Monday, July 2, 2012

Movie Review: I Was a Teenage Narcissist

The 1950's was a hey-day for horror flicks. American's couldn't get enough of them, and Hollywood did it's best to satiate that appetite. So we had flicks like Tarantula, The Mole People, The Beast with a Million Eyes, The Neanderthal Man, The Son of Dr. Jekyll and dozens of others like them showing up because now, it was possible to not only place them in theaters, the industry had a new vehicle of distribution called the television. And nearly every city worth its salt had a Friday or Saturday night horror slot to fill.

Teen films were another genre that was huge back then when kids could afford movie tickets and gas. Hollywood sprang to life filling this hunger, too. Movies like Gidget, all the beach party films, Girls Town, The Wild One, Rebel Without A Cause and The Blackboard Jungle ensured that there was never a dull moment for teens back then.

Into this context Hollywood director Peter Duncan sought to blend the two hot interests with his failed “I Was a Teenage Narcissist,” the story of a troubled teen seeking help through hypnotherapy, but his evil doctor tricks him into an early version of primal therapy that transforms him into an egotistical narcissist.


The film was shot in just over three weeks and released within months. The cast was entirely no-name actors and actresses. Ironically, for Michael Landon this film was his big break, eventually resulting in a lifelong career in television.

The hero in the film is Ted Harrison (Landon) who seemed to have had a normal childhood, playing baseball every day after school, catching frogs, trying to find ways to fit in with the kids in the neighborhood. He did all the usual things kids do. One day his father called him to his study and gave the “the talk.” "Adolescence is a hard time," he said. He told Ted that he would be going through changes soon. 

One day everything was fun and games, and then suddenly, he began to fidget more in school. And when he walked past his reflection in a window there was always a need to fix his hair. He began buying packages of combs. His hair grew thick and fast, dark waves of unruly umber. It all happened too fast. Ted becomes confused and starts hanging out with the wrong crowd.

This leads his parents to worry about the boy and so he is brought to the evil Dr. Burke. It's a classic encounter and I wish I could say it was masterfully handled, but it was not.

The film is flawed in a number of ways. The sound track, instead of enhancing the tension, is far too intrusive and at times downright annoying. Also, the pacing begins far too slow and no ADD teen today would spend five minutes with it. But there were several interesting scenes which showed that director Peter Duncan had far more insight into the characters and story than a typical surface explication.

For example, when Ted gazes into the eyes of the beautiful young Yvonne, she thinks he is looking at her beauty when in reality he is looking at his own reflection in her eyeball. The camera work is extremely good here as it conveys wordlessly what is going on. But the really amazing part is that when the angle shifts, viewers see that Yvonne is doing the very same thing. She is worshiping her own reflection in his eyes.

Maybe this is the horror of being a teen. We  so want to be loved, yet the flame burns brightest at the altar of our own reflection.

The film is very hard to find. I could not find it on Netflix or Blockbuster, but I did see it on VHS at a video store in Duluth when we first moved here in the late 80's. If you've never seen it, all I can say is, "You didn't miss much."

Meantime life goes on.... all around you.


Richard said...

There's a sequel called "I Was a Teenage Pizza Face" about a kid who can't bear to look at his own reflection because of his acne, which isn't that bad but he's way self-conscious about it, until the evil doctor shows him pimples can be a great source of entertainment. Stars Anthony Perkins, directed by Stanley Kubrick.

ENNYMAN said...

That idea could be developed a bit further, but since Stanley Kubrick is almost like a patron saint of directors, I'll decline to accept the last four words of your post.
I hopefully did not step over too many lines suggesting Michael Landon played the Narcissist, though I can picture the hero of this flick having Landon's wavy locks. Alas...