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TAKE THREE / Three Views of the Southland | AL MARTINEZ

Year of the Werewolf

January 30, 1998|AL MARTINEZ

For those who have been waiting patiently, I have good news: A young werewolf is about to make the scene again.

I am not referring to anyone who may have had an affair with Bill Clinton, leaving that more gruesome subject to the ladies with whom I share this page.

I'm talking about a remake of the movie "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," which Sam Arkoff, so-called King of the Bs, is about to thrust on the American people, howling and growling and scratching the ground around Hollywood.

True, he's been about to thrust it on us for the past six years, but now he actually has a script. As Sam pointed out one day in his office overlooking Burbank, "These things take time."

A paunchy, cherubic man of 80 with a kind of self-amused manner, Sam knows what he's about. He has made 500 films on the quality level of "Teenage Werewolf" and is not going to be rushed into anything that might, well, lower that quality.

Posters of many of his classics adorn the office walls: "Boxcar Bertha," "Invasion of the Saucer Men," "Bikini Beach" and, of course, the aforementioned cinematic exploration of pubescence and lycanthropy.

The original "Teenage Werewolf," for those who might have missed it, is about a young boy (Michael Landon before he discovered cowboys and angels) who is turned into a werewolf by a mad scientist. Well, maybe not mad, but dumb.

Teenagers and werewolves have never seemed incompatible, so the movie worked on many levels and has been seen by millions since its release in 1957. And now the dreaded remake.

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The notion of humans turning into wolves goes back at least 2,500 years when, it is said, a werewolf named Damarchus won a boxing medal at the Olympics. Mike Tyson's more recent effort to eat Evander Holyfield might have been a modern representation of that tradition.

Up through the ages there have been Ukrainian werewolves, French werewolves, British werewolves, Swiss werewolves, German werewolves, charming Italian werewolves and probably some from other countries who have kept to themselves and have gone undiscovered.

The first werewolf film was produced in 1913 and called, appropriately, "Werewolf." This was followed in 1935 by "The Werewolf of London" and in 1941 by "The Wolf Man." Thereafter came "The Werewolf," "The Howling," "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," "Teen Wolf," "An American Werewolf in London" and the current "An American Werewolf in Paris."

"Titles are important," Sam said the day we met. "I was the first to use teenager in a title. Why'd I make the movie? Money was the No. 1 reason. Movies are not made for the intelligentsia. My reaction to movies as art is"--he waved his hand in scornful dismissal--"art, fart."

His new "Werewolf" movie, Sam says, will be "franker" than the 1957 classic. "Let me put it this way," he said. "A little bit of undraped woman isn't bad and once in a while someone has to say . . ." He dropped a profanity, pondered that for a moment and then added, "My wife occasionally uses the word. When she does, it still surprises me and we've been married for 52 years."

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I tried to sell a werewolf movie once. It's about a beaten-down, henpecked dog trainer named Elliot who has power in life only over animals.

One night he's walking through the mountains and runs into a werewolf. The creature is about to pounce on him when, in a desperate effort to protect himself, Elliot yells, "Sit!" To his amazement, the werewolf obeys.

He rewards the animal with a biscuit and takes him home. The beast turns out to be an old merchant seaman who'd been bitten by a wolf in Yugoslavia. By training the creature, Elliot now has the power of terror over the whole town. In the end, the werewolf runs off with Elliot's wife. We see Elliot smiling as they trot over the horizon. Hold on the smile, freeze frame and fade out.

"I never considered 'Teenage Werewolf' a joke," Sam said. "It was only years later that it became campy. The new one won't be the same kind of movie. You have to go forward. Two things I'll say: It won't be funny, and it won't cost $200 million."

Sam is sure that the sequel will be a hit. I'm not that certain. I went to see "An American Werewolf in Paris" and there were only five others in the audience. Two spent the entire movie kissing and groping each other, which pretty much eliminated them as active viewers, and two others were like high school kids who thought the movie too, you know, intellectual.

Maybe, Sam, werewolves have finally made the ultimate transition from mythology to reality and the fictionalized versions just don't matter anymore. It's not like the old days. The werewolves in our lives, once only on the screen, are everywhere now. I shudder just thinking about the power they hold over us.

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Al Martinez can be reached online at al.martinez@latimes.com

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