given another part to play, not because she’s necessarily bad as Curtis’s mother, it’s just that she wasn’t given much to work with. I equally loved and hated this deputy, he (or she) reminded me a lot of how I felt about “Sheriff Baily” from the aforementioned “Bigfoot Ate My Boyfriend” (only I hated Baily.. there was no love). For whatever reason, Melanie portrays Gary like an exaggerated version of a 70’s cop from a Blaxsploitation flick (one can only assume the script called for it) and it’s both funny and annoying as hell. This is by no means bad acting, just an eccentric plot point I wasn’t expecting. It’s hilarious the way she continues to cut people off as they’re trying to explain things and that’s normally where Minichino’s her best. One of my favourite lines was about not having the police car in the budget, it was relatable (clearly a reference to the funds being used to make the film). One of the best parts about Neal’s writing is that he leaves room for a bunch of memorable secondary characters to shine. You have the vet, Dr. Nancy (Dawn Brodey) who gets a great scene with Curtis, including wordplay on the saying “You don’t say”. Amy Heidt as “Officer Maggie”, who inserts a more dry sense of humor into the mix. Harold Potter (Clayton Rohner) is good for a laugh too, playing the town drunk (for lack of a better word). “It Came From Uranus” is the name of a black and white movie within the movie itself, and that’s hilarious as well. Marshall Hicks and Katherine Canipe star in those scenes, they essentially just speak in gibberish and gobbledy gook including some “anus” like puns. I Was A Teenage Wereskunk has some action but it’s in patches across the whole 90 minutes. The highlight is a practical decapitated head (removed off-screen) and a handful of bloody and reasonably detailed aftermath effects.
From a technical point of view this is one of the best debut features I’ve seen this year. Other than those inserts of ADR, everything is well conceived. My only gripe is that on occasion, some of the score is abruptly cut off before the scene has ended. An improbable setting like this is always going to require the audiences suspension of disbelief, so I can let a fair bit slide but there were still some obvious things that annoyed me about I Was A Teenage Wereskunk. It’s quite clear that both Melanie and Charlie aren’t old enough to be Curtis’s parents in the film. I get that it’s probably played for laughs and that’s why Melanie dons a red wig and such, but I don’t like unconvincing specifics like that. I already mentioned that Gary is voiced like a black cop from a bad TV show, which gets annoying, but compiled with asinine vomiting scenes (especially the one where he… or she only pretends to) it wears a little thin. The “Wereskunk” makeup isn’t all that impressive but I suppose that’s nit picky given the budget. It’s clearly just Monahan in a costume, and not even a great one at that. Unfortunately he doesn’t make any sounds (for the most part), there’s no foley to represent roars or any transition and obviously no affordable way to practically transform him into the creature, so it’s all a bit lame and probably intended that way (Wolfman this is not). Dialogue at times gets to be a bit too much and the use of “boss” feels out-of-place, considering I don’t think that was ever used in the 50’s (although don’t quote me on that).
I Was A Teenage Wereskunk is guilty of some pacing issues and unnecessary scenes that temporarily took me out of the film. In one scene, Curtis is interrupted and talked over by Jerry, Sally and Mary Beth, as they proceed to make fun of him on something sexual in nature. The sequence goes on longer than it should, the same can be said about any of the scenes involving women screaming (I can think of at least two). An awkward scene involving masturbation felt kind of out-of-place for what’s otherwise a pretty tame affair. The modern Harry Potter references and Maggie’s use of the cell phone (and the science fiction related twist that went with that) took me out of the 50’s framework (obviously). The portions of the film I enjoyed the least were the scenes involving Finn Potter (played by Sean Cork). The performance isn’t too bad but it just felt like an unrelated sub-plot there to extend the films running time. The perception of Finn is that he’s this cool, artistic kind of guy and so when he invites Curtis to spend time with him it’s a big deal. There’s an overly long scene that could have been cut where Curtis and Finn are at a restaurant, a random nod to Charles Manson (Brett Maline) is thrown in as well. Subsequently there’s further scenes with the trio in the second part of the film and it never really amounts to anything worthwhile (not even on the action front). The most disappointing part of the film was that there wasn’t a higher body count and more practical effects, for whatever reason.
I Was A Teenage Wereskunk isn’t my first foray into the modern creature feature b movie, but it surprised me all the same. It’s like a self-aware hybrid of the Michael J. Fox film, “Teen Wolf” and Kevin O’Neill’s, “Attack Of The 50ft Cheerleader” with a touch of “WolfCop” on top *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/wolfcop-review/. I love the sharp cinematography and various techniques that make the shots diverse. The lighting is some of the best I’ve seen in an indie film and the soundtrack is a hell of a lot of fun too. The film employs most iconic 50’s trademarks, from the cheesy lingo through to the set design and wardrobe. I enjoyed most of the performances and a sizeable amount of the comedy is genuinely funny. The best performances come from Farrell and Monahan but Melanie Minichino is to be praised for wearing multiple hats and doing a pretty good job. While some of the stuff fell flat she did come up with some priceless lines. Unfortunately the amount of bloodshed didn’t really satisfy me, but the effects that are on display are pretty cool in that so bad it’s good kind of way. Production wise there’s not much to complain about but some of the creative license decisions weren’t that great (some are budget related of course). Gary’s dialogue delivery, wrongly cast parents, and the way the creature actually looks were all sub par aspects. There’s a handful of scenes that could have been cut because they take you out of the film somewhat, plus I didn’t care about those couple of characters. All in all though, McLaughlin has created something quite memorable for fans of the 50’s b movie. I Was A Teenage Wereskunk makes for a very entertaining time and I doubt you’ll see anything like it done this well. Feel free to check out the trailer below and there’s a link to purchase the film.
My rating for “I Was A Teenage Wereskunk” is 6.5/10