Starring Adam Arkin, Ed McMahon, Roz Kelly, Kenneth Mars
Directed by Larry Cohen
Distributed by Scream Factory
As someone who has been an avowed Larry Cohen fan for decades, ever since many adolescent Saturday afternoons were filled with repeated viewings of The Stuff (1985) and The Ambulance (1990), it pains me to confess after all this time I have finally seen a Cohen picture that not only defied expectations but also caused me to mentally check out long before the credits began to roll. Now that I think about it, did I even make it to the credits? Full Moon High (1981) is the feature and it was Cohen’s one-and-only attempt at making a full-on comedy, done in the zany style of Zucker & Abrams’ popular pictures. And man, is it ever an abysmal failure. Employing the “everything including the kitchen sink” method, Cohen flings shit at a white wall for 93 minutes, hoping enough will stick to satisfy viewers. The actual result is viewers are hit with a foul stench early on, one that continues to accumulate until, far too long later, the end credits mercifully begin to roll.
Tony (Adam Arkin) is a normal high school student in 1950s America who has plenty going for him, but his crazy sex fiend father, Col. William Walker (Ed McMahon), wants to take him on a surprise getaway to Romania for some CIA business… or so he claims. While there, a palm reader notes Tony carries the “mark of the wolf”, and not long after he is bitten by a werewolf while walking the streets. During the return flight home, a couple of bad brothas hold up the aircraft… but Tonywolf attacks the unprepared pair and saves the day. Tony isn’t able to control himself in his hairy state, and an unplanned attack on dear old dad leaves his old man dead – not from a bite but from a stray bullet fired within his underground bomb shelter. After news broadcasts label this new night stalker “Jack the Nipper”, Tony decides it might be best to lie low for a few decades.
He emerges nearly thirty years later, re-enrolling in his old high school and going under the guise of being his own son. It isn’t long before Tonywolf resumes his old ways, though, with attacks on students and citizens coming at regular intervals. Tony has even managed to score himself a new lady friend, although that comes with its own set of problems, too. His real incentive for enrollment is to play in the Big Game against Local Rival Team, something he was never able to accomplish during his first tenure at Full Moon High.
The final note on my review log simply says “unwatchable” and that is deadly accurate. The funniest moments of the movie come courtesy of Ed McMahon and once he’s out of the picture it flatlines. Cohen is usually adept at balancing drama, thrills, and horror with a bit of black humor but pure comedy is not within his wheelhouse and it is painfully obvious Cohen is out of his depth. Compounding the comedy problem is our leading man just isn’t funny. Arkin works best as the straight man, skeptical and cautious, not as the unfunny lead in a film built around the hijinks of his being a werewolf. He’s all wrong for the part, with stiff delivery and a droll demeanor. Zany comedy requires a commensurate comedian; it’s why Leslie Nielsen was a god in that arena.
Before anyone asks something like, “but isn’t it so bad it’s good?” No, not even close. This is bad on the level of those Friedberg/Seltzer parodies that somehow managed to get funding in the early ‘00s; movies like Epic Movie (2007) and Meet the Spartans (2008). The humor feels forced, and the only thing Full Moon High is missing is a laugh track to suggest the points where viewers are intended to pump out a few guffaws. I take no joy in bashing a film by someone as multi-talented as Larry Cohen but this is a monolith of mediocrity and would best be left unremembered.
The film may be bad but, boy, does it look great. Scream Factory has done a stellar job reinvigorating the 1.85:1 1080p image, displaying a level of clarity and detailing I wouldn’t have thought possible for this long-forgotten low-budget feature. Full Moon High never received a DVD release, so the only comparison fans have is either VHS or their memories of a cinema screen. In that respect, this is likely the best the film has ever looked and this Blu-ray offers a presentation that in all likelihood equals the theatrical experience – and maybe bests it. Colors have punch, film grain appears smooth and refined, shadow details are shockingly strong, and the definition is, on the whole, above average.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is a different affair. The score is overbearing and brash to a fault, leaving dialogue muffled and buried underneath a wave of ‘50s doo-wop and endless scoring, courtesy of composer Gary William Friedman. Expect to hear plenty of source tracks from the eras represented in the film, ‘50s classics and early ‘80s shitty disco pop. Subtitles are available in English.
An audio commentary is provided, featuring writer/director Larry Cohen, moderated by “King Cohen” director Steve Mitchell.
A trailer is also included.
- NEW audio commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen, Moderated by KING COHEN filmmaker Steve Mitchell
- Theatrical Trailer
This is one toothless werewolf film, with neither an ounce of horror or comedy to be found. Even the most hardcore Cohen fans will have to concede, this is easily one of his worst efforts.
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