Some low-budget horror movies made by inexperienced directors—Carnival Of Souls comes to mind—achieve a surreal, dreamlike quality that must be partly by design but that also seems to be fed by the strange, ungrounded quality that a film sometimes takes on when the people making it don’t fully know what they’re doing and can’t easily establish a conventional sense of what, in most movies, passes for the feel of real life. The artistry and what, for lack of a better word, might be called the incompetence come together in a way that makes it hard to tell where one begins and the other ends, but they add up to something creepy and unpredictable that works for the genre.
Russell Mulcahy, who’s directed the last couple of episodes of Teen Wolf, is an old pro, not an inspired amateur, and the series is not a work of outsider art. The people working on it presumably know what they’re trying to do, even if they don’t have the budget to always bring it off the way they’d like to. But in the last few weeks, the show has gotten so strange that it threatens to slip its leash and run off into midnight movie territory. After a shaky start to the season, it’s developed the courage of its own craziness, and is a fit companion to the off-the-hook hyperbole of its opening credits sequence. I'm not sure how much of its hallucinatory quality is intentional, but a lot of it works for me anyhow.
How batshit does it get? Let me count the ways. Once again, things start off with a bang. In the opening flashback, a young pregnant wife is giving her husband shit about forcing them to live in a trailer parked somewhere in a mist-strewn wooded area located, as near as I can tell, in an old Hammer Studios film. They hear a noise, hubby goes outside to check it out, wifey looks outside to see hubby having a parlay with some dude in a hoodie, and then what looks like a tentacle reaches down from the treetops and hoists hubby up by the neck. Then a Kanima throws itself through the window, gets up in the woman’s face, then gives her belly a sniff, and takes its leave. Cut to the present day, and Jackson is serving notice that he’s had a restraining order taken out against Scott and Stiles. Stiles’ father just wants to keep his kid out of trouble and is uninterested in hearing what Stiles refers to as the “multiple levels of interpretation” to which his and Scott’s activities might be open. “How am I supposed to interpret the stolen police transport van?” he asks. “We filled it up!” says Stiles.
Jackson may appear to have won this round, but he has other things he probably ought to be worried about more than our heroes. Whatever sinister force has taken control of his body and mind, there are times when it just seems to want to mess with him. In one scene, he wanders into an empty science lab, picks up an enormous CGI snake, lifts it to his open mouth, and basically chugs it. While you’re still wondering what this is about, a figure suddenly appears in the doorway and gives a notably awkward read to the line, “Did you still want to discuss your paper?” Then Jackson decides to take a shower, and when Allison calls out his name, and he answers, and she walks in and sees that he’s naked, she averts her eyes and says something about how he maybe could have warned her. He points out that she’s the one who just strolled into the men’s shower area, which actually counts as one of the more reasonable points made by anybody over the course of the hour.
Jackson is either half-crazed or half-possessed, though, and he assaults Allison, or at least gets more physically aggressive with her than any naked teenage male ought to with a young lady half his size, so Scott charges in to the rescue, and he and Jackson have one of those trademark Russell Mulcahy slugfests that involves people punching each other and spinning each other around like rag dolls and knocking over rows of lockers and pieces of the wall becoming collateral damage and, since this is a bathroom, a sink being taken out for good measure. ("I have a restraining order!" yells Jackson, as he bounces off a locker. "Trust me," says Scott, ""I'm being restrained.") Stiles and Erica come running up. They’re together because Erica has been bugging Stiles, trying, at Derek’s command, to find out the identity of the shape-shifter even though everyone, Derek and Erica included, found out that it’s Jackson two episodes back. Mr. Harris, the ultimate douchebag teacher, arrives, looks at the wreckage from the fight—the place looks as if a buffalo stampede went through it—sees Scott and Jackson and Allison and Derek and Erica and Matt standing around, and is like, Okay then. Detention for one and all.
After a spell of sitting around the library, Jackson requests a bathroom break, and when he goes into the lavatory and stares at himself in the mirror, the snake he swallowed crawls out of his eyeball and disappears down the sink. That'll leave a brother weirded out. (It's like those pore-cleaning strips you wear on your nose, then pull off and examine. It's great to know that stuff is out of your system, but it doesn't feel good to know that it was ever in there.) After Mr. Harris leaves for the day, Jackson starts to transform, scratching out a message on the blackboard (“STAY OUT OF MY WAY OR I’LL KILL ALL OF YOU”) while in a dazed fugue state, and then the fighting and the slithering and the explosions of sparks begin, ending with Erica in some sort of seizure triggered by the shape-shifter’s venom. Scott delivers her to Doc Derek, who breaks her arm to facilitate “the healing process,” and confirms that, yes, he sent her off to find out who the shape-shifter is even though, yeah, sure, he’s known that it’s Jackson for a couple of weeks now. Scott informs him that he’ll be assisting with the capture of Jackson as part of Derek’s pack, but they won’t be killing him and, make no mistake, they’ll be doing it “my way.”
Somehow, in the midst of all this, Scott also manages to squeeze in an appointment with Allison’s terrifying, henna-haired mother. Mom wants to talk to him because Scott’s busybody mother, who has started overacting wildly as if to compensate for the fact that she looks maybe four years older than her son, found a box of jumbo-sized double-rimmed condoms in her baby boy’s room and felt obligated to share this fact with the mother of the girl he’s not supposed to be dating. So Allison’s mother and Scott have a conversation about the undesirability of any sexual activity between Scott and Allison, which mostly consists of her staring at him significantly while inserting a long pencil into an automatic sharpener until it’s been whittled down to a stubby numb.
Perhaps the most poetically unhinged sequences involve barefoot Lydia and her Bambi-eyed mystery beau, who lures her to a big house in the woods that seems to be empty of furniture, except for an armoire. When Lydia and Bambi kiss, and you notice that the armoire has a mirror on its side, you wait for the reflection to announce that things are Not What They Appear To Be, but even what they appear to be is too strange for words. Suffice to say that the words "This all must be terribly confusing" never sounded truer, nor did the words "At least now you know that you're not crazy" never sounded less reassuring. The grade assigned tonight’s episode is at least partly for effort, and I don’t know how long the series is going to sustain this level of distinctive craziness. But right now, the show sure is something to see.